Two overnights, a late night, two nights off, three daytime shifts, another overnight, a late night, back-to-back evenings, one day off, two more daytime shows, an overnight, a late night, one more evening…and then three days off. Phew! Typing it out makes it look even nuttier. As I navigate this asymmetric stretch of April, my sleep schedule naturally follows suit. Not only is my body clock thrown off by the ever-changing work hours, but the lack of any real pattern saps more of my energy than usual. I’m tired and want to sleep MORE, but that’s not always possible. As daunting and unnatural as the graveyard shift can seem, it would be eaiser to do nothing BUT third shift so my body could adapt. Alas, my career path has never followed a “normal” path…why start now??
A stretch like this is not uncommon for me. My CBS Sports Radio contract calls for me to plug holes on various shows in multiple time slots. Listeners attempt to crack the code and keep up, and I do my best to keep people informed on Facebook and Twitter. But that leads to the inevitable question. Over the last 15 months, I’ve fielded the same one a million times: “When do you sleep?” or a slight variation “Do you ever sleep?” My favorite thing is when it’s followed by a big fat “LOL!” Apparently, there’s something funny about the idea of me staying awake forever. I’ve heard and seen it so many times, it’s turned into a pet peeve. At first, I tried responding with clever phrases: “My superpowers render sleep unnecessary” or “I’m not allowed to sleep when I’m working.” But my wittiness dried up after awhile. Now I realize it’s best to step away from social media when the question irks me. Better not to fire off sarcastic replies when I’m annoyed.
Of course, I sleep; and of course, I need sleep just like everyone else. In fact, I believe sleep is underrated. A good night’s sleep boosts our mood, cognitive function, energy levels, and immune systems. We FEEL better inside and out when well-rested. Only a handful of times in my career has anyone asked me what I consider the more pertinent question: “How do you survive your crazy work schedule?” That’s my inspiration for this post: to share tricks I’ve learned to endure odd or random work hours. Try them at your own risk. Ha!
- Figure out how to NAP! It’s an acquired skill to be certain. My best friend recently told me she’s jealous of how I can nap whenever I want, though she quickly added it probably helps that I’m always tired. Funny. Would you believe I plan my naps?? I carve out time in the afternoons or early evenings (based on my schedule) so I can rest. It’s never less than an hour, usually 90 minutes or more. I consider my naps to be important engagements, part of my show prep, and I make them a priority.
- Regulate the caffeine. It’s tempting to guzzle extra caffeine when changing work hours and odd sleep patterns throw your body clock out of whack. But at some point, too much coffee can have adverse effects like anxiety, rapid heart rate, and insomnia (which I don’t need). So I wait as long as I can for my next caffeine boost to maximize the effect and limit my intake. On those once-a-year occasions when I catch a cold and don’t drink coffee for several days, it takes me a while to kick the headaches. I’ll admit to a slight addiction that I don’t want to get any worse! I also stay away from caffeine when I’m within three hours of my scheduled nap.
- Stick to a mini-routine. Not a complicated or convoluted routine, but enough of a routine to maintain some order in the midst of chaos. For me, it’s a check list of simple chores and tasks that, when accomplished, always give me a sense of peace. If my bed is made, my dishes are washed, my pets are cared for and content, my lunch/dinner is packed for work, and my bills are paid, I can leave the house without fretting that I’ve lost control of my personal life. Having weekly priorities helps, too. Making time to do a load of laundry (even if I don’t have time to fold it) or run to the grocery store for healthy food can change my whole perspective during a crazy week.
- Exercise anyway. This is my toughest challenge. It’s an area where I’ve cut corners in the last 15 months, but I’m determined to reincorporate regular workouts into my life. As a college basketball player and all-around active human, I could list all the benefits of exercise including higher energy levels. But so often when I’m tired, I opt for a nap instead of an hour at the gym. As a pep talk, I remind myself how much better I feel physically and mentally when I get my heart rate up or take a yoga class or lift a few weights in front of the TV. Of course, exercise can also regulate sleep which should be motivation enough! I have to do it even when I don’t feel like it.
- Get rid of the dog. JUST KIDDING, Penny! Yes, sometimes I wish I could sleep an extra two hours per day instead of traipsing around the neighborhood. I thought about being dog-free a ton this winter with temps routinely in the single digits or lower! But Penny forces me to get moving. If nothing else, I walk at least three miles a day up and down the hills behind my house. The fresh air shakes out the cobwebs. Plus, no matter how much I’m dragging when I walk in the door after work, my puppy’s enthusiastic welcome home never fails to pick me up.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’m a perfectionist and a little anal-retentive. Messy doesn’t suit me. But I’ve learned not to beat myself up when the papers form piles on my desk or the dirty clothes threaten to overwhelm the clean or the bathroom mirror isn’t spotless or the vacuum cleaner sits idle an extra few days. If I can only manage my mini-routine while jumping from overnight to daytime hours and my wagon is sagging, that’s enough. Tomorrow is another day; the chores will still be there. My family gave me a plaque for Christmas that reads “The house was clean yesterday. Sorry you missed it.” They know me well. Instead of stressing over what I didn’t get done, I see my sign and laugh. Ha!
- Love what you do. I could never navigate these strange hours or push through the fatigue if I didn’t have a passion for sports radio. I’m thankful for a job that I look forward to every day. It stretches and challenges me, keeps me engaged, and employs my unique skill set. God created me to excel in this career, so every show is another chance to fly. Because I love my work, all the sacrifices and struggles are worth it. Above all else, it’s LOVE that keeps me going and helps me survive.