I woke up in bed the other morning and felt amazing. I’ve been off of nightshift for nearly five weeks and I’m finally starting to feel human again. My sleep cycle is now synched with the rest of the world and my days have been ridiculously productive because of it. I’ve worked nightshift for over a decade and now, looking back on it, I can’t believe that I dedicated that much of my life towards something that is so unhealthy for my body and so disruptive to my productivity.
People would envy my response when I told them what I did for a living. They would often make comments like “I knew I should have gotten into the medical field.” or “Medical professionals have the best schedule working only three days a week.” I initially agree with the fact that I love my career and especially because I get to watch new life come into our world, care for premature babies and support their beautiful families in the process. However, the overwhelming feeling that I would get internally was “No, it’s not everything you think it is.” What people often don’t realize, is the time commitment that medical professionals put towards working nightshift. Yes, I only work three days a week but they are 13 hour shifts that run straight through the night. My four days off are recovery days where I’d walk around with half the energy of a normal human being, my immune system was always fighting to stay afloat, my eating cycle was always upside down and my circadian rhythm and the hormones that go along with that process were completely scattered. It’s a known scientific fact that nightshift causes increased risks of weight gain, insomnia, cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression (just to name a few). Here I was pressing through nightshift year after year and actively competing at the elite level in climbing competitions. To make things even more interesting, I had a baby.
What on earth was I thinking? Why did I just spend the last ten years of my life striving to be an elite athlete, build a family and create a beautiful life only to have it all tainted with the never-ending consequences of nightshift? Whether it was the desire to progress further in my career, the financial benefit to working those horrific hours or the fact that I loved working with neonates… none of it was worth what I’ve sacrificed in return.
Recently, I went through the process of questioning if what I was doing was really worth the outcome. Which brings me to the topic of this blog. I knew internally that nightshift was destroying me and that the effect it had also bled over into my athleticism, family life and personal health. How is it that we, as humans, can be so stubborn to change or so oblivious to the fact that we need to change that we plow through life year after year without addressing the areas within our life that are causing us the greatest amounts of stress and unhappiness. The most important piece of realizing that nightshift had been a negative aspect of my life was actually IMPLEMENTING the change that needed to occur. At first, it did not seem like an easy decision. Nightshift is readily available all across the medical field and dayshift positions are few and far between. What I began to realize as I ran the options through my head was that it was NOT a difficult decision, it was simple. As simple as “This is no longer an option.” I needed to realize that nightshift was destroying my health, athleticism and productivity and that it was not worth any price that the hospitals were willing to pay. I’ve begun to realize that money is not everything. What really matters to me is my family and interacting with them in an alert and energetic state. I need to be healthy for Ellie as she grows older and I’m realizing that I myself deserve health, balance and happiness as well.
I don’t know where this decision will take me in my career. I love working in the Neonatal ICU and I will continue to pursue a path in NICU’s across the country. I will travel as long as possible but if that path becomes thin due to my unwillingness to work nightshift I will adjust my sails.
Coming to this conclusion has been a significant step in my life that will undoubtably increase my happiness, health and productivity. I should have taken this step years ago. It has made me reflect on other areas of my life where I may have remained stagnant. What can I change so that my quality of life improves? All the way from the food I eat, to the way I exercise, to the quality of sleep that I get at night, to the way that I cope with stress or the ways that I choose to relax and decompress… I can come to one conclusion: I do not want to look back on my life and wonder why I didn’t work harder to overcome these hurdles so that I could obtain a more peaceful state of mind within myself. I will do everything I can to live a happy and healthy life and the first obvious step is getting better sleep.