PEOSTA, Iowa — Paul and Sherri Goldstein know that working the third shift can have a massive impact on one’s day-to-day life.
That is why they decided to do it together.
For the past 18 months, the Goldsteins have worked the graveyard shift at Peosta hose manufacturer ProPulse, a Schieffer Co.
Paul serves as the supervisor for extrusion workers, generally working from 10 p.m. until 6:20 a.m. Sherri oversees the company’s assembly work, punching in at 8:30 p.m. and clocking out at 5 a.m.
While the couple has settled into their roles, Paul acknowledged that working the third shift is not always easy. For those who do not take the transition seriously, the late hours can take their toll.
“What you find is that, if you don’t take care of yourself and you don’t make the proper adjustments in your life, it is not going to go well,” Paul said. “It can have adverse health effects if you aren’t paying attention. You have to be vigilant.”
The Goldsteins are among 14 employees who man the third shift at ProPulse. Nationally, there are an estimated 15 million employees on such shifts.
In the tri-state area, many of these workers allow manufacturing operations to keep humming through the night. And others, such as night-shift medical professionals and law enforcement officers, carry out other essential tasks.
Many of these workers are self-described “night owls.” The late hours also offer a range of benefits: In some cases, it can mean more time with family; in others, a higher wage.
But the hours also can lead to problems. Research shows that working on the third shift can result in higher rates of injury, as well as an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
It also can disrupt everything from one’s sleep schedule to social life.
David Stull, the plant manager at ProPulse, said working the shift is not for everyone.
“It is really important to know your employees and understand them,” he said. “There are ones who really like it, and there are ones who don’t.”
PATROLLING THE STREETS
Cpl. Ann Dauderman has worked for the Dubuque Police Department for nearly a decade. For the majority of that time, she has worked the night shift.
For Dauderman, who has two young children, logging the late hours presents one obvious perk.
“Being able to work when my kids are sleeping is beneficial to me,” she said. “It makes me feel like I am not missing out on time with them.”
Even so, working the night shift isn’t easy.
Dauderman generally works four days per week on a shift that runs from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m.
It’s one of three shifts at the Dubuque Police Department that include late-night hours. The others run from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. and from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m.
For Dauderman and other officers, the hours can take a toll.
“Sleep deprivation is a big thing,” Dauderman said.
Some days are worse than others.
On Wednesdays, which are generally her first workday of the week, Dauderman wakes up with her kids at about 7 a.m. She rarely naps on those days before heading to work, meaning that by the time she gets off at 5 a.m. the following morning, she has gone about 22 hours without sleep.
Catching up on her rest isn’t easy, either.
Dauderman noted that night-shift officers occasionally have obligations during the day. They can come in the form of training; other times, they get a subpoena to appear in court for a case.
Working the night shift in a small town can be a different experience.
East Dubuque (Ill.) Police Chief Steve O’Connell said the city has two officers manning the late shift on most nights.
Oftentimes, the shift involves keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity. A car parked outside of a closed business or a person wandering the streets in the wee hours of the morning could merit a closer look.
“In small communities, you know a lot of the residents,” O’Connell said. “So if you see someone you don’t recognize, you might just stop and talk to them. We are looking for things that are out of place and out of the ordinary.”
Luke Kovacic, an investigator and patrol officer for the department, has spent most of the past 16 years working the night shift. He worked in northern Minnesota before making his way to East Dubuque about a decade ago.
“When you come in to start your shift, you really don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s what I like about it,” he said. “I enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with night calls.”
He said many of the nights on the job include traffic stops, some of which involve intoxicated drivers. Other nights involve responding to bar fights or public intoxication.
On a busy night, there can be about 1,000 people departing the East Dubuque bars around closing time, Kovacic said. If these patrons grow unruly, it can present a tall task for the skeleton crew of officers.
“You have to take care of business, put them in a holding cell and get back to work,” he said.
ASSESSING THE RISKS
Multiple studies conducted in recent years have pointed out the potential pitfalls associated with night-shift work.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that accident and injury rates are 30 percent higher during night shifts than day shifts.
Lawrence Hutchison, medical director at Statera Integrated Health and Wellness Solutions in Dubuque, is well aware of these increased risks.
“Studies have shown that sleep deprivation as experienced by third-shift workers can result in impairment equal to that of being legally intoxicated,” he wrote in an email to the Telegraph Herald. “They suffer from decreased vigilance, memory, reaction time, coordination, information processing and critical decision-making.”
Paul Goldstein, of ProPulse, is cognizant of these possible perils.
“The research shows that you’re more likely to make mistakes and more likely to not be quite as sharp,” he said. “Even though you force your body to sleep (before work), it is still not natural for your body. I remind myself that I really have to watch what I am doing.”
Concerns about third-shift work extend beyond workplace accidents.
A study published by American Association for Cancer Research concluded that the risk of developing breast cancer in women rises more than 3 percent for every five years of night-shift work.
A report conducted by American Heart Association revealed that inconsistencies in one’s sleep schedule — a common result of third-shift work — also increases health risks. According to the study, those whose night-to-night sleep length during a seven-day period varied by more than two hours on average were 2.2 times more likely to have a cardiovascular event than people whose sleep length varied by an hour or less.
Hutchison said there are steps that workers can take to mitigate the impacts of third-shift work.
