Coping with night shifts

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Sometimes, I wish the world would shut down overnight. Everything would pause, as if in a real-life mannequin challenge, only to resume upon the sunrise. The times I wish this is before, after and especially during a night shift at the Beeb, because unfortunately, life doesn’t stop and news keeps coming from around the world, so once a month I do a string of them to cover shows across the World Service. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a constant supply of caffeine.

I’ve just finished my fourth run of nights since I started my job, and they are not getting any easier. I had plenty of prior warning about the difficulties of getting through them, but I still didn’t fully appreciate the challenge until the first batch arrived. Granted, most graduates end up as night owls in their final year of university, and I’ve even worked a job that was permanently on late shifts, not finishing till 1 in the morning. But all the way through till dawn? That’s another thing entirely.

Yet the whole issue of catching every one of your forty winks isn’t consigned purely to those who work night shifts. Sleep has been the casualty of a world that refuses to shut down and embraces the 24/7 mentality from all angles. This is rather alarming, considering that rest is a necessity as fundamental as food and drink. For me, the moments of exhaustion in the early hours, counting down the minutes to the end of your shift, do occasionally cause me to worry about the long term effects.

Then again, I am not permanently on nights, and I am also lucky enough to love my job to bits, so at least I am enjoying my work whilst fighting to keep my eyes open. In a way, there is something quite peaceful about the deserted office, only broken when you wander into a darkened room and encounter the deep rumbles of someone snoring through an early morning nap. Then when I work regular hours, I try getting the Underground at half eight- the curse of the commuters- and wonder how anyone can do it Monday to Friday.

One of the main things I’ve learned is that everyone copes with night shifts differently; they’re such an unusual and daunting beast, that you have to develop your own strategy of dealing with them. But over the last few months, I’ve picked up a few techniques that help me prepare for and cope with them better- not so much completely removing the impact, but softening the blow at least. I thought I’d share them below:

  • If you work blocks of shifts like me, staying up late the night before yours first shift works wonders in moving your body clock forward. I usually stay up till around 2 and then sleep in most of the morning, to make the first great push less of a challenge. Remember being a kid and staying up late was the coolest thing in the world? How times change.
  • For me, the hardest part of nights is coming off them the other end. There are a few options: the first is get a few hours sleep, rise around the start of the afternoon, to get your body clock back to normal. The second is to stay up all day and go to sleep in the early evening- quite an endurance as you’ll be up for over 24 hours! The final option is to stretch the process over a couple of days (so you go to bed in the early morning after your first day off, and gradually push your sleeping pattern back a few hours at a time). What you actually do depends on your immediate plans after your last night shift- I prefer the latter option, but usually end up with the first!
  • The F word- no not that one, food. Some swear by not eating at all, and I don’t blame them: your metabolism is greatly reduced during the wee hours, so it’s generally not a great idea to binge overnight. I tend to follow the breakfast-dinner-lunch plan: have my main meal before getting in to work, and then a sandwich in the early hours to keep me sustained. Just be aware of how your body processes food at a slower rate.
  • Pace the caffeine! I try and stay off coffee for the second half of my shift- although I do still have tea, because little else will make me feel warm and comforted at that time in the morning- so that there is nothing to stop me falling asleep the moment I get home.
  • Invest in some decent ear plugs and an eye mask. Trust me, you’re going to want to get as much rest as possible, and the best way to achieve this is to limit factors that can force you awake. Shutting off any sound and light is guaranteed to keep you sound asleep.
  • Try to avoid making plans during the day. Sleep needs to be prioritized! In between nights, I never plan to do anything that can’t be done within the parameters of my flat, or even better, my bedroom (don’t give me that look…) Having said that, I would recommend getting some decent exercise before your shift. I find an evening run is brilliant for waking yourself up for the night ahead. You’d think it would only make you more tired, but actually it’s an ideal way to de-stress.
  • Keep your workplace brightly lit during your shift. It can be tempting to keep them dimmed but in fact, your body reacts to the light and makes you feel more alert. That’s why you can end up staying awake for hours from staring at your phone in bed, because the bright light causes your body to think it’s daytime and you should be awake. Use this during night shifts to your advantage to give yourself an attentiveness boost.

Hopefully these tips will help! If you are tackling night shifts in the future, and reading this article has sent you into a sleepless panic about the consequences, then just remember this: as poor souls drag themselves out of bed for another day at the office, it’s the former that YOU will be going home to. Forget the rest, for your rest will come soon after.

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Reacting to the news…

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Seeing his wife Monica fighting back the tears, Eric grabbed her by the ponytails and held her head gently. He’d been dying to get home ever since he’d heard the news. “Can you believe it Monica?” he whispered to her.

“I can’t,” Monica sniffed, dabbing at her eyes. “Ever since they made the announcement, the world just doesn’t seem real anymore.”

“How did you hear about it?” Eric asked. He couldn’t quite believe it himself. No one seemed happy by the news; no one had ever truly wanted such a thing to happen.

“In the canteen at work,” Monica replied. “I don’t know why it affected me so much, but I just had to come home.”

“I don’t blame you,” Eric mused. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that this truly feels like the end of the world.” He held his face in his hands for a minute, before rubbing his eyes as he stared at his TV. There was nothing on, just a blank screen. “How do you think people will react?”

“There’ll be revolts up and down the country,” Monica replied without hesitation. “No shadow of a doubt. People won’t stand for it. No one ever thought it actually would happen in the first place. To be honest, I think it would be a good idea for us to stop doing anything until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Eric was on his feet now, pacing the room as if trying to diffuse some great bundle of energy inside him. “Perhaps…” he pondered, as though what he was trying to say was bold and daring, and he was hesitant to speak it. “Perhaps it might be a good thing. Change can be good for the world.”

