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Third-shift living seems a bit like operating in a parallel universe. Folks on these shifts are carrying out their daily routines while the rest of the Quad-Cities is asleep, and they're fast asleep while other Quad-Citians are at work.

For much of the last decade, this has been Tess Colegrove's life. The 41-year-old East Moline woman is the lead charge nurse in the critical-care unit on the night shift at Genesis Medical Center, Silvis.

“I personally enjoy working night shift, and for me, at least for now, the pros outweigh the cons,” she said in an email interview.

Colegrove typically works three nights a week from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., but sometimes she doesn't get off work until sometime between 8 and 10 a.m. “Nursing isn't a job that you can just punch out from when the next shift arrives,” she said.   

She also works extra shifts as needed to make sure the unit is fully staffed.

Working nights at a hospital has its perks. “I enjoy the greater autonomy of nights. Ancillary staff and management are minimal. The pace is sometimes slower, and the unit is normally quieter," she said.

"As a nurse, you have the opportunity to spend more quality time with your patients with fewer interruptions at night,” Colegrove added. “This also means (there's) a lack of help when you are busy, but it's a trade-off.”

Like most hospitals, Genesis provides shift differential pay, Colegrove said. “I like that we're compensated for our unnatural schedule.” She is taking online courses and working toward a master's degree, so being awake at night on her days off is “great so I can study or write papers when I have no other obligations because it's the middle of the night and everyone else is asleep,” she said.

“I also like that I can catch some beautiful sunsets and sunrises and be available at off hours for my friends and family.”

But working third shift is not without its consequences.

"The most obvious challenge of working night shift is the disruption of your natural circadian rhythm,” Colegrove said. “I sleep and eat at some very weird times. ... I typically do not go to bed when I get home from work and instead take time to watch TV, read or play with my dogs to unwind. I try to be in bed by 11 (a.m.) or 12 (noon), and I wake up at 17-17:30 (5-5:30 p.m.),” she said. 

“This chronic lack of sleep usually results in one (or) two days a week of assisted sleep,” she said, adding that she will take a sleep aid to get between eight to 12 hours of shut-eye to “catch up.”

Also, making health-care appointments and plans with friends and family can be tricky, she said.

In addition, “I'm a member of a few committees at work, and meeting times can be an issue as a night-shift worker,” she said. At 2 p.m. every other month, these meetings fall in the middle or at the end of the workday for most people. But for her, they fall in the middle of the night.

Shopping also can be challenging, she said, but hitting 24-hour stores such as Hy-Vee, Walmart or Walgreens in the middle of the night means that she misses the crowds. Getting to the gym can be a pain, too, she said, depending on what class she'd like to take, or what time she'd like to swim.

She takes a vitamin D supplement “for my chronic lack of daily sun exposure,” she said, “and like a lot of shift workers, I struggle with depression and obesity. There are several health studies on the detrimental effects of shift work, and I think all night-shift workers should be aware of the long-term risks associated with our schedules.”

According to sleep clinic technologist Katie Trent, who works at the Genesis Sleep Disorders Center on the campus of Genesis Medical Center, West Central Park, Davenport, “shift work can increase your risk of heart disease, depression, metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal disorders, reproductive disorders and some cancer. It has also been proven to increase your risk for obesity, which increases risk of diabetes.”

To make shift work a little easier, Trent said, workers should try to keep a regular sleeping schedule, “even on your days off.

“Good sleep hygiene is key when working third shift. You need to sleep in a dark, quiet room,” she said, using an eye mask and a white-noise machine if needed.

Trent said third-shift workers should go to bed only when they are drowsy. “If you get into bed and (are) not asleep after 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and engage in a quiet activity until you feel drowsy,” she said.

Establishing a pre-sleep ritual also is helpful, she said. Examples are taking a warm bath, eating a light snack or reading.

Colegrove, a third-generation nurse, recently celebrated her 10-year anniversary with Genesis Medical Center, “and with the exception of a few months here and there, I have always worked 12-hour nights,” she said. She had a second-shift stint a few years ago, she said, but it was difficult for her to work from 3 to 11 p.m. 

“I prefer the 12-hour shifts and (having an) extra day off each week.”


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