Having a newborn around means sleep is largely a thing of the past. Even before that, though, I spent many a night writing away. Which is something hardly unusual, when it comes to writers. So many people have told me that they do their best (or only) writing at night, that one would think it’s almost a prerequisite.
Which got me thinking about sleep deprivation and strange writing habits. Especially once I saw a fascinating article in the Economist, which explained the adverse side-effects this can have.
As new research suggests, night work is very unhealthy indeed. One study found that the longer nurses in South Korea had worked the night shift, the more likely they were to be obese. Another study, of retired car workers in China, found that shift work was associated with high blood pressure and diabetes. And a French study in 2014 found that ten years of shift work was associated with cognitive decline equivalent to an extra six-and-a-half years of ageing.
People who work at night suffer in two ways. First, a new schedule throws the body’s “circadian clock”—the inbuilt mechanism that regulates waking and sleeping—out of alignment. Night workers eat when their bodies are not ready for food and try to sleep when they are not tired. That leads to the second problem: night-shift workers simply do not sleep enough.
It is hard to know whether sleep disruption or exhaustion causes ill-health—or both together. A link between night work and type 2 diabetes, for example, might be because eating at the wrong times leads to more free fatty acids or because exhausted people eat more, or even because it can be hard to get wholesome food in the middle of the night.
In theory, night workers could avoid health problems by completely switching to a night-time schedule. But weekends, social obligations and sunlight make that impossible for most. In fact, the only people who seem to manage it are shift workers on offshore oil rigs, who labour in windowless rooms and do not take weekends off. But they suffer from jet lag when they return home.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap…
Nicholas, I hear where you are coming from. Babies disrupt sleep at night and just about the time you decide to snooze while they are napping, a dog, truck rumbling down the street, anything wakes them, and there goes the nap. It does get better in time. Diabetes articles keep popping up everywhere, the news on TV is full of the latest reports. I think our sleep habits, eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, not to mention heredity all play a part.
I’m sure it does. Janice just shared a fascinating post about sleep ‘washing’ the brain: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-24567412
Very interesting information, Nicholas. Thanks.
I used to work a night shift when I was younger, could never handle it. I’m a good sleeper normally, and really need all my hours of sleep. Having children was such a shock to my system! ???
Tell me about it 😀
Sleep ‘washes’ the brain. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-24567412
I always suspected I had a dirty mind 😀
Thanks for sharing that fascinating article 🙂
Good advice from noelleg44.
Agreed. Could you please tell my clients? 🙂
Turn off your phone.
Sadly, they stop paying me when I do that 😉
Cat nap whenever you can then, Nicholas.
Oh, that’s a great idea actually. I’d be doomed but for cat naps 🙂
I does get easier.
Lol – it’d better 😀
Not complaining, though. It’s well worth it 🙂
Enjoy because they grow up so quickly.
Sleep whenever the baby sleeps, Dad! it’s a crazy schedule but it will give you enough energy to keep going! Took me a while to learn that…
It’s a great idea. My clients don’t seem eager to get on board, though 🙂
I worked night-shift all but about five years of my thirty-five year nursing career. It took me nearly three years to adjust to a new day-life schedule. I was a basket case pacing all night, writing for hour, but I did get my first novel done. 🙂 Now, if I could just get all the health issues under control 🙁
Lol – see? There’s your silver lining!
This reminds me of a story I tell every hurricane season. My youngest was nine months old when Hurricane Juan hit. I was still breastfeeding, and he was still waking at night. I was so sleep deprived that when I woke in the middle of the hurricane and found everyone huddled on the coach, listening to the wind in the dark (the power was out), I fed the baby and we went back to bed. I was too tired to stay up and worry about the storm. I slept soundly though the wind threatened to take off the roof.
All I can say is, “it gets easier.” They do start to sleep through the night. My first one spoilt me. By three months old, she slept from 7pm to 6am. She was a dream baby. Unlike baby #2 who slept for an hour, ate for an hour, slept for an hour…you get the pattern. I recall debating on whether I wanted to eat or sleep when I had the chance. I often chose sleep.
The note about health issues associated with night work is interesting. Diabetes is on the rise, and I wonder if people staying up all hours of the night is fueling this. I don’t understand the trend of staying up late; by ten I’m wiped, but then I’m up at six.
