How apt, I was too tired to write this last night having been up since six and in London all day. Now the one thing about going to London is that there is a lot to do, even if you’re only going for lunch. That however is another story so I’ll get back to the topic and write about sleep deprivation.
When I was a sound technician I was rostered to work on a tv drama the company were making, I was a boom operator so spent my days either wiring up actors with radio mics or holding a long lightweight pole with a “gun” mic on the end of it. We shot all dialogue in mono and then it was panned left or right during the editing. Although thinking about this I’m not sure whether back then we shot drama in stereo anyway that’s not the point.
A couple of weeks into my stint on the shoot, all location work, we switched from 12 hours days to night shoots. Always bad news, the first night was the worst. Like most of my colleagues I was in my thirties with children. The day of the first night you get up as normal with the kids and hopefully get them off to school. Then back to bed, curtains drawn tightly shut, with as little noise as possible and try and sleep till mid afternoon. This is not natural and unless you do it all the time nigh on impossible to achieve. So sometime after lunch you emerge from the bedroom and that’s it you’re up.
Some time around 2:30 am having been up for at least twelve hours the desire for a quick doze kicks in. Ask anyone who has worked on a night shoot and they will confirm it is incredibly difficult to go right through without wanting to nod off in the corner. Why 2:30? Mainly because dinner is served from around midnight and it’s a rolling break meaning you don’t all sit down together. There’s one rule in filming at night, you eat when it’s offered otherwise you can go without. Eating dinner at 1 am is not great but it keeps you going, it also makes you sleepy. It’s dark and quite possibly cold, even the warmest summer days can have cold nights. Eating outside in the dark on the lawn of a stately home may sound fun but trust me I’d rather be tucked up in bed any night.
The answer to the question how long can I go without sleep would be somewhere around twenty hours. The I fall over. I have arrived at this figure by assuming I get up at midday and work through till seven in the morning then of course you have to drive home, see the kids, have breakfast and get ready for bed.
It gets worse if the shoot over runs and you have to stay on longer. The only good thing about a night shoot is that once it’s light it is no longer dark, think about it….
Another guaranteed fact is that no matter how tired you are you will be lucky to sleep for more than five hours, because you don’t normally sleep when it’s daylight. So the cycle continues until by Friday when you collapse in a heap.