So here we are.
A freelancer’s life has its pros and cons. Even some of the cons can lead to pros: a lack of work is distressing, but it allows one to have a much wider range of dental appointment times when the need arises. (That pro, however, can lead to another con if one has not worked enough to qualify for dental coverage.)
Or, the con of not having work can lead to the pro of getting to sleep in... leading to the additional pro of staying up later... but if the pro of a last-minute job should kick in, it becomes a big con when one who has become accustomed to night-owl-ism has to rise much earlier than usual.
Not unlike those who do a lot of international traveling, my body clock gets wrenches thrown in it all the time. One job may have me working nights. Another may require getting up at 5 AM. Sometimes it’s a 16-hour day. Sometimes it’s running from little job to little job from morning till night. And often, in between those jobs, when there are no jobs at all, there’s a recharging period, where sleeping in becomes a necessity, but it can turn into time-shifting if left unchecked.
In other words, I don’t have a single circadian rhythm left in me. As a result, I have become one of those exhausted people who can’t fall asleep when she needs to. It’s not insomnia. I can sleep. Just sometimes not until morning.
Recently, I had to re-set my sleep clock because I had a very important day of concerts looming. I’ve been told by voice teachers that a tired body leads to a tired voice, and since this gig required me to wake up at 6:00 AM -- and the sandman hadn’t been arriving until 3 AM -- I knew I had to make a change, fast. It was very important that I did not suck in these performances. I needed to do whatever I had to do to avoid any chance of sucking.
I’ve read that you can readjust your internal clock in a single day by fasting 12-16 hours before the time you want to get up and eating as soon as you rise. But I didn’t trust that I could undo all the damage in a single day, and I really didn’t trust my ability to avoid getting cranky, saying screw this and grabbing the jar of peanut butter at 9 PM. Don’t you judge me.
I figured I would give myself a week, and force myself to get up every morning at 6:30 AM. My hope was that eventually I’d find it easier to fall asleep earlier, and all would be well by show day.
The first morning was surprisingly easy. It always is. Adrenaline, that beautiful old friend that always shows up at the start of a new adventure, tends to be very helpful in that regard. And sure, I was dragging by the end of the day, but I figured that would only help the situation, making sleep come quicker. Even still, tired as I was by day, I could not sleep at night. My mind was racing, as it usually does, and it took hours to finally quiet it. I doubt I wound up dropping off much earlier than I usually did.
On day two, it was much harder to get out of bed. I punched the snooze button out of habit, but sat up in bed, figuring it would help me ease into the day. It did not. After the alarm went off again eight minutes later, I dragged myself into the living room, away from my slumbering bear of a husband, to turn on bright lights and do what regular people do: watch inane morning shows.
The only thing that has ever appealed to me about early risers is how much they seem to get done in the quieter morning hours. But my eyelids kept drooping. I turned off the inane morning shows and tried to read the New York Times online. I don’t think I remember a single article I read. And trying to write or do any other work that required concentration proved to be an impossibility.
But I kept thinking, this is good. It means I will be extra sleepy tonight.
Cut to 11 PM, when my eyelids finally woke up. When you’re trying to sleep, and needing to sleep, and all you can do is think about how you’re not falling asleep, the last thing you can do is sleep. I tried distractions, such as counting sheep, but when you’re a Muppet Performer and you think about sheep, that leads to thinking about Muppet sheep, which leads to thinking about work, which leads to thinking about gaps in work, which leads to thinking about every single job I didn’t get, which leads to thinking about ridiculous commercial auditions and what I should have done differently to book them years and years ago.
Day three: Having had so much trouble falling asleep the night before, I realized I had to take more drastic measures: I cut out caffeine entirely. I don’t drink a lot of it to begin with, but apparently, the sudden lack of a few Coke Zeros were enough to make the day just plain crap.
By 2 PM, I wanted a nap, badly. I’d find my eyes fluttering shut for a second before I’d snap to attention again, so to combat this, I found stupid chores to undertake. If emptying wastebaskets was the only thing keeping me from a sabotaging snooze, then dammit, let’s empty wastebaskets. Let’s take out the recycling. Let’s finally clean that dishwasher filter.
And then the pounding began. Ah, the caffeine withdrawal headache. Normally, my headache remedy of choice is Excedrin. But Excedrin contains caffeine, an obvious factor in its efficiency. Oh, irony. You are hilarious and maddening.
Another fascinating side effect of this experiment was that my ability to speak devolved rapidly. I now know that it was due to the overwhelmingly powerful influence of physical exhaustion, but at the time, I found myself sticking out my now-thick tongue in the mirror, testing for signs of a stroke.
A pounding head on a pillow is not a good sign that sleep is nigh. Neither is the anxiety of a non-dancer like me being tasked with choreography. (Yes... in this big gig, I had to “dance.” By “dance,” I mean “move around.” Which to me might as well mean “dance.”) Between my sudden speech decline, my caffeine withdrawal headaches, and my snail’s-pace learning curve when it comes to dancing, I was never sure which deficiency was causing the screw-ups in my head. (One-two-tree -- no, three -- no, one-two-and-tree-... wait... frats -- no, rats. Crap. Ow.)
Over the rest of the week, I learned the hard way that the body’s need for sleep eventually wins out. And while I did not fast, I did find that eating breakfast as soon as I woke up (as opposed to post-showering, or later in the morning) helped a great deal in the clock re-setting, even if it meant that my allotted daily calories got used up earlier in the day. E.B. White was right when he wrote in Charlotte’s Web that when your stomach is empty and your mind is full, it’s very hard to sleep.
But finally, by show day, I achieved the ultimate goal: to perform with nearly 8 hours of sleep under my belt.
I was glad to have gotten that sleep, because it was one hell of an incredible, amazingly intense day... so intense, in fact, that I had no choice but to sleep in the next morning.
Crap. It begins anew.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.