After spending last semester studying abroad in London, where I spent about 1.5 times more money on every single thing I bought (go to hell, pound currency), getting a job this summer was sort of a priority. I pictured doing something really fun, high paying and with flexible hours so I could maximize my fun time. Instead, I’m working midnights at a retail store. I was thankful to get the job, because I need the cash, but working all night definitely wasn’t my idea of an ideal job at first.
Working midnight or flex hours is a situation that many college kids will have to encounter, whether in the immediate or distant future. Twenty percent of the American workforce, after all, does some type of shift work. Adding in the competition that exists these days for work, the need to take on midnight hours might be an attractive, if not your only, option.
As you can imagine, working evening hours comes with its share of problems. There’s a reason that humans predominately work during the day. The body isn’t physiologically meant to work midnights. It goes against something called the circadian clock, a tiny part of your brain that regulates how much light you see and tells you to get some damn sleep. Yet in a way, the college lifestyle is an exercise in telling your circadian clock to shove it over a four year stretch anyway.
The college lifestyle is certainly more of a late night thing after all. It can come in many forms, including staying up all night cramming before finals or staying out until four on a fun Saturday night, but in a way college life is already working pseudo midnights, with the exception that we’re actually paying (through our tuition) for those hours rather than getting paid. Regardless, the adjustment can still be difficult. Here’s some tips for those college kids who may be just starting midnights or flex hours.
Get as close as possible to a normal sleep schedule:
The key words here are “as possible.” You won’t be able to achieve a normal sleep schedule. That’s just a given. So get as close as possible to a normal sleep schedule. If you get off work at 7 am, go right to sleep no matter how long it takes. You can sleep until about 2 pm if you’re lucky, and get on living with the daywalkers once you get up. You then have all day to resume life as a normal functioning human being.
Schedule a meal for one of your breaks:
I’ve noticed that working flex hours, including midnights can really mess up your appetite. Again using the “as possible” approach, schedule your dinner roughly for when you have a break at work. Call it a “late dinner” or something. This will ensure that your meals are somewhat spread apart normally. Say you wake up at 2 pm, that’s your first meal. Second could be at 8 or so, then 2 am about for the last. This will ensure that your eating schedule is around the norm, just pushed to different hours.
Never stay up the entire time between shifts:
This should be a no-brainer, but when it’s 7 am and you’re just getting off your shift, your brain is often MIA anyway. Every time I get off work it tries to tell me “well it’s early in the morning, and I’m not tired, maybe I’ll just stay up.” This is your brain on crazy, do not listen to it. You need sleep so you might as well just get down to it right away. If you listen to that advice, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re going into your shift having not slept in about 36 hours. Imagine how long that eight hour shift will feel as you slink around like a zombie. It will suck, so don’t do it under any circumstance.
Party it up on your off days:
This is actually my advice for any job, not just flex hour ones. You work crazy undesirable hours, reward yourself on your nights off. You’re already used to staying out all night (at work), so you’ll actually have a partying leg up on all those daywalking friends of yours.