Night owls with day jobs

Yes, I know this post should be part 5 of my publishing series (My own insights into marketing: social networking and blogging), but I’ll get to that Friday.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve had a long, unexpected vacation this summer.  Things stabilized a couple months ago, and I’ve filled my days with job searches, writing, and I don’t even know what.

Well, more accurately, I’ve filled my nights.

I’m a night owl.  I’m most productive between 10 pm and 2 am.

But I also enjoy being up early.  I like watching the sun come up.  And I love working earlier in the day, as it makes me feel more productive when I’ve put in 8-10 hours and have the whole evening free.

I recently took a temp job as a way to earn some extra money while looking for a permanent job I’d both enjoy and be able to use my skills in (research, statistics, writing, working with at-risk/indigent populations, etc).  And it sucks.  It sucks horribly.  Eight hours of data entry, no food allowed at the workstations, no one nearby to talk to.  I chart my productivity hourly, but there’s only so many times a day you can recalculate your mean and median rates.

I still need time to read and write, however.  So I’m getting by on about five hours of sleep a night.  And I’m doing just fine.  I’ve been doing this for years, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to not sleep.

  1. Know what you’re capable of.  I joined a national teaching program after college and attended a grueling six-week teaching bootcamp.  I was up at 5 to shower (we stayed in a college dorm so access was limited), then down to breakfast by 5:45, to be on the bus to school by 6.  Classes and student teaching all day, back to the dorms about 5 pm.  Quick dinner, then studying, homework, and lesson planning.  I quickly realized that if I wasn’t in bed by 11, after a few days I couldn’t function.  I’ve since gotten it down to five hours of sleep, as long as I can get an occasional nap.  This is where trial-and-error comes in.
  2. Know what you’re not capable of.  Get clues from your body.  Are you more irritated than usual due to sleep deprivation?  Moody?  Stressed?  While others may tell you when you’re being a pain-in-the-ass, learn to recognize signs in yourself.  A big one for me is stress dreams.  These are recurring themes that only pop up when I’m stressed.  For me, it tends to be rivers – crossing them, swimming in them, driving along them.
  3. Drink caffeine judiciously.  Caffeine can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to not sleeping.  I wake up, have a soda on the way to work.  Getting it into my system before I really need it helps keep away the morning blahs.  Another soda at lunch, and then that’s it for the day.  I’ve gotten myself trained, so that if I have one in the evening, it’s going to keep me awake when I finally want to go to sleep.  I don’t drink coffee, but it’s the same principle.  And although I haven’t taken caffeine pills since college, same with those too.
  4. Use your bed only for sleeping.  That way when you lie down, your mind knows it’s shut-up-and-turn-off time.  I almost always fall asleep within five minutes.
  5. Hit the snooze.  I’m not excited to go to work, so I don’t exactly leap out of bed in the morning.  Instead, I set my alarm for 20-30 minutes before I need to be up.  That way I can roll over and hit the snooze button, doze for a bit, and do it again.  By the second time, I’m usually awake enough that I have a few minutes to lie there and think about my agenda for the day.
  6. Eat and move around.  If you find yourself nodding off, get up and do something.  Walk to the bathroom.  Talk to a coworker for a couple minutes.  Munch on something (I prefer almonds or Smarties).  A change of scenery/pace will often wake you up.

Sleep deprivation isn’t for everyone, of course; some people need 8-10 hours of sleep a night to function.  Don’t force yourself to not sleep; use trial-and-error to find your optimum level.

Are you a morning person, or a night owl?  How much sleep do you need at night?  And, most importantly for me to know, what are your tips for managing small amounts of sleep?

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