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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Nocturnal fun on the night shift

By Marites N. Sison
Special to The Toronto Sun


For Lia Moran, the best part about working the night shift is that she gets to "watch the best comics in town for free," and she also meets a lot of interesting characters.
"Shooting Toronto at night is more dramatic," says photographer Paul Rincon, above right, about his work, above left. Rincon, who shoots anything from fashion to product lineups, says he does his best work between midnight and 3 a.m.


Moran gets to personally meet up-and-coming, as well as established, Canadian stand-up comics, because of her job as talent manager for The Laugh Resort, a comedy club in downtown Toronto. As for the colorful characters -- anyone from cops and robbers, streetwalkers, transvestites, actors, the down on their luck or the just struggling to get by -- she meets them on the streets on her way to work and later, back home.

"It's like each night is a different page of a very interesting novel. There's more human drama," says Moran, who has a background in theatre.

For Raul Rincon, the night holds more mystery that's ideal for his job as a photographer. He says he does his best work of shooting anything from fashion to product lineups, from midnight to 3 a.m.

"Shooting Toronto at night is more dramatic," Rincon says. "I like the effect that the shadows produce on my pictures."

It is also more peaceful, he adds. "I can be more organized because there's less distraction. The traffic is low and so it's less complicated."

Greg Napa, who has worked as a night accountant for the last seven years, agrees. "I don't have to compete for a seat on a train or a bus. I don't have to squeeze myself in a jam-packed subway. It is quieter; it gives me more time to reflect, meditate or simply read."

Moran, Rincon and Napa are three shift workers who are considered exceptions in their field: They choose to work at night and they like the nocturnal lifestyle.

The reality is that shift work -- a reality for three out of 10 Canadians -- is not a career of choice for most, associated as it is with troubled sleeping patterns and lack of family time.
Lia Moran works nights as talent manager for The Laugh Resort


For most of those employed in non-standard hour jobs, "shift work is not a choice, but a job requirement," says Margot Shields, author of Statistics Canada's "Shift Work and Health Study."

Napa agrees, citing as example a friend with the unenviable job title of "eye in the sky" -- someone who mans the surveillance cameras in a casino from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. to catch cheaters.

"He told me it's a dark and lonely job," Napa says. Shields defines shift work as "anything but a regular daytime schedule." She says shift work can be any of the following four categories: evening shift, night shift, rotating shift and irregular shift.

In the past, people have associated shift work only with such jobs as nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, train operators, bus drivers, club dancers and operators, and yes, streetwalkers.

Today, however, they can include anyone -- from fitness coaches who cater to health freaks who are, ironically, insomniacs, or telemarketers who sell products in different time zones.

"Our society, which has long needed around-the-clock provision of medical, transportation and protection services, now also demands more flexible access to many commercial, industrial and financial services," says Shields.

But as Shields notes in her 2000/2001 research, "while shift work may be critical to the economy, evidence indicates that it can take physical and emotional toll on workers."

Lack of quality sleep is a downside that both Rincon and Napa note in their jobs. Napa cites the daytime noise for his fitful sleep. But Shields suggests it's more than that: "Under normal conditions, biological functions such as body temperature, cognitive performance and hormonal secretions follow a 24-hour cycle. Shift workers, however, must prepare for sleep when their natural body rhythms are telling them to be active, and they must be alert and ready to work when their bodies are preparing them for sleep."

Shields adds that since shift workers assume normal hours during their days off, their circadian system "never fully adapts."

Researches have also associated shift work with cardiovascular disease, hypertension and gastrointestinal problems, says Shields, citing a Canadian Community Health Survey conducted in the 1990s.

However, there are exceptions, such as Napa, who says that his day job actually gave him more stress, and consequently, a heart attack. "With my day job I worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week. When my heart revolted I decided to alter my lifestyle and working hours," he recalls. "Since I'm used to burning the midnight oil I decided to try the graveyard shift. As the name suggests, it gave me more peace and I'm happier now."

The disruption in family life is also often cited as a problem.

"Non-standard hours can limit a worker's participation in leisure-time and family activities," says Shields. The strain on family life often lead to stress and depression. This is perhaps why most of those who assume shift work tend to be single as Shields' study shows.

Again, there are rare exceptions. Rincon cites his lighting assistant, who prefers to go home at 4 a.m. because he gets to prepare breakfast for his wife and kids who head out first thing in the morning. "He sleeps when they're out and wakes up when they return from school," he explains.
For tips on how to cope with and even enjoy the night shift, check out www.workingnights.com


Safety is also an issue that some shift workers cite as a major concern. But Moran and Napa have adapted ways to cope with this. "I'm always aware of my surroundings and I keep alert when I walk the streets," says Moran, who takes the TTC. Adds Napa: "Working at nights can also be risky because darkness is the criminal's best friend. So I have a Plan A and Plan B on how to get to the subway station and from there, how to get home in one piece."

Shields, however, states that most shift workers tend to leave their jobs or shift hours after two years because of stress-related problems.

Those who choose to stay -- like Moran, Rincon and Napa -- are who Shields describes as "willing and able to tolerate the stress of the working shift." And, perhaps, who also love their jobs.

(Tess Sison is a Toronto-based freelancer)



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