“Try to get your seven to nine hours of sleep uninterrupted and avoid the temptation to take two three-to-four-hour naps,” he suggested. “Make a night-like place to sleep with a very dark and very quiet environment.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF ROUTINE
For those on the night shift, sticking to a strict routine is key.
Jill Herrig is a nurse in the intensive care unit at UnityPoint Health–Finley Hospital in Dubuque. For the majority of her 20-year nursing career, she has worked overnight.
Herrig routinely works the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift on weekend nights and picks up other shifts throughout the course of the week.
Before reporting to work, Herrig attempts to follow the same routine.
“If I am off the night before, I will make sure to catch a nap between noon and 2 p.m.,” she said. “Then, I go to the gym and come back and make dinner. When I am finished, it’s time to head to work.”
Keeping that routine isn’t always easy, however.
Herrig noted that there are many nights when she is on call, meaning she might have to work, depending on the needs of the hospital. Sometimes she gets called in toward the start of the night shift; other times, the call could come as late as 4:30 in the morning.
“It is hard to get a regular night of sleep,” she said. “I look at the clock all night long. You certainly don’t want to miss that call if they do need somebody.”
Paul and Sherri Goldstein have crafted their own routine.
In addition to their work at ProPulse, the couple owns and operates a small beekeeping operation dubbed Massey Valley Apiary. On a typical morning, they return from their night shift, spend a few hours tending to the bees or their garden and then hit the hay.
“The nice part is we both work third,” Sherri said. “You get on a routine. It is nice that we are able to work on the same shift together.”
Elliot Schmitt, an assembly worker at ProPulse, still is adjusting.
He started as a temporary worker in February before becoming a full-time employee the following month.
Schmitt said he has developed weekday routines to make sure he spends at least a little time with his wife. They typically grab breakfast together before he goes to bed.
The weekends, however, remain a major adjustment.
“It is a little weird,” he said. “You want to get your body back on that first-shift schedule on the weekends so you can spend time with your family.”
He recalls one incidence when he returned home from work early on Friday morning and then went to sleep for most of the morning and afternoon. After waking up in the early evening, he met his family to eat dinner and enjoy a drink.
“It kind of felt like having a beer with breakfast,” he said, with a laugh.
An ongoing workforce shortage in the tri-state region has complicated efforts to hire third-shift workers and, in some cases, sweetened the deal for those willing to work those hours.
The most recent data shows the unemployment rate in Dubuque County was 2.8 percent in February, down from 3.5 percent in the same month last year.
A shallow labor pool creates challenges for companies that hope to hire new workers.
Jackson County, Iowa, saw its unemployment rate fall from 4.4 percent in February 2018 to 3.6 percent in the second month of 2019.
David Heiar, senior adviser for Jackson County Economic Alliance, believes that recruitment is even more daunting when it comes to night-shift positions.
“It has always been challenging to get third-shift employees,” he said. “As the job market becomes even tighter, it becomes an even a greater challenge to do that.”
He said companies have taken a variety of steps, including offering higher wages.
In Grant County, Wis., the jobless rate was just 3.6 percent in February.
Ron Brisbois, executive director for Grant County Economic Development Corp., acknowledged that third-shift positions often can be a hard sell.
“It is not the desired shift because it is out of the routine of being human, which is to be up during daylight and sleep at night,” he said.
Ten or 15 years ago, Brisbois recalled, employers increasingly began experimenting with a model he called “flex shifts.” Through such an arrangement, workers would staff the afternoon shift for a few weeks and then transfer to the night shift for a similar stint.
Many employers thought this method would attract workers who were wary of working the night shift week in and week out.
It ultimately became clear that such an approach was not viable, however.
“People were complaining that they were never able to get their body into a routine,” Brisbois said.
Hardened by years of late-night working, many local residents have embraced that lifestyle.
Herrig said she has come to appreciate the unorthodox hours, largely because of her colleagues at Finley.
She said fewer staff members work the night shift, giving those who do a chance to get to know each other better. Moreover, many of the night-shift employees have been logging those hours for years, creating a sense of continuity among the staff.
“It allows you to get used to the people you work with and know you can count on them should something go wrong,” she said. “It is a tightly knit group. We know where each other’s strengths and weaknesses are.”
Ken Pergande has followed a third-shift routine for more than a decade.
He began working nights at ProPulse last year. Prior to that, he worked the graveyard shift at Nordstrom for more than a dozen years.
It is a role he has come to relish.
“It seems more relaxed, and you get more done,” he said. “You don’t have all the pressure and people looking over you. You have some freedom to get the job done and get it right.”
Those who are willing to work the third shift are highly coveted by local employers.
Stull, the plant manager at ProPulse, said the business operated a third shift intermittently in the past and began running one consistently in late 2017.
Incorporating the third shift was essential for multiple reasons.
For one, the machines at the facility run better when they are not shut on and off over the course of the day. More importantly, ProPulse is expected to grow by 30 percent this year; such an increase requires more hands on deck.
In the past 18 months, management has seen the third-shift contingent swell to more than a dozen.
The late-night workers form an integral part of the company, according to Stull. He remains thankful that employees are willing to embrace the task.
“To be able to be up all night and sleep all day, it’s not an easy thing to do,” he said.