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June 26, 2010

Circadian Rhythms

I have worked 12 hour night shifts as an RN for the last four years. It was not always a straight night shift schedule but rather a combination of days and nights, switching every three months, from days to nights, then back to days.   

I like working nights, enjoying quiet moments with my infant patients and pleasant chats with my co-workers. However, night shift work can play havoc with your sleep cycle. I found the best way to deal with night shift was to go to sleep when I returned home and sleep until I was ready to get up. I would catch naps whenever I felt slightly sleepy. When on night shift, I took a lot of naps, before work and on my days off. Oh yeah, and I drank lots of caffeine whenever I needed to be awake.

It was also pleasant to come home from work at seven a.m. in the winter months on my husband's days off. He would roll over and let me have his warm side of the bed. Rainy days made for pleasant daytime sleeping. Our bedroom is dark and quiet, and if I needed assistance I used ear plugs and a sleep mask. 

Back on day shift, I would try to get into my husband's work routine of getting up early and going to bed somewhat early. However, he liked to sleep in on his days off as well as stay up late before them and it was difficult for me to find a set routine while on day shift. I would still be adjusting from coming off nights and taking lots of naps to compensate for shift lag, which is just like jet lag, except it never really goes away.

My work place recently decided that rotating shifts should be eliminated. Since I have been a nurse longer than most of my co-workers on nights have been out of diapers, I was given a day shift job. No more rotating shifts for me.

On day shift, I tried to establish a regular routine. My husband's routine seemed to be get up at five a.m. when working, or ten a.m. or so when not working. For bedtime it was ten p.m. when working and 12 or one a.m. when not working. We keep our coffee pot in our bedroom and he makes the coffee before we go to bed so we wake up to coffee brewing and not an alarm clock. I would go to bed about ten p.m. and at midnight he would start organizing the coffee for the next day. It is not really an activity that one can do quietly in the bedroom or that I could sleep through. Within one month of trying to adapt to his routine, I was in worse shift lag shape than I had ever been working night shifts.

My live at home 30-something son's routine was just as bad, if not worse. He likes to sleep until at least noon and go to bed between three and four a.m. I would get up in the morning and one corner of our house was always dark, with his drawn shades or closed door. What's more, he sleeps in what had been my office, so I was hindered from entering my space, because he was sleeping.

Time for new rules and I was going to make them. Why did I get to make the rules? Because I am the mom and I am good at making rules, that's why.

For my son, wake up time is now ten a.m. He has to be home by midnight or he should not come home. He can go to bed at whatever time he likes but I better not hear him if I am trying to sleep.

For hubby we had to compromise. Make the coffee before I go to sleep or use the alarm clock to wake up with. Bed time can be whatever time he wants but I am going to bed about ten p.m. each night. Each non-work day we get up at eight a.m. or earlier. I wanted to get up earlier than eight a.m. on our days off as we get up at five on the work days, but eight was his best offer.   

It is somewhat funny, if not empowering, when your family follows rules you have invented for them. But the new rules work. The parakeet is happier in a normal bird routine of early to bed and early to rise. The dog is perkier and has less accidents in her sleep room waiting for the family to get up. My son is home on time and his alarm goes off at ten a.m. like the clockwork it is. My husband never varies from the newly established routine, even when I pull the covers over my head as I contemplate sleeping longer. Everyone in the household has fallen into a natural pattern of circadian rhythms--mine, of course--just not theirs.

This is an original post to the 50-Something Moms BlogWhen Sharon is not trying to get everyone to wake up or go to bed, she can be found blogging about mostly nostalgia, most of the time at her personal blog, Channeling Ricky.