A friend of mine recently completed five months working the night shift in a Manhattan office. This week was his first of working full-time during normal business hours. I checked in to see how he felt.
Ester: How’s it going, Mr. Daytime Man?
Adam: Hello! Yes, here I am. It’s a little hard to focus. Lots of people around. Also the internet happens all day during the day, whereas at night it really doesn’t happen very much.
Ester: #truth.Tell us what your gig used to be like vs. what it’s like now?
Adam: In January I started working here at night. My hours were 6 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Ester: VAMPIRE HOURS.What was that like? Did you chat with janitors? Who did you take breaks with around the water cooler?
Adam: Right, sure. I was basically Count Chocula for our generation. I would describe it as silent and lonely, though actually a pretty good environment for focusing on your work. Also, I figured out pretty quickly to work Sunday-Thursday instead of Monday-Friday, because there is literally nothing more depressing than arriving to work in an office full of people about to leave for the weekend.
Ester: That makes a lot of sense!So what else did you learn, being nocturnal?
Adam: I dunno. I’d always thought of myself as a pretty nocturnal person who likes to stay up late and sleep late but I found working the night shift VERY VERY VERY HARD.
Ester: Explain how!
Adam: Well, like I said, it was incredibly lonely. My fiancee and I got engaged literally right before I started this job. So all of a sudden, we were an engaged couple, and also suddenly in a kind of long-distance relationship.
Ester: That sounds really difficult. Did you develop strategies for coping — eating breakfast together before she left for work or something?Or did you essentially only see each other on weekends?
Adam: We talked on the phone every night before she went to sleep, usually while I ate dinner in a conference room. But no, we wouldn’t see each other. And then our coping mechanism was … I think just to recognize that it was really hard. It also made our initial wedding planning phase, like finding and locking down the venue and date, significantly more of a challenge. Just ’cause we weren’t in the same room for most of our conversations about it. So yeah. Emotionally very difficult.
Ester: Right, of course. How long did you live this nocturnal existence?
Adam: 5 months. I started in January and it just ended last week.
Ester: That is a very long winter! Like winter in Boston. And now you’re emerging from hibernation, blinking slowly in the sunlight. How do you feel?
Adam: Yeah, it actually feels exactly like that, like I woke up from a thousand-year nap and it’s summer.
Ester: Did you gain or lose weight? Was your metabolism screwed up because you messed with your Circadian rhythms?
Adam: My body is pretty confused. Trying to find food in midtown at 10pm on a weeknight is HORRIBLE. I ate so much horrible food.
Ester: Did you bring the equivalent of a bag lunch?
Adam: Sometimes, but only sometimes. Mostly I’d forage in the area: pizza, Chipotle, Subway … Now it’s like, paradise by comparison. I know the ability to go to a salad place and pay nine dollars for a salad is a strange definition of paradise, but.
Ester: No, that makes perfect sense. Especially in the company of coworkers!
Adam: It all fit with the sense that I was living a netherworld existence. Like all the real people are living their real lives in the light world, and I’m this mole man living in the dark world.
Ester: Did you develop observations about humanity from living on a different schedule than most people?
Adam: Yeah, so one of the first things I really grappled with, early in the year, was how I thought I’d be able to leave work at 2, get home at 2:45, and climb right into bed and be asleep,when in fact I was never able to do that, because the ride home at that hour was so often unpredictable and stressful.
Ester: At least this never happened, presumably?
Adam: Especially in the winter, when the trains were running in a weird way more often than not, and when the only people on the trains were monsters. No, that never happened. but it did on occasion take me a very long time, sometimes 2 hours, to get home.
Ester: Oh no! How did you avoid / deal with them?
Adam: I mean we’ve all ridden the subway. You just stay alert. But coming home after that every night, you really have to wind down and give yourself some time.
Ester: I take it you did not wind down by playing video games?Or watching Game of Thrones?
Adam: I often did! I’d read or play a game on my phone or listening to a podcast.I usually would not watch something.
Ester: Wouldn’t that all be terrible for sleep? All the sleep hygiene things I’ve read say “No Screens.”
Adam: I dunno, what are you supposed to do, drink warm milk?
Ester: Maybe! Unless you’re lactose intolerant.Yoga? Meditation? Breathing exercises set to classical music?
Adam: A few times I took a zzzquil on the train.
Ester: Do you know Dennis Leary’s bit about NyQuil? That it’s the 13th step for alcoholics. (“You can drink it! It’s over the counter! ‘Are you drunk?’ “No, I have a cold!'”)
Adam: Actually early in the winter I had a flask of booze in my bag that I’d take a swig from before leaving the office. That felt very cool, very dark. But it didn’t really help with anything.
Ester: No, I’d imagine not. Well, now you get to enjoy the sunshine again! How are you going to celebrate?
Adam: Ester, my whole life is a celebration right now. Like, being awake during the day? Out with the people? It’s amazing.
Ester: Here, have an exclamation point. I bought some in bulk.!! !! They were on sale at Costco.
Adam: This week has been really full of all sort of emotions and realizations about normal life. Like, the ride to and from work with other commuters makes my work feel more legitimate. Whereas commuting home with only monsters and drunks at 3am, every night for months, eventually began to subtly influence the way I felt about my work.
Ester: Did it feel somehow covert or dirty to commute at night?
Adam: Yeah I sort of felt like one of them. Like I belong to this world, not the one above.
Ester: Did you ask to get switched to the day job earlier, and did they promise, and then postpone?
Adam: I didn’t think I’d work the night shift for so long when I started, but I also didn’t think I’d still be working here. The only change in my status has been in my shift. I didn’t all of a sudden get a new better job.
Ester: OK. Any final lessons you’ve learned, or morals to the story?
Adam: Ultimately I think the most unexpected thing I learned was about myself, and it’s that need for dignity. Which is so, so lame.
Ester: Or human and the very base of the Pyramid of Needs! Okay maybe not actually the base, but close to the base.
Adam: True. The biggest change is that all of a sudden my life is LOADED with dignity. I never realized I could have so much dignity in my life! It has been years.
Ester: Enjoy your human dignity!
And enjoy your weekends!