Students sacrifice sleep for security during night shifts

Tara Pringle

Samantha Gelhar (left) and Benjamin Kellar (right) work security two to three nights per week. Gelhar, a freshman, has an 8:50 a.m. class some days after working an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift.

Credit: Andrew popik

It’s 2 a.m.

Hungry? Go to Rosie’s and get something to eat.

Got locked out of your room? Get a temporary key.

Need an escort? Call security.

The workday doesn’t end for students who work these positions. In fact, their work has just begun.

Many positions on campus require students to work the late shift, either directly or indirectly. Security guards and food service workers are often working while others are sleeping. Resident assistants and other staff members are on call 24-hours a day.

“I’m kind of a workaholic,” said Samantha Gelhar, freshman business management major and a security guard. “I haven’t not had a job since I was 14.”

Security guards usually don’t have many problems while doing their rounds, and the hardest part is “staying awake for it,” Gelhar said. “It’s more of a deterrent than anything.”

They check the fire extinguishers, bathrooms and stoves during rounds. There are three shifts for security guards: 8 p.m. to midnight, midnight to 4 a.m., or 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.

When Gelhar works the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, she gets to sleep about two or three hours before her first class at 8:50 a.m. She then has class until noon and afterward, she tries to take another nap.

Worn down

Working the late-night shift can have many effects on students, both physically and mentally.

Carolyn Mesnak, coordinator for student health promotion, said many physical problems can occur.

“The body does go in cycles,” Mesnak said. “More and more studies are showing that we need eight hours of sleep. If you’re just taking cat naps, your body isn’t in that relaxed state.

“Some people can adapt; others can’t,” she said. “It does throw your rhythm off.”

Mesnak also noted that the late night shift may not be beneficial to employers.

“Productivity will fall because energy levels aren’t high,” she said.

Mesnak said students may suffer from headaches, irritability or an upset stomach because of their work schedule.

“Your immune system will become affected, because your body is not able to have that down time to repair itself,” she said. Students may have a cold or infection and it will take longer for the body to heal itself.

Working the late shift can also affect a student’s mental health.

“Intellectual levels will be hindered,” Mesnak said. “We won’t be able to think as clearly, and we won’t be able to process information.”

On duty

At 8 p.m., when most students are winding down their evening, security guards gather to begin working.

A Mr. Potato Head cut-out adorns one locker and an “I Heart Jesus” sticker is on another. Guards check their schedules and then disperse to their locations for the night.

Gelhar is working in Small Group tonight.

“This job disorients you,” Gelhar said as she and another security guard, Maggie Oliver, sophomore dietetics major, crossed the parking lot to Small Group.

Oliver, who has been working with security for about a month, typically works the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift a couple times a week.

“It messes up your internal time clock,” Oliver agreed. “I can not go to sleep before 5 a.m.”

“I have to set three alarms,” Oliver said. If she sleeps through the first clock closest to the bed, the second alarm across the room will go off, so she’ll have to get up to turn it off.

Gelhar agreed it is hard to get out of bed.

“Once I get up, it’s not too bad. Once I’m awake, I’m fine,” she said. “My friends in my early classes are like, ‘Sleeping Beauty, are you awake yet?’”

Oliver said when sleeping during the day, she will put a bandanna over her eyes “to fool myself into thinking it’s nighttime.”

Gelhar and Oliver walk up and down stairs through the small hallways in the eight identical Small Group buildings all night, checking for problems.

“What day is it, Tuesday?” Gelhar asked, as they walk down the path to another hall.

“Yeah, it’s Tuesday,” Oliver said. “You totally lose track of the days when you work nights.”

Both Oliver and Gelhar say professors are very understanding about their students working the late shift. Gelhar said she had to talk to her math professor once and didn’t have any problems.

Benjamin Newberry, psychology professor, said he isn’t “exactly pleased” when students fall asleep in his class, but it does happen.

Newberry said if a student in his class was working the late shift, his first question would be why that student was taking the early class.

“My biggest concern would be their grades,” Newberry said. “They’re hurting themselves.”

Mesnak had some advice for students working the late shift when they try to sleep during the day.

“Draw the drapes,” she said. “Make it a dark room. A lot of people complain that they can’t sleep when the sun is shining.”

She said the key is making sure to get a good solid block of time to sleep.

Before agreeing to work the night shift, Mesnak said students should do a self-assessment.

“Ask yourself can you balance a job and your regular life,” she said. “Am I going to be able to do the things I need to do? Is there any opportunity to change (to another shift) or not work long nights in a row? A lot of people know if they can handle it.”

Contact enterprise reporter Tara Pringle at [email protected]