January 31, 2000--St. Cloud, Minnesota
It was a cold January night, the dead of a snowy winter in Minnesota, and about 12 degrees outside. Not exactly star-gazing conditions. But as the hotel night attendant, Bill, could attest to (because I called him three times that night) I swore some guests were talking up a storm outside my room window while soaking in the hotel courtyard's Jacuzzi.
It was here in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where I spent my first stop on the night shift. We were working a split shift, producing the story of a small dairy farmer who spent her nights also working in a gigantic supply warehouse for Internet commerce. After we spent the first part of the evening on her nearby farm, we scheduled a three-hour break from midnight to 3:00 a.m. before we met up with her at the warehouse. And it was on that break when I intended to get some shuteye that I started to hear the voices.
But let me back up a little. Through the development of Livelyhood's "Night Shift," I had pre-interviewed dozens of people working nights. And they told me strange stories about hallucinations they sometimes had when driving home from work. Yeah, that's right, deer crossing that actually weren't there after a rub of the eyes. But then I learned the hallucinations were actually common of people up at night and that these folks didn't all need a drug test. But more about that later.
After I called the hotel front desk in to complain about the after hours Jacuzzi use happening outside my window, I started listening more closely to the voices and began to recognize them.
"Is that Gary, the photography director... and wait a minute, Betsy, the associate producer?" We were all traveling together on this shoot. And as the producer who set it up, I was concerned about this crew laughing it up until all hours when we hadn't even wrapped. "I mean, shouldn't they be getting some sleep," I thought. "And why didn't they invite me?"
That's when Bill the night attendant called to inform me that he had personally checked out the Jacuzzi and no one was in it. Then he asked me, "Are you okay ma'am?"
Well, I of course reasoned with Bill that the noisy hot-tubbers must have left before he arrived on the scene, but I scratched my head in exhaustion as I hung up the phone. That's when I started to remember the research Livelyhood had compiled for "Night Shift."
You see, we learned that almost everyone's internal clock is set for sleep at night especially between midnight and dawn. But still, workforces worldwide punch in every night to meet the demands of an around-the-clock economy-and often at a cost. People who don't get enough sleep can develop symptoms of shortened attention span, incoherent speech, even paranoia and vivid hallucinations. Back in the late fifties, a New York disc jockey stayed up for 201 hours while doctors observed him. Soon he couldn't recall the alphabet and at one point he thought spiders were spinning webs on his shoes!
And you don't have to be trying for the Guinness Book of World Records to experience such symptoms. Some people are so sleep-deprived that even one hour's change in sleep time, like day light's saving time, researchers say, can cause a weeklong spike in traffic accidents.
Back in sleepless St. Cloud, you can imagine, this was all very reassuring for me. First the voices and now I was just waiting for the spiders on my socks to do tricks.