“Not like this,” said Monica flatly. “This feels like the wrong kind of change to me. I mean, think what this could inspire within people. They see this happening, they suddenly think that their radical notions aren’t quite so radical anymore. Where do we go from there?”

“I don’t know what we’ll tell the kids,” sighed Eric. “Do well at school, by the book that binds us all… and for what reward? When something like this can happen?”

Monica gripped him by the hands and stared deep into her eyes. “Don’t worry my love,” he reassured her. “We’ll still teach them what is right. This won’t change them one bit.”

They both sat down and stared straight ahead, still taking it all in. “I still can’t believe it though,” Eric wandered aloud.

“Yeah. Whoever thought they’d reduce the size of Toblerone? What kind of world do we live in where such a thing is possible?”

“Whatever happens, we’ll always have the Quality Street. They can’t take that away from us.”

Hoping for a change of tone, Eric reached for the remote. On flicked the latest news.

“Holy shit,” he gasped.

“I can’t believe it,” Monica’s hands were covering her eyes.

“The John Lewis Christmas advert,” they said together.

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Love Underlined: Our trip to the French Riviera

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One does not dream of the French Riviera in October, unless it is already October. Suddenly you’re desperate for a holiday; whether clinging onto the final remnants of summer, wanting to utilise half term, or you just need to “get away from it all,” whatever “it” may be. In any case, I actually had a different reason for going. Philippa, my better half, adores Antibes in particular, having been many times before with her father. This was an ideal incident for bringing us closer together.

The only issue, for me anyway, was that we would fly out a few hours after the last in a run of night shifts. This didn’t seem like such a big deal when we booked the flights, but as the night finally approached I began to anticipate (and dread) how tired I would be. Never have I been more jealous of leaving my bed, knowing Philippa would get a full night’s kip and I would just have to power through. But amazingly, despite only getting three hours kip, I had fully recovered by the time we arrived at Gatwick. It was certainly one way of getting me back to a normal sleeping pattern: just FORCE myself into it!

I can only put my alertness down to adrenaline from the excitement of the holiday, which heightened throughout the flight until we arrived at Nice. Once we were at our hotel, we spent the rest of our first day exploring the streets of Antibes. This was equally exciting for both of us, me taking in all the sights and Philippa becoming reacquainted with her favourite haunts. Cruising through the harbour,was particularly entertaining, ogling the bombastic yachts that were almost formidable in their over the top splendour; I suppose you have to find humour in a situation so depressing with its intimidating wealth.

We began the morning of Day 2 with a brief tour of the town’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, marveling at its awe-inspiring architecture, before heading up to the Picasso Museum. The renowned artist lived in Antibes for quite a while, and there’s an extensive collection of his work available, interspersed with facts about his life. The old fort that houses his work was small, but it was paced well over several floors, with an ideally placed terrace offering stunning views of the western Riviera coastline; it wasn’t difficult to see why Picasso found the place so inspiring.

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Eager to experience as many of the key locations in the region, we spent the afternoon wandering through Cannes, eating crepes on the back streets and fitting our palms into the various movie star hands along the red carpet at the Palais. When you only have an afternoon to get to know a city, to feel like you truly understand it, knowing where to start can be as frustrating as it is daunting. We found it best to choose one stand-out attraction and wind our way towards it; sure, you want some kind of direction, but a holiday is meant to be relaxing!

Day 3 began in one of Philippa’s favourite breakfasting hideaways: a garden café, with a gorgeous outdoor area full of plants and oddball figurines. The tranquil setting was just we needed before our trip to Monte Carlo, across the border in Monoco. It’s allure lies in its ambition; almost smelling of money, it bustles with a brisk pace that would make London proud. With that in mind, we simply had to pay a visit to its renowned casino. Before our holiday, I had no prior interest in the venue, but who doesn’t want to feel like James Bond for a day?

I felt it was cheeky that you had to pay ten euros to get into the main gaming rooms (along with showing your passport, as they don’t actually allow the locals in!), seeing as it’s not exactly a place that’s a bit short of the money front, but gazing over the games it was still easy to embrace the elegance of it all. We went in the middle of the afternoon, so it was clearly a more relaxed slot, with no strict dress code being enforced (one guy sat at the most popular roulette table was in a hoodie and jeans) but it still offers a window into a different kind of living. If you don’t find it repulsive, then it’s worth looking in.

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With the prospect of our evening flight looming over our final day, we opted for a relaxing ramble around the coastline of Antibes to Juan Les Pins, making the most of the best weather we’d had all week to take in the Riviera at a leisurely pace. We had intended to drop into a five star hotel and bask in the glory of its glitz and glamour with a drink or two, but sadly it was closed for off season! This was the latest in a series of fruitless ventures thwarting us for being so late in the year. Still, we got some lovely purchases from Antibes market, and if anything it gave us a reason to return in the summer.

On the food front, the best meal of the trip was on the second night at a kooky intimate venue down one of the town’s many backstreets. I’d love to pretend we stumbled across it, and sing praise to Sir Spontaneity and Lady Luck, but in actual fact we found it on TripAdvisor. Not so much taking a chance as going in with high expectations! I had the most delicious sole with a goats cheese and white wine sauce, but what was also intriguing was the use of edible flowers; not just for decoration, our host went as far as explaining what each one was and why it had been chosen.

It wasn’t just the feeling of peace and tranquility that stood out to me while we were on the French Riviera; it was also its sense of optimism, that something better was worth yearning for because it could be achieved. As Autumn sets in at home and the weather becomes moody at best and downright depressing at worst, that feeling of elation that envelops you from all across the area can be just the right tipple. Antibes, a beautiful town bursting with culture, is a superb spot to start.

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