The Night Nurse

A podcast about one woman’s switch from nights to days

By JoAnna Klein

Most of us wake up in the morning, have some coffee and a shower (or whatever it is we do) and head straight to work. We’re home around six — sometimes eight or nine — and at some point after the sun has set, we’ve put on our pajamas and crawled into bed. But nearly 20 percent of Americans do just the opposite. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, about 15 million Americans do shift work. These nurses, doctors, policemen, firemen, bartenders, factory workers and others spend their nights awake in the dark, and their days asleep in the light. This type of schedule disrupts the circadian clock, limits access to Vitamin D from the sun and takes its toll on the mind and body.

“You’ve got to know how to play it,” says Sasha Winslow, a registered nurse who spent almost a decade working nights. If you catch yourself caught up in the night game, there are strategies to help you win — or at least live a little better. For example, researchers Mark Smith and Charmane Eastman, who study sleep and biological rhythms at University of Colorado, Boulder and Rush University in Chicago, respectively, have developed a plan to reset the circadian clock for people working regular night shifts. Essentially, you control your body’s access to light and trick it into reversing night and day. At night, you get bright light artificially and during the day, you wear sunglasses and sleep in a dark room. And Sasha says black out shades “are the best creation ever,” because they make your room completely dark.

Of the 2.8 million registered nurses and almost 700,000 licensed practical nurses in America, around a third of them work nights. Some nurses prefer the nightshift because it is generally more laid back than the day shift. Sasha did too — even in the pediatric emergency room — until something happened: Sasha had a baby. Listen to her story of the ups and downs of nights below.