And if you can help it, try not to argue about or even really care about anything that annoys you during these periods; and let’s face it, after some circadian flip-flops and missing the sun for a few days, just about everything can be annoying. I finally learned this lesson the hard way, twice.
It takes an amazingly understanding spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/friend with benefits or even roommate to really understand what we professional vampires need to function and survive between night shifts. For someone who has not had this experience him or herself, it takes a tremendous leap of faith to respect and adapt to our sleep needs. It doesn’t always make sense, and it isn’t always consistent.
Sometimes ‘The View’ is exactly what it takes to mellow out after a night of death, destruction, and social misfits. Other mornings it is a bowl of cereal, silence, darkness, and REM sleep as soon as possible. What I need to recover and hit the ED running for the next shift varies from day to day and is as multifactorial as our current economy. At the end of the day (or I should say at the end of the night) the need to relax and refresh, by any means necessary, trumps all else and relationship drama is definitely not a part of that equation.
It is no surpirse that a high percentage of ED docs get divorced, and many others chemically control their sleep patterns. I myself have had more than one relationship go down the drain as a direct result of sleep interference between night shifts and I have tried to control my sleep patterns with various agents (all legal!). For me personally, that method of sleep control is not worth the memory issues, or groggyness. I do still wonder what would have happened to some of those relationships had there been no nightshifts in my life, but everything happens for a reason, and I now have a wonderfully understanding sweetheart who gets it, and that makes all of the night shift horrors just melt away at the end of the night, with no need for chemical manipulation of my circadian rhythms. I really have no advice for docs and nurses who have yet to find a sympathetic partner or a way to balance this crazy world of Emergency Medicine, except to work less if you can. I do, however, suspect that avoiding conflict between night shifts will probably extend the life of one’s relationships, and I intend to mutter these words after every nigth shift until I drift into dream land, “I love my job, it completes me and brings me joy and my sweetie is the most perfect human on earth, and does no wrong”.