Meet the Mapstons Part 3: Secondhand Shift-Work

Cory and Dona Cropped

Author: Emily Manoogian, PhD

Welcome to our third and final installment of the Meet the Mapstons short series. Unlike previous entries focused on shift-workers, this post will focus on the family members of shift-workers. For individuals that aren’t exposed to shift-work, it is easy to forget the impact of shift-work on their loved ones. It is not only emotionally stressful, but can physically difficult as well. Partners and children will frequently stay up very late, get up very early, or wake up in the middle of the night to get a chance to see their loved ones. Work and school schedules do not change, but they will change their sleep patterns and social schedule to accommodate the new shift schedule of their loved ones.

This week, we are focusing on Dona Mapston, the director of Education Outreach at the Salk Institute, and Cory’s wife. Dona has not done shift work herself, but almost her entire life has been affected by it. Dona has been accommodating her husband Cory’s rotating shift schedule for the past 28 years, but even as a child Dona knew the challenges accompanied with shift work because her father also worked shifts. Dona’s father shifted his schedule every 2 weeks, which Dona said was very hard. Cory’s rotating shifts every 4 months is much more manageable.

Depending on Cory’s shift (see Meet the Mapston Part 2 for more info), Dona can keep a more or less regular schedule. Unfortunately, there are still some shifts that they don’t get to see each other very much, which is difficult on both of them.

Dona goes out of her way to help Cory cope with his demanding work schedules. When I asked her how much her schedule changes based on his shift, she said, “As much as possible to match what he needs.” She explains, “One of the nice things about the last 10 years at the Salk is that I have a very flexible schedule.” Her previous position was as a high school teacher, and the regular 9-5 was much more difficult.

Dona also has some additional challenges that make her lifestyle a bit more complicated. She is border line hypoglycemic and anemic. This causes her to snack just before bed and/or middle of the night snacks before going back to sleep. Both of which can compromise sleep and Dona is also a poor sleeper to begin with. Typically, she sleeps for 3-4 hours, wakes up for an hour or two (has a snack, reads, etc), and then, if she has time, will go back to sleep for another 3-4 hours.  To sleep through the night, she needs to take a sleeping pill or be heavily sleep deprived.

Here, we briefly summarize how Dona’s life changes based on Cory’s schedule.

Cory’s Day Shift (6am-4pm)

Dona’s poor sleep actually comes in handy when Cory is on the day shift. They go to bed a little earlier (8:30-9am) and Dona will naturally wake up around 3-5 am, regardless of Cory’s schedule. So when Cory wakes up at 4:15 am, Dona’s there to make breakfast and help him get out the door. If she doesn’t have to get work early, she’ll go back to bed for a few more hours. However, if she does need to get to work, she’ll be in for quite on long, sleep deprived, day. This schedule is a little difficult on Cory, who does not normally wake up at 4:15 am, but for Dona, it is not too bad. She gets to see him when she would normally wake up in the middle of the night, and he is there when she gets home. This shift is mentally very easy, and physically manageable for them.

Cory’s Swing Shift (2pm-12am)

Dona explains the swing shift as, “the best physiologically for him, worst physiologically for me.” Cory goes to work in the afternoon meaning Dona is alone at nights. Like many people, Dona is much more disciplined with her eating and sleeping patterns when she is taking care of Cory, but when she’s on her own, her healthy lifestyle is compromised. Rather than eating dinner around 7 and going to bed around 9:30-10, she snacks throughout the night (mainly out of boredom) and frequently stays up ‘til 12:30am, when Cory gets home. On the nights that she does go to bed earlier (~10pm), she doesn’t usually sleep well until he gets home. This usually means 4 months of poor dinner habits and less sleep. It is also mentally difficult on both of them because they don’t get to see each other very much. Unlike the day shift, Cory is asleep when Dona wakes up in the middle of the night and he isn’t there when she gets home from work either. They only get to see each other on Cory’s off days, and if his off days fall on weekdays, then it is only at night.

Cory’s Night Shift (9pm-7am)

Night shifts are tough. Period. And it’s no different for Cory and Dona. Night shifts are physically the toughest for Cory, but they aren’t quite as bad for Dona. Cory leaves for work at night, but they still have time to have dinner together before he leaves. Dona may still snack a bit and stay up a little late, but it’s not as difficult as the swing shift. Fortunately, due to Dona’s flexible hours, she can go into work earlier or later based on Cory’s schedule. This means that when Cory gets home around 7:30am, Dona is usually able to still be at home, sometimes still sleeping, and helps get Cory to fall asleep in the morning. They both sleep better when they are together. Occasionally, Dona will even come home in the middle of the day and take a nap with Cory. It’s a mentally challenging schedule, but for only 4 months at a time, they can get through it.

Conclusion

Having a shift/rotating schedule is a challenge physically and mentally for both the person working the shift and for their loved ones. Unfortunately, there are many occupations, such as police officers, that are needed at all hours of the day. Cory and Dona have found a way to make the best of a difficult situation, but is not without a fair amount of dedication and sacrifice on both sides.

The myCircadianClock team send a special thank you to Dona and Cory Mapston for their time and support.

Soumya
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