photo credit: whatmegsaid
Sleep is fleeting for most of those working hard below the line in the film industry. It eludes you faster than you can say “17 hour day” and rarely shows up at the end of an 8-hour turnaround. As a filmmaker, you constantly struggle against the grueling demands of the workplace and the physical need for sleep.
Many say, “You just get used to it,” but that’s a lazy answer. What if there is a way to not only get used to it, but be OK with it?
Filmmaking is decidedly brutal. If you don’t believe me, read about how Michael Taylor, The Hollywood Juicer, consistently put in 19 hour days a week for months working on a TV series.
And that’s not uncommon.
On more than one occasion, I have stood next to the camera watching time tick by, eating into the turnaround for the call time the next day. In fact, the lack of sleep while working has gotten so bad for me at times, that I consider 4 hours of sleep a night to be standard.
Whether you’ve encountered those types of hours or not can’t be said, but you will, at some point, find yourself in a position of little to no sleep before slamming back to back work days. This may happen because you worked long. Or it may happen because you get home from a long day and have daily tasks or errands to tend to. Whatever the reason, it can really take its toll on your body and mind.
How Sleepiness Affects You and Your Performance
It’s no secret that you can’t work with 100% effort when you’re tired or sleepy. That’s why the hottest topic in the morning on every movie set is coffee. People know they need to be awake to do their job properly, which makes it all the more astounding that most people simply don’t get enough sleep at all. They truly don’t.
You may think that this is old news. That you know you have to get more sleep, you know you aren’t your best when tired, and that you know it has consequences. But while we can talk in generalities all we want, the truth is that lack of sleep can have a profound effect on your physical and mental capabilities.
According to WebMD, sleepiness has the potential to harm or cause:
- Ability to focus
- Social Life
- Higher risk of ulcers
- Insulin resistance
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Heart disease
That’s a long list. And a dangerous one too.
While a lack of sleep will not directly cause any one of those issues to a serious degree, it is one area of your life that you have easy control over and can solve in an enjoyable way: by sleeping more.
Sounds easy, right? It is. At least it seems to be.
What You Can Do to Get Better Sleep
In the film industry, your urge to be healthier and sleep more might not be met by a smiling production coordinator struggling to keep a shoot on schedule. Instead, you’d probably get replaced.
So, maybe getting more sleep is out the window as an option, so instead you have to maximize the amount of sleep you do get. And here are some simple ways you can do that:
1. Lay off the coffee (or soda)
Caffeine gives you a boost of energy when you drink it which is why it’s the elixr of the tiring film set. But be careful how late into the day you’re consuming the Joe. If you gulp one down right before wrap, you may find yourself tossing and turning before falling asleep.
2. Blackout your windows
Call times are often at odd hours and you may find yourself trying to fall asleep in the middle of the day or early in the morning. Use curtains, blinds, or duvetyne if you have to to block as much sunlight from leaking into your bedroom. Light triggers a primal biological factor that tells our body to be awake for the day whilst your brain tells it to calm down and go to bed. That conflict isn’t good for sleeping.
3. Beg your friends, family, roommates to be quiet
It’s important that your friends and family understand and respect your job. That means that they may have to deal with the odd case of you coming home at 1 p.m. to go to sleep. If you know there is going to be a shoot full of unique call times, ask your housemates to respect your need to sleep and to endure being quieter than usual. If you live alone, well, ask your cat or dog — surely they’ll understand.
4. Try to limit indulgences of food and drink
Food and alcohol, while seeming to be the perfect match for a night of rest, are actually hinderences to getting the right kind of sleep. And if you’re not getting the right kind of sleep, you might as well not be sleeping at all. In general, you should eat your last meal or snack with two – three hours before bedtime and not drink any alcohol at all — not even a nightcap.
5. Prepare for the odd times
Most of the time you will have an idea of what the call times will be for a given week. If you are aware that you will be doing a week of night shoots or you know that your turnaround for a certain day will be tough, help your body prepare. Try at least one day in advance to wake yourself up and go to sleep at the times you will have to during the week. This will help establish the schedule with your body.
No Rest for the Weary
Most sleep experts will tell you that 7.5 hours of sleep a night is a good average goal to aim for. If you are trying to get things done after a long day on set, but see the clock getting close to that number, consider shutting in for the night. That perfect amount of sleep will make your day on set tomorrow more pleasant, easier, and make for a better performance from you.
Enough sleep is a fickle mistress for those working the grind in Hollywood, but she doesn’t have to always be gone. While getting more sleep is the obvious answer to your work time fatigue, getting better sleep is the more likely solution.