How can I battle graveyard-related depression?
July 12, 2011 2:26 PM   Subscribe

How can I battle graveyard-related depression? I have things pretty good. I have a decent job, decent hobbies, a loving wife, and we're about to move into a nicer living situation. Despite all the good stuff happening, I feel myself sinking and I think it's related to the job and my lack of real sleep as a side-effect of said job.

The job is a graveyard position in a datacenter. On a typical night I get there at 8PM, see and speak to no one, and leave again at 8AM. The brain drain is starting to take a toll. I sleep poorly during the day (3-4 hours of real sleep, if I'm lucky) and then I head back to work. The trouble is that my body automagically wakes up 4 hours before my alarm. By the end of my short work week I find myself spent. My conversation skills are broken and I find myself sleeping 10-12 hours at a stretch to make up for the bad sleep. My wife is starting to get worried about me and I don't really know how to cope. I'm pretty sure I'm falling into a depression and I think it's being caused by really poor sleep. This is worrying because depression runs in my family (as does suicide and other mental illness issues).
I take Simply Sleep and we have blackout curtains in the bedroom. I often sleep with earplugs in. The next step I can see is to find a sleep mask. I don't want to go the medication route because of potential side-effects and I don't want to leave the job if I don't have to, mainly because the chances for advancement are stellar if I can stick with it.
Has anyone found good solutions to this?
posted by tmt to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I worked six months of graveyard once (retail), twelve hours a shift, and found myself in roughly your situation. If you're not already looking for a new job, look for a new job. Getting "adjusted" to this is a crapshoot and you're already well off the even money mark (depression, mental illness, suicide.) Don't try to trick yourself, the stress you are putting your mind and body under will bring out the demons sooner or later. At the very least you should be sitting under an light therapy lamp regularly.
posted by griphus at 2:31 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cut out caffeine entirely, if you're drinking a lot of it. Try taking melotonin when you get home from work every day, that should help reset your sleep cycle. Sleep the same schedule on the weekends, unless you need to do something.

Also, take naps at work. Most data centers should be okay with that as long as you can hear the phone ring and react to it.
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does the "stellar" chance of advancement lead to daylight? If not, I'd bail.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:35 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mr Yuck, the good thing about working the graveyard shift in IT is that you get your hands in everything, even at entry level, so you learn a lot, really quickly. It's good for your resume if nothing else. It's worth hanging around for a year or so, but if it's long term, I'd start polishing up my resume and looking for another job.
posted by empath at 2:38 PM on July 12, 2011

Please don't rule out the possibly significant (if not life-changing) benefits of sleep medication because of "potential" side effects. The feelings you're describing, and the tangible toll that lack of sleep is having on your life, warrants at least a talk with your doctor about your options. Your general practitioner (any general practitioner) can be of help if you're not already working with someone on the mental health side.

Take good care of yourself.
posted by mauvest at 2:48 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Take some Vitamin D.
posted by Riverine at 2:51 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I take Simply Sleep... I don't want to go the medication route because of potential side-effects

Just saying.
posted by the jam at 3:05 PM on July 12, 2011

Best answer: (IANAD, so what follows is a layperson's understanding.) The active ingredient in Simply Sleep is diphenhydramine HCl, an antihistamine (the same active ingredient as in Benadryl). Antihistamines fuck with your sleep architecture and give you less-restful sleep. There are prescription sleep aids that do not do this. There is also at least one drug (modafinil / Provigil) that can be used to combat fatigue during shift work.

I suggest that you talk to a doctor about your options. Don't avoid the doctor because of a presumptive conclusion that doctor = prescription drugs = bad. You may or may not walk out of the office with a prescription to try. A doctor with a good understanding of sleep physiology may also give you advice on managing things like light exposure, exercise, stimulants, and melatonin.
posted by Orinda at 3:17 PM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I know this stinks, but if you're switching back and forth between daytime hours on your days off and nighttime hours on your work days, you have to stop it.
posted by SMPA at 4:33 PM on July 12, 2011

Simply Sleep is medication, and you should talk to your doctor about your long-term use of it, even if you don't want to go on any other medication.

Also, it's pretty easy to get used to an eyemask. I use one when I travel because I can't be sure that I'll be somewhere dark enough to sleep in.

You might consider changing your exercise patterns and light therapy.
posted by grouse at 4:39 PM on July 12, 2011

I would really consider switching to another job. It seems like your body and mind is telling you something important here. Are we talking about more money in this job? Because this type of stuff could get you into a place that money is not going to get you out of. And it's not a good place.
posted by storybored at 6:55 PM on July 12, 2011

Regarding sleep aids, you may not have to take one for very long; sometimes just a few days of a prescription sleep aid such as Ambien will kick your body back into a proper sleep cycle. Then you can just use it now and then when you end up off-schedule again. A lot of the prescription sleep aids are WAY less-hard on you than "simply sleep." I feel less medicine-head-y and get better sleep when I've used an Rx aid rather than benadryl stuff. I've worked similar shifts and ended up with messed-up sleep as a result, but I did overcome it and I actually came to like the schedule; my working hours were quiet and productive, I slept when everyone else was boringly at work; and then I had free time in the afternoon when stores were empty and socializing time in the early evening before heading out to work.

