Late-Shift Worker's Lament: 'It's Killing Me'

Apr 22, 2011

Sleep deprivation has been in the news this week — it's a particular problem for air traffic controllers, who often work long graveyard shifts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 15 percent of Americans do some type of shift work.

A request on NPR's Facebook page asking people to share their own stories of working on the night shift brought more than 2,000 responses.

We talked to some of those folks to learn more — and below, you can find some of the comments they wrote in response to our Facebook post.

For instance, here's some of what Collin Lowry told us:

I work nights at KFC restaurant Help Desk. 6pm to 3am. I help the employees troubleshoot computer problems. Naps are allowed during lunches but certainly not during shifts. How do I cope going to school full time and not working? The answer is ... I don't. It's killing me working so late, but I am 19 and it's a good job.

Tina Nguyen says she is a night-shift ER military doctor, working four to six shifts a week. And no naps are allowed, she says:

We cope by watching movies or playing games when it's slow. I try to stay up on my nights off, but with the rest of the world with normal hours, it really becomes a pain to have to interfere [with] my sleep to accommodate them.

Paris Huang wrote:

I am an International Broadcaster of Voice of America's Chinese service, headquartered in D.C. In order to broadcast to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at their local prime news time, we have to work from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m., in order to meet the deadline at 7 a.m., which is 7 p.m. over there.

How do I cope? I take pills during the day and try to sleep, which in the long term is not good for my health. Sometimes even the pill doesn't work and I am kept awake by the sunlight, I would go to work with only 2 or 3 hours of sleep.

And Alan Hinostroza said: "I'm doing road construction on the I-15 in Utah, and I don't believe that napping is part of the job description!"

Of course, the staff of Morning Edition knows a little bit about working in the wee hours. Here's a short essay by our own Lindsay Totty, describing what it's like to work the overnight shift at NPR: Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit