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Monday August 6, 2001

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On the night shift·

By Sharon Platt

Arizona Summer Wildcat

The sun is down and the moon is out. Most people have finished working their traditional 8 to 5 jobs and are preparing for a long procession of sugarplums dancing through their heads. And other folks are headed out for a night on the town.

On the other hand, if I didn't get enough sleep that day, I'm getting up from a nap. I'll take a shower, and a snack and I'm off to my nursing job for the night shift.

Someone has to work nights. And a surprising number of people do.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, a little over 13 percent of employees work non-daytime shifts, but only 3.5 percent of employees work the entire night.

We're a 24-hour society, which means that just because the sun goes down doesn't mean that everything ceases. Healthcare workers, policemen, firefighters, paramedics, and factory, restaurant, cab, retail, and convince store workers are just some of the 24/7 workforce.

Although night workers eventually adapt to this lifestyle, it takes a toll on the body, sleep patterns, mental alertness, and a social life.

Chronic fatigue, stomach problems, heart disease, and insomnia are a few health problems due to a lack of quality sleep.

Humans naturally want to sleep at night and be up in the day. Our bodies follow a sleep/wake cycle. Bright light, such as the sun, is one of the biggest cues for waking. But the night-shift worker has to fight to reverse that natural cycle, including being alert between 3 a.m. and5 a.m., when the body is craving sleep the most.

My erratic sleep patterns are my greatest obstacle to working this shift. I suppose if I'd stay on a night schedule all the time my body would adjust completely. But society mainly functions during the day. So on my off days, I need to switch back to sleeping nights and being up during the day. Just when my body is getting somewhat used to this odd sleeping time, it gets jolted back to the natural day/night cycle.

It's a challenge to switch back to a day schedule. For example, I don't watch a lot of TV and only have network television. But out of sheer boredom or frustration of not being able to sleep on my off nights, I often fall asleep on the couch to ThighMaster infomercials and the home shopping network.

Being up all night on my off-days hasn't been totally in vain. Most friends have day schedules, so I can make phone calls until about 11 p.m. Yet I've done productive activities into the wee hours of the night such as writing, household