Sleep. I’ve spent a sizable amount of my career on the midnight shift, and of all the excitement, all the different things I’ve seen and done, that is the one word that comes to mind.
It’s funny how you get to a point working 12-day shifts (hang tight—I’ll explain why that’s awesome instead of horrible) and as weeks blur into months, the months into years … it becomes an all-consuming quest. Even now, I’m writing this column and it’s all I’m thinking about: Sleep.
There are unlikely places to do it. Court comes to mind.
We sit on these intentionally uncomfortable, solid-wood, armless benches and have the mundane traffic offenses of the universe paraded before us while assistant district attorneys use the time to begin the day’s work of negotiating sentences before they go before the judges, and we’re doing this in a courtroom that starts an hour after our all-night shift has ended. What do I surmise from all this? They must want us to sleep, so who am I to argue.
The trick to sleeping in court is you learn to “zombify.” You slip just below consciousness, but above all-out snoring … programming your brain to respond to only one thing: Your name or badge number to bring you out of your haze, just as a hypnotist would snap his fingers to awaken a patient they’ve put under. The first time I installed an “app killer” on my smartphone, it immediately made me think of my brain in court. OK, except for the “smart” part, but this is how we can sleep damn near anywhere; it’s just perfected in the judicial environment.
We work 12-day shifts because to work five and take two off like normal people, we’d spend one day asleep (or zombified) from being up the night before, maybe have one full day off, then have to stay up all day then night that first night back, only to have your sleep ruined four days later all over again. With a 12-day “work week,” we combine those days off and get four off in a row. Oh, you still feel like baked hell, but you only ruin your sleep patterns twice a month instead of four times.
And sleeping at home? Single guys have it rough, but the ones living with someone (marriage, roommates, halfway house, etc.) are only slightly better off than those with kids.
Children are perfect, cherubic little sponges of knowledge and the beacon of hope for our collective futures, but to the third-shifter, they are little bags of earthquake-inducing germs with megaphones welded to each hand. Seem harsh? Well, then, you’ve never worked midnights.
Daylight is the other major enemy. If I’d recycled the aluminum foil I’ve used over a 12-year period to block out sunlight from various rooms, I’d be named in Al Gore’s last will and testament.
At one particularly low point, I made a bed in a walk-in closet out of clothing covered with a comforter. Why? No windows—and it was wonderful, except for the fact that I was a grown-ass man sleeping in a closet on a pile of clothes (and all the emasculating closet-related jokes that go with that from cop roommates). But I did it.
As I moved up in residences, I actually built out a room in a basement below my actual bedroom. Why? Same thing as the God-forsaken closet: No windows. Just imagine what it would take to ignore a California king and instead choose an air mattress on a thinly covered concrete floor below it all. Add Enya and a box fan for ambient noise? Babies don’t sleep that good.
For legal reasons I won’t go too far into sleep aids, but there too we are experts. Diphenhydramine, melatonin—worthless. Hangover inducing pills that actually deny you any good REM sleep, just making you feel like a different “kind” of shit that the “regular” feeling of shit that goes with sleep deprivation. And you can’t drink yourself to sleep every morning because not only is that absolutely cost-prohibitive, but what does drinking result in? A constant need to pee. Imagine, finally achieving sweet, sweet sleep and having your bladder start knocking on your brain like it owes it money. Ugh.
(For the record? The makers of Ambien need to be given a Nobel Prize.)
Sleep. Completely wasted on the young and so easily taken for granted. There are few things less cruel that don’t involve spiders than sleep deprivation, so if you know of someone working Zombieland, please fire off a little prayer for their psyche. And if you are in their company and you see a cat-like third eyelid slip over their cornea and that polite smile emits an occasional snore ... just let it go.
Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.