When I first started working on the dairy farm I knew the hardest part was going to be the early mornings and split shifts. But when my alarm went off at 3am on the first day I literally jumped out of bed ready to go.
And so was the start of a new lifestyle and routine. I would work from 3.45am until about 8.30am, get home, grab a few hours sleep, eat lunch, and then go back to work from 2.30pm until 7ish, have some dinner, get as much sleep possible, and start all over again.
I don’t know if it was the excitement of starting a new job or what but during the first few days I felt pretty good. ‘This isn’t so bad!’ I thought. But it wasn’t long until I realised I wasn’t getting as much sleep as I needed. And it’s amazing what a lack of sleep can do to your mind!
First I started getting mild hallucinations. I would constantly see things out of the corner of my eye and mistake them for something else. I would think a dog was behind me, but turn to see it was just a cardboard box. Or think someone had walked past, but realise no one was there.
By the end of the first week I was really feeling the effects of the lack of sleep. When I got home from my morning shift I would struggle to switch off and get a good nap in, even though I felt exhausted both mentally and physically. While working I was making silly mistakes and forgetting things, and if I just stood and stared at something, it would start to move. Especially towels, the fibres in the material would breathe in and out.
One day after work Chris got into the car with me and just sat there staring ahead. “This is getting crazy,” he said, “I just saw a cow wearing wellies.”
When you start a new job, especially one that’s odd to you, it seems to be all you think about, so much that you start to dream about it too.
One night I woke up, but I wasn’t in my bedroom, I was in the dairy. It was dark and I couldn’t see much, but lying next to me was a large, white cow. I cautiously prodded it to make sure it was definitely a cow, and yeah I was pretty sure it was. I started pushing it, trying to get it away from me and shouted, “get out, get out!” Next thing Chris started shouting back at me, “It’s me, it’s me, you’re dreaming!” I instantly came back to reality, realising I was, in fact, in my room and must have been hallucinating after waking from a dream. These dreams and hallucinations continued for at least the first month of work before they began to stop.
I’ve been working as a dairy farmer for 3 months now and things are definitely easier. I don’t know if I’m sleeping better or if my body and mind’s just got used to sleeping less, but I feel a lot more sane than what I did at first.
But I can’t help thinking this sort of lifestyle can’t be good for you in the long term. I recently read a BBC news story that suggested long-term loss of sleep could lead to permanently killing brain cells, although nothing is proven yet. But after my experiences, I could see the possibilities of this being true!