Our contact with shift workers indicates that they tend to spend a lot of time alone. The schedules shift workers are on are often not conducive to a lot of togetherness with family and friends. We often write about the need for shift workers to stay in touch and find time for recreation with others. Recently there have been several studies about the importance of time spent alone. Solitude has been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual insight for decades. Now studies are showing that we remember things better when we are alone. Taking time for self-reflection is a good thing; being surrounded by others can hamper a person’s efforts to figure out what he or she really thinks of something. Perhaps shift workers’ time alone allows them time to know themselves more truly than other do.
Researchers state that in order to get anything positive out of spending time alone, solitude should be a choice. You have to feel like you have actively decided to take time apart from people, rather than being forced into it against your will. For many shift workers, working shift work is not a choice, it is a necessity. Perhaps it just comes with the job, or is necessary due to family demands like the need to take care of children or aging parents. Shift differentials cause the money to be good. Is any of this really a choice? How many shift workers choose to work shift work.
The truth is that long term shift workers have adapted to the work schedule, and at that level perhaps choice is involved. Take the woman I’ve written about at other times, the one who, in her early 60’s still works at the post office on an overnight shift. She loves her shift and talks about all the wildlife she sees on her way in and how great it is to sleep on the beach and other things she does in solitude. For her, this lifestyle is a choice. She knows herself deeply.
All shift workers are not going to be like this woman. But perhaps we can all take the opportunity to use the time we spend alone to get to know ourselves better. This is a positive takeaway from working shift work.
©2011 Circadian Age, Inc. ˜Working Nights”