A Gift Guide for the Night Shift Worker

Just in time for the procrastinating Christmas shopper, here’s a list of items essential to anyone working the night shift. I acquired many of these quickly, thanks to the recommendation of my night manager. With twenty years on the same schedule, he was a trusted source. In fact, if anyone working third shift doesn’t already have the first four to six items on the list, it’s probably their first week.

  1. The Dohm Sound MachineDohm Sound MachineAny device producing white noise is beneficial to the day sleeper, but the best is the “The Official Sound Conditioner of the National Sleep Foundation.” Its volume is adjustable and can be rather loud,  but as The New York Times Magazine explains in their own recommendation of the Dohm, “white noise has the curious, counterintuitive effect of making a room louder in order to cultivate a womblike sense of quietude.” Remember all that sleep in the womb? Me neither. That’s because we were sleeping like fetuses, which is even better than sleeping like a baby.
    It’s tough trying to sleep when the rest of the world goes about its business, from construction workers in your apartment complex, to even the most well-meaning roommate or partner. My girlfriend often asks if something she did woke me, and my answer is almost always, “What? Hold on, let me turn off the sound thingy – I can’t hear you.” It also helps her on my nights off, when I’m the one up and making noise. The Dohm is an essential addition to your bedroom, an acoustic blanket atop all the other bedding, swaddling and snuggling your mind.
  2. Earplugs – Even the excellent Dohm can’t drown out a pneumatic drill grinding away outside your window. I don’t have a particular brand to suggest, but when you’re desperate, anything is welcome.
  3. Sleep Mask – This was my first night-shift related purchase. The day before I started, I picked one up at a nearby Walgreens. While I don’t recall the brand, I do have one piece of advice: don’t be cheap about it. You spend a third of your life sleeping, and good sleep is crucial to physical and mental well-being. Don’t buy a flimsy, plastic sleep mask like those provided on an airplane. Invest in a lightweight, comfortable, padded, adjustable mask. Mine feels a bit like velvet and smells of lavender. I know that sounds fancy schmancy, and it should. When it comes to getting restful sleep, pampering will pay dividends.
  4. Blackout Curtains – The bedroom should be a cave. It should be cool, dark, and with conditioned acoustics. I tried to get by without blackout curtains before learning that skin also absorbs sunlight. Simply shielding the eyes is insufficient. Ultraviolet rays penetrate uncovered skin and, short-cutting the scientific explanation, basically tell your body it’s time to wake up. The night shift is inherently unnatural for the human body, so the more one can trick it or create the conditions mimicking normality, the better. Oh, and many of these curtains are designed to minimize noise and extreme temperatures as well.
  5. MelatoninMelatoninThe night shifter labors in defiance of the Earth’s very rotation. Human behavior, before the invention of the light bulb and the development of 24/7 capitalism, paired inextricably with environmental cues. No sun? Very little labor.  Sun coming up? Time to get after it. Fortunately, we also have technology to help our bodies meet the demands of the new 24/7 reality. I have always found it easier to stay up than get to sleep, and that is as true now as it was my first shift. While I sometimes feel a slight sluggishness, not as bad as a hangover, after taking melatonin supplements, I still highly endorse them. I’m sure experiments with a smaller dosage could minimize that problem. Lastly, they don’t work exactly like a sleeping pill, so I recommend taking them nearly an hour before you’d like to sleep.
  6. Coffee – About that whole, “I have always found it easier to stay up than get to sleep” comment above…well, I’m sure that’s due to copious coffee intake. I hesitated to even include this because it’s so obvious. I will specify, however, that I try to drink more cold-brewed coffee due to its reduced acidity. I figure if I continue drinking as much as I do, I’ll take whatever esophageal relief I can get. The Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker is my pick if you’re making it at home.
  7. Books – I took the job thinking I would have plenty of time to write. That’s true. Unfortunately, my discipline and motivation rarely match the vast reservoirs of time. In my defense, I have read more this year than the last several years combined. I could yield to the trend of a year-end best-of list, but I’ll briefly say my favorite reads this year were “A Childhood: The Biography of a Place” by Harry Crews, “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan, and “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America” by Jill Leovy. A coworker and I also started a short story club, where we alternate choosing and discussing one per week. Favorite authors have included David Means, Stephen Crane, Joyce Carol Oates, Don Delillo, James Baldwin, and Robert Coover.
  8. HeadlampHeadlamp I owe this idea to my girlfriend. Despite attempts to organize our home so that she would not need to enter the bedroom while I’m sleeping, sometimes there’s no avoiding it. Instead of turning on a light and possibly disturbing me, she purchased a headlamp. Be sure to grab one that also includes a red LED bulb, as it produces a light that is much easier on the eyes. I’ve used it while she was sleeping, and I even used it while cooking and waiting for maintenance to replace the suddenly-burnt out light bulbs in my kitchen. While this is not a true necessity, it can be quite helpful. How many gift guides are composed of necessities, anyway?
  9. Vitamin D pills – There are days when I never see the sun. If I go to bed before the sun rises and not leave until after sunset, I operate completely in the dark. To compensate for the lack of sunlight, vitamin D can actually be a necessity. Via Wikipedia: “Very few foods contain vitamin D; synthesis of vitamin D (specifically cholecalciferol) in the skin is the major natural source of the vitamin. Dermal synthesis of vitamin D from cholesterol is dependent on sun exposure.” Be sure to look for a bottle specifying vitamin D3  (the aforementioned cholecalciferol).
  10. Foghat’s 1976 album, “Night Shift” – The title track is an obvious standout, despite what I would call a lack of understanding in the second verse:

    Feel the fire
    I’m hooked to a live wire
    And I can’t let go
    I got a feeling that I can’t mistake
    Sun rises and I’m still awake

    I’m pretty sure they mixed up the experience of working a night shift with the experience of taking cocaine. But hey, I’m no music critic.