The Sun Also Sets; or, the benefits of being nocturnal

Sometimes in life, but more specifically during a medical residency, you have to stay up all night. As a kid, staying up all night could pretty much only be awesome. It meant:

  • A sleepover* was happening
  • A snow day was imminent
  • The olympics were happening in some foreign country, and for that week you and your whole family became ice skating experts at 3 AM (“She’s nervous…I can just tell. Her axels seem way off base.”

*Sleepovers are basically raves for little kids. Except that the drugs are video games, the club was just the house with the best food (this was critically important – you had to know whose house had the real snacks, and whose house had the rice crackers and soy paste), the promoter was your friend’s older brother, and the owner was a shadowy authority figure upstairs, wearing a robe.

As we progress through life, the night becomes more necessary and less charmed. The night becomes less of a buffer against what you failed to do during the day, and becomes more of the prime working time. Homework happens at night. Ditto for test studying. Sometimes it is preferable to working during the day – you aren’t taunted by sunlight and the promise of a frisbee toss, or whatever it is that real humans with respectable work/life balances do in their spare time outside (Run? Catch fireflies in jars? Laugh giddily in cornfields?)

I’m now working at a hospital nocturnally for a few weeks. The dreaded “night float” rotation. I’m covering for the primary teams while they are sleeping. I’m keeping watch. I’m like Jon Snow at the Wall. I’m like Batman, if Batman were called for very mundane and routine bureaucratic hold ups (“Help! Batman! Our W2’s were filed incorrectly!”). Now, I’m being a little hyperbolic (obviously). You never know when you will be called for a code, or a rapid response, so you always have to be sharp. And awake. But you have to admit, it would be sort of funny if Batman were called to the scene, and it just turned out that someone needed Tylenol for a minor headache.

BATMAN, (in his ‘dark and scary’ voice, whispering into the ear of a frightened old man): TAKE TWO. YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO GO TO SLEEP NOW. IF YOU NEED ME, FLASH THE BAT SIGNAL. OR JUST HAVE YOUR PHARMACY CALL MY OFFICE.

OLD MAN: Thank you, Bat-


[The OLD MAN‘s window is open, curtains flapping. BATMAN is gone]

[Bewildered, the old man is about to take his medications, when-]



What are the benefits of working at night? Honestly, this is tough, as it really does just make a lot of sense to not do things when it’s dark and to do things when it’s light. But here goes:

  • It’s peaceful, in the sense that ghost towns are peaceful before all the weird paranormal stuff starts happening. Sort of like the movie Hancock, except that you aren’t as cool or productive as Will Smith in your spare time when everyone else has died. Seriously, he was like cracking jokes to himself, and still working out despite no one else being alive. What a go getter. Wasn’t he a god or something in that movie? I forget. If everyone else died I think I’d probably stop going to the gym.
  • You are actually at home during the day, so if you need to do anything to function in modern society like buying clothes or food, coordinating repairs, or going to the dentist, you can do it**
  • You get an incredible sense of victory going home at 7 AM. It just feels like you’re winning more than you should, like you’ve dominated everyone else who is waking up because you’ve just been doing more than they have. Of course, this is fleeting, as you then get mediocre sleep in a too-bright room, then have a raging headache, and then curse yourself for working a nocturnal job. But there is that initial feeling, which is cool.

**This is, however, at the expense of sleep, which makes it utterly not worth it.

OK, that’s all I’ve got. I’m really excited to get back to a normal schedule.

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