That’s a story I can identify with! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Nick – although I’ve never been a parent you have my sympathies. Most of my long term health issues lie at the door at bad sleep patterns and sleep deprivation due a variety of reasons, but the most tangible being a leonine snoring sleeping partner…
Even taking the ultimate solution of separate bedrooms, over the last 12 years or so hasn’t really got me back into a better pattern – but, like you I’ve made some practical use of the sleepless small hours to do some writing, some of which have been pretty rewarding!
And yes, catching up on the ZZZZs can wait for that longest sleep – just not yet, please! 😉
Lol – quite right 😀
I’m an early morning writer, so I guess I’ve avoided the effects of toiling away at night (though I get up so early, I still don’t get enough sleep). Now, in your case, babies are known to cause sleep deprivation to the point of psychosis! Naps are vital!! Sleep well.
Thanks! Heading over now… 🙂
My mother worked night duty as an RN, never slept, and discovered she was diabetic in her 50’s. Even after retiring she had trouble with her time clock, roaming the house at all hours of the night and eating at odd hours. Now we know…Sweet dreams! 😉 ~Elle
Ouch! That’s awful 🙁
Totally feel for you, but at least you know it’s not forever. Hang in there, pal. I’m a morning person and even when sleep deprived I cannot work at night, but I envy authors who can as it has to be the quietest time ever. As for shifts, Andy has been doing them all his life so I know a bit about how it can affect you. Back in the UK, he used to do 4 days mornings, 4 days evenings, 4 days off, and that worked great, even though they were 12 hour shifts. His bosses there knew that was the only way to keep people healthy but here in Greece they don’t care. His current boss changes shifts as often and in whatever patterns he wishes, sometimes 3 times in a single week and Andy winds up like the living dead by the weekend 🙂 Ah well, at least his passion for running keeps him safe from obesity!
That’s awfully inconsiderate of his boss 🙁
Interesting article. I’ve never written at night, but I do get up early (around 4 a.m.) to bang away at the keys. 🙂
Same principle, I guess 🙂
Enjoy the nap. I was thinking about night shift work a little while ago. Made me think about how hard it is to sleep during the day. Too might light and that’s when telemarketers call the house. No idea how anybody can function like that.
Depends on how exhausted you are 🙂
Aiming for ‘barely living dead’. Though I sense people might try to attack me with baseball bats and chainsaws at that stage.
Lol – I’m reminded of an author friend who once said, “if exhaustion were newsworthy, mine would be a front page.”
Make mine a centerfold, please 🙂
I think I’d have Exhaustion of the Year. Surprised I can still limp along most days.
Dear Papa, that is the most amazing picture…evah! Congratulations. 🙂
Lol – thanks, but it’s not me. It’s an Internet meme. I should probably have made that clearer in the post 🙂
Awwww….. well, it’s still very cute. 😀
Having worked a rotating three-shift system for thirty-three years before retirement, I can vouch for all you say about shift-workers. Bad food at 2 am, snacking on rubbish before dawn, and always feeling tired.
Since finishing work, I often still stay up very late; but having to, or choosing to, are very different things. (And I get to sleep in-no baby!)
Best wishes, Pete.
Having to vs. choosing to makes all the difference in the world!
totally beautiful photo of you and your anti sleeping device…
Aw, you! Thank you, but that’s just a meme, and not the actual device (or me) 🙂
Lol – the joys of having a bub in the family – it gets better, once they learn to sleep through the night (of course when they actually do varies from baby to baby – my oldest son refused to sleep at any point of the day and I spent a lot of time rocking him to sleep before tip-toeing out of his room). As for the rest of your wonderful post, I used to work in a rest home doing shift work at night. It was an absolutely hideous experience trying to sleep during the day, especially when people were mowing their lawns and just going about their regular day-time activities. My brain was permanently tired and I didn’t know if I was coming or going and then…. you guessed it, my children came along and I thought I would never get a proper sleep ever again! 😀
Lol – I can so identify with you right now 😀
Have a nice doze Nicholas. You’ll learn soon enough that your sleep pattern will depend totally on baby.When baby sleeps , daddy sleeps ( except when driving which is not recommended). Friends will understand when you’re suddenly well away in the middle of a sentence.
Sigh… Too late – I’m already there, David!