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Time for Bed!

Brad Schiller • Feeding the MachinesJuly 2019 • July 11, 2019

Working in the entertainment field, particularly lighting, one will find periods of time when he or she do not get enough sleep. Lighting programmers are especially susceptible to sleep deprivation, as the duties can take many hours and often need to, schedule around other production needs. Sleep deprivation can be extremely dangerous as it slows down cognitive functions and impairs most tasks. Lighting programmers will inevitably be placed in situations requiring less-than-ideal sleep, and it is good to be prepared for these conditions.

‡‡         Good Sleep

Experts agree that adults should get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. This rest ensures maximum physical and mental acuity while also promoting health and wellness. While I generally maintain this sleep goal when at home, I cannot think of any production period where I was able to sleep this much on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, lighting programming often needs to happen when the stage is free of others. This generally means working late at night after rehearsals, set builds, or other needs. Additional departments need light to work and do not appreciate your programming efforts while they are trying to see on the stage. Visualizers have helped by moving the programming into the virtual world. However there is no substitute for the real rig, and thus we must keep programming with the actual fixtures.

During some productions, you may find it best to work as a “vampire” by programming during the night and sleeping during the day. It can be tough to swap your schedule from the norm and then swap it back once rehearsals start. Anytime you are sleeping during the day, you need to ensure the proper environment. Close all curtains, keep the room cool, and stay away from television, phones, computers, and other screens. Put your phone on silent and strive to get as many solid hours of sleep as possible. Proper rest should be an important a priority in your life.

‡‡         Bad Sleep

When you get little to no sleep, your brain begins to get foggy and not process actions or the world around you very well. You will find it hard to speak complete sentences, and you may forget simple tasks during your regular routines. Mistakes will become more common, and your understanding and reasoning skills will suffer. Working long hours without sleep may seem as if you are accomplishing more, but in reality you are introducing more potential errors and problems.

Many productions simply do not allow enough time for a proper sleep. For instance, I was working on a corporate event recently that had a 6 a.m. lobby call time. We then traveled to the venue, rehearsed some segments, and started the show at 9 a.m. The show finished at 8 p.m., then we had more rehearsals until midnight. Once this was complete, I found I needed two more hours of programming to prepare for the headlining band coming the next night. So I returned to my hotel at 2:30 a.m., only to have another 6 a.m. call time. A similar cycle repeated for four days! As the days continued on, I certainly was suffering sleep exhaustion. And it was not just me, the entire crew was affected by the required hours. Not only were we exhausted, we were beginning to speak differently and make minor mistakes. Going to catering was like visiting a strange zombie land!

Schedules like the one described above seem to be more and more common as productions get bigger and more complex. In many cases in my career, I have gone multiple continuous days with little to no sleep. Concert touring is built around a similar cycle, with full days followed by short sleep time on a bus. In any of these situations, it can be nearly impossible to achieve the standard eight hours of sleep on a regular basis.

Sleep deprivation does not only come as a result of the actual working hours. Many shows combine a travel and workday for efficiency, however this rarely provides for rested employees. If you have to travel for six hours and then work another ten, you will be at the limits as to what you can achieve. Furthermore, many of us steal away sleeping hours on the road to go out for dinner, drinks, sightseeing, or more. While it may be entertaining, you will pay the price for that night out when the 6 a.m. call time comes!

‡‡         I’ll Sleep When I Die

When working on a production with limited allotted time for sleep, it is best if you can steal away some time for napping. With a touring show, this is easiest, because the bus with your bed is generally not too far away. However, many other productions simply are not set up for napping. Personally, some of the places I have slept include on the floor between the seats in an area, in my programming chair, on a road case, and on the floor of the production office. Studies show that even ten minutes of rest help rejuvenate the brain and body.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to sleep on a plane, this is another area to catch a few Z’s. I find that when I am tired, I sleep like a baby from when the plane starts rolling until we land. However, I know others who suffer the entire flight wishing they could sleep just a bit. Sleeping on a plane is a good use of the time, but trust me, it is not equivalent to a nice bed (unless you are in premier first).

‡‡         Fighting the Deprivation

Lack of sleep is inevitable for most lighting programmers (as well as most positions on a crew). No matter how you plan to sleep before or after the long awake periods, sleep deprivation will take a toll on both your body and your productivity. There are, of course, many stimulants that can be used during times of limited rest to help keep you awake and alert. Coffee tends to be the preferred choice among many. The caffeine in this readily available drink will provide a more alert state of mind and keep your programming going for hours. Tea, soda, and energy drinks all work in a similar manner by delivering caffeine or similar substances to our brains to help stave off the effects of sleep deprivation. Be sure to stop the intake of these drinks a few hours before the end of your workday. Otherwise, you may find yourself lying in bed unable to sleep.

As you continue working without sleep, your body will crave sugary and starchy foods such as candy, chips, and other unhealthy items. These items will help your body survive in its sleep deprived state, but can have consequences later on. Weight gain and increased cholesterol levels are to be expected, with longer bouts of less than optimal sleep. Try to stave off the sugary snacks and instead go for healthy energy boosts such as bananas, apples, and nuts.

There are also energy supplements and drugs, which enable people to remain awake for long hours. These are extremely dangerous (and often illegal) as they lead to impaired thinking, poor judgment, and dangerous health risks. Although they may be common in some circles, illegal drugs should never be consumed during working hours as an aid to combat sleep deprivation.

‡‡         So Very Tired

Sleep is a very important human function; just as important as eating or breathing. Do your best to not allow productions to over-work you to the point that you become sleep deprived. Although long hours are common in our industry, it is up to each individual to take care of him/herself and achieve quality rest. Try to nap when you can, eat healthy, and only make sparing use of caffeine and other energy aids. If you must go a night or two with limited sleep, get to bed as soon as possible and make it a priority to sleep for eight or more hours. We can only achieve our best for the production when we are properly rested.

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