By: Jonathan Sherrill, BA, RST, RPSGT

A paradox is any seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. The job of the sleep tech is inherently a paradox, as working overnight hours to help patients to sleep better often jeopardizes the sleep health of the person conducting the overnight test.  Sleep techs work tirelessly making sure that our patients are comfortable, informed, and properly cared for during their overnight sleep studies. It’s a tough job. Many patients undergoing sleep studies are nervous, anxious, tired and not interested in spending the night in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar technician. But it’s an important job! After completing a sleep study and receiving treatment for a sleep disorder, many patients report that their lives are greatly improved. Without sleep tech sacrificing their own sleep health there would be far more untreated sleep disorders in the world.

So that got me thinking: What are the effects of working the graveyard shift, how can sleep techs take better care of themselves, and why do they call this a graveyard shift anyhow?

What are the effects or consequences of working the graveyard shift?

Short Term:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and heartburn,
  • Increased risk of injuries and accidents,
  • Substance abuse,
  • Disruption of natural sleep-wake cycle, insomnia,
  • Decreased quality of life, and
  • General feeling of being unwell.

Long Term:

  • Cardiovascular disease,
  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome,
  • Obesity,
  • Depression and mood disorders,
  • Serious gastrointestinal problems,
  • Problems with fertility and pregnancy, and
  • Cancer.

There is obviously concern about the long-term effects of shift work and sleep cycle disruption. However, there are treatment for sleep cycle disruption including bright light therapy, sleep medications, sleep supplements, and implementing a proper sleep routine.

Are some people better suited to night-work than others?

There really is a biological difference between night owls and early birds. There are differences in our circadian rhythms. So yes, some people (night owls) may make better sleep techs than others. But this can change over your lifetime, and even night owls need to stick to a regular sleep schedule.

So what else can we do to combat the effects of shift work?

  • Get an adequate amount of sleep, before your shift, never during your shift,
  • Use caffeinated products wisely,
  • Make healthier meal and snack choices,
  • Monitor your health,
  • Bond with Your co-workers,
  • Find constructive ways to keep busy,
  • Exercise or get active to stay alert,
  • Create a healthy balance on the home front,
  • Learn how to accommodate the circadian clock, and
  • Get home safely.

Why do they call it the graveyard shift anyhow? Do gravediggers dig graves at night? Turns out the phrase “graveyard shift” has nothing to do with the digging of graves, but it’s still really morbid. Here’s an explanation from

In the 1800s, medical science wasn’t what it is today, and people who were merely in a deep coma were often pronounced dead. When their coffins were dug up (who knows why….flooding perhaps, or by vandals) they would occasionally find scratch/claw marks on the inside of the coffin lid, indicating that the person had regained consciousness and tried to fight their way out. The practice then became to attach a bell on a long cord to the hand of the supposedly deceased. During the day, the cemetery attendants would listen for bells ringing, but the shift of workers whose sole job was to listen for the bells of the buried but undead, from midnight to dawn, became known as the Graveyard Shift.