New York is the city that never sleeps. But this renowned insomnia would not be possible without the more than 200,000 men and women who work the nightshift – the fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors and cab hacks, cops, docs, and fishmongers selling cod by the crate. Inverting the natural rhythm of life, they keep the city running as it slows but never stops.

In our book, NIGHTSHIFT NYC, we tell the stories of New York City nightshift workers. This ethnography of the night investigates familiar sites, such as diners, delis and taxis, as well as some unexpected corners of the night, such as a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan and a fishing boat out of Brooklyn. We show how the nightshift is more than simply out of phase, it is another social space altogether, highly structured, inherently subversive, and shot through with inequalities of power. NIGHTSHIFT NYC presents the narratives of those who sleep too little and work too much, revealing the soul of a city hidden in the graveyard shift of 24-hour commerce when the sun goes down and the lights come up.

But there is more to the story than found its way into the pages of the book. Here you'll find more stories of the night in New York City and around the country. And we hope you will add your own stories and comments in the months to come. Stay tuned and check back often...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Watch out!

Pedro makes deliveries on his bicycle all night long. “It’s very dangerous,” he recognizes. He’s enjoying a slow moment on this Tuesday night at 3 a.m. “Just now, a taxi that was parked darted out into the street and I almost hit it. This happens all the time. Once on 31st street I hit a car. Another time on 11th Avenue also.”

While these near-misses could be the fault of the drivers or happen as easily during the day, many accidents and injuries happen on the nightshift.

On Wednesday, June 4, a nightshift worker in an auto factory in Luton, England, got trapped in machinery at 5:30 a.m., remained trapped for an hour and a half, but survived. The week before, on Friday, May 30, a nightshift worker in a plastics factory in Redruth, England, was in a fatal accident at 4:30 a.m.

And then there are the bigger disasters: Nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania in 1979 (4 a.m.) and Chernobyl in 1986 (1:23 a.m.) The 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India (12:40 a.m.) killed 2,000 and injured 200,000 people.

Medical errors also increase at night. Here’s a recent New England Journal of Medicine article about adding doctors to the nightshift to prevent errors. (Or the Wall Street Journal article about it if you’re pressed for time.)

After spending a year on the nightshift shadowing everyone from waitresses to ICU doctors, it’s clear that the slower pace and calming quiet of NYC at night has its immense benefits.

However, it’s also clear that the night can be treacherous. Circadian rhythms are at their lowest around 3 a.m. Sleep debt accumulates more quickly than you might think (some studies say cognitive performance drops by 30% with one night of lost sleep, and 60% with two nights). And the information lag that can occur between shifts, as one employee’s shift ends and another’s begins, can lead to catastrophic errors.

But there’s hope! Scientists are working on ways to make nightshift workers more alert at night and enjoy more restorative sleep during the day. Stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, let us know what you do to stay awake on the nightshift.

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