Are you keeping to (or trying to keep to) the same schedule on weekends? Because shifting back and forth between two sleep schedules will DEFINITELY mess you up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 PM on July 12, 2011

PS -- I adore my sleep mask. Even though I sleep nights now (or I do in theory! I have a newborn), I still use one. This is the most comfortable one I've found.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:29 PM on July 12, 2011

black out your windows with garbage bags. Seriously. Or something classier, but you want your room to be totally dark.

Wear sunglasses on your way home from work. And a big hat. Apparently the blue light of the day resets your clock. So try to block it out.

Ditto sleep mask.

Fan on for white noise. Ear plugs too can be good.
posted by sully75 at 8:23 PM on July 12, 2011

Have you ever been tested for sleep apnea?
posted by IndigoRain at 10:03 PM on July 12, 2011

Response by poster: These are all good suggestions. I got a sleep mask and I'm starting a regimen of vitamin D. I have a psych appointment scheduled for next week.

The not switching back and forth thing is really tough. There isn't a lot to do around the house at four in the morning. I'm going to work on training my body to stick to a tighter schedule though.

I didn't realize the side-effects from the Diphenhydramine were that bad.

The money is very good, and the benefits are amazing. I'm starting to understand why.
posted by tmt at 10:37 PM on July 12, 2011

Response by poster: Have you ever been tested for sleep apnea?
I haven't, and my wife hasn't mentioned anything about my breathing.

We're moving to a quieter part of town so getting solid sleep may become easier. We'll see. Again, thanks for the suggestions.
posted by tmt at 10:40 PM on July 12, 2011

Best answer: I've been working the graveyard shift for almost 4 years now. Blackout shades on the windows are a must. Also, I've found that running a fan at high speed in the bedroom creates enough white noise to drown out the sounds of the outside world and helps lull me to sleep. (I live in Manhattan, next to an active construction site, and it still works for me.) You'll probably also find that you sleep more easily in the winter, when it stays dark outside later.

Besides the sleep issue, you're probably suffering from a lack of intellectual stimulation. I strongly recommend taking a bit of time each day to do some brain games, logic puzzles, etc. If you have lots of downtime, bring some books to the office or try some online documentaries.

Don't forget to exercise. All you need is a hallway or corridor and you can do situps, pushups, stretching, or even some yoga. Not only will exercising make you more tired at "night" and help you sleep better, but it will help prevent you from gaining the weight that comes from having limited food options available to you during your work hours.

Feel free to memail me if you want more specifics, or just some moral support. Good luck.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 11:44 PM on July 12, 2011

Currently I'm splitting the difference in my off time. I go to sleep around 2AM or 3AM on my days off. That's like staying up till midnight and then a little bit extra. I get up around 11AM on my days off. It's not like getting up at 7, which seems really hard. But I'm not staying up till 7AM like I do on my work days.

Anyway, I would consider splitting the difference.

It's 4:39 and I'm wide effing awake! But I'm at work.
posted by sully75 at 1:44 AM on July 13, 2011

griphus: "I worked six months of graveyard once (retail), twelve hours a shift, and found myself in roughly your situation. If you're not already looking for a new job, look for a new job. Getting "adjusted" to this is a crapshoot and you're already well off the even money mark (depression, mental illness, suicide.)"

I spent about 3.5 months working a graveyard shift, during which I was subjected to shifts often in excess of 10-12 hours, and forced to listen to hyper-conservative talk radio the entire time.

Of course, this wasn't a "good" job by any stretch. The money was OK, but it wasn't the career I wanted. Quitting was a very easy decision, and one of the best (and certainly most cathartic) that I've ever made.

I should also add that I quit without having something new lined up. I didn't have many financial obligations at the time, so this was easy. However, the job was taking enough of a toll on me that I was completely unable to look for new work, or brush up on my skills. Simply put, job hunting is an exhausting task, and virtually impossible to do if you're depressed. The current economy certainly does not make it easier. I'd start planning to save every penny or scale back your expenses so that your wife can support you for a little while.

I quit during the winter. The day I quit, I literally walked out the door, caught a bus to the airport, and flew to visit a few family members who live someplace warm for a week. Looking back, this was one of the best weeks of my life. Holy crap, life was enjoyable again....not only that... it's AMAZING. Rest, sunshine, and yummy southern food (I never understood the term "comfort food" before then. Now I know.)

The week after I got home, I applied for tons of jobs (while at the crappy job, I was managing one or two apps per week. Now, I was doing 50). In the interim, I found a crappy part-time (DAYTIME) temp job with UPS that helped make ends meet until I picked up my next gig.

tl;dr; Quit your job as soon as you can without it causing financial ruin on you or your family. No money is worth this.

Oh, and in the interim, exercise definitely helps. Time it so it doesn't disrupt your sleep cycle. However, it definitely improves your mood while you're awake, and makes you sleep like a rock if you've done it properly.
posted by schmod at 9:41 AM on July 13, 2011

Response by poster: I wish it were as simple as quitting, but life is too complicated for that and I must carry health insurance. I won't be doing this forever but I do need to start taking steps to make it a healthier choice than not. Thanks for the suggestions for exercise and ways to keep the mind busy. It all helps much more than people realize.
posted by tmt at 1:26 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: As a thirty day follow-up I just wanted to say thanks for the good suggestions. Improved sleep and setting attainable long-term goals has helped make a huge difference.
posted by tmt at 11:03 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Four month follow-up: I've given my notice and I'm going to go it alone!
posted by tmt at 2:32 AM on December 10, 2011

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