I have the perfect icebreaker in my back pocket. It’s always guaranteed to be a conversation starter, and the conversation can thrive for several minutes. It typically goes something like this:
Stranger: “What do you do?”
Me: “I’m a news writer for a morning show.”
Stranger: “Oh, you must go into work pretty early.”
Me: “Yeah, I work overnights.”
Stranger: “What time do you go in?”
Me: “2 a.m.”
What follows is some combination of a dropped jaw, a gasp, an expletive or bulging eyes. Hook, line and sinker.
But let’s talk about the reality of working overnights.
When I took the job at (the Emmy-nominated) CBS This Morning, I was excited at the prospect of working overnights. I routinely go into work at 2 a.m., and get off sometime around 10 a.m. That leaves the entire day for me to do whatever I’d like, my naive self thought — volunteer at an animal shelter, pick up a freelance gig, finally learn to play the guitar that’s been sitting in my corner for three years, etc.
Essentially, I thought, who needs to sleep?
I quickly learned. Me. I need to sleep.
The question that typically follows in the above conversation is: “When do you sleep?” That’s always a tough question to answer.
I often speak with my coworkers, even to this day, to ask about their sleeping tactics. And the one common theme for success in working overnights is maintaining a level of consistency. So, if you set a specific sleep schedule, keep with it — including on your days off. Another suggestion is to sleep in full — avoid taking naps to get your fill of sleep.
Despite this sound advice, I’ve ignored it all.
I go to the gym immediately after work, and then I go home. I mosey around for a little bit, catch up on TV I missed, get things done around the apartment. In an ideal world, I go to bed at 1 or 2 p.m. I then sleep until 7 or 8 p.m., wake up so I can have some semblance of a night, and take another nap around 11 p.m. I sleep until 1 a.m., leave my apartment by 1:30, and get to work by 2.
On Fridays, I get off work at 10 a.m. and often try to stay up as late as I can. Sometimes I make it until midnight, other times I’m asleep by 6 p.m. I want a normal sleep schedule on the weekends.
I only drink coffee during my shift if I find it absolutely necessary. Thankfully, those moments are few and far between. My main coffee fix for the day comes after work or the gym.
Admittedly, this is not a successful method. When I wake up after my first long nap, I’m still tired, and I rarely have the energy to do anything during that three-hour window I’m awake. Sometimes, even moving from my bed to the couch takes too much effort. But, should I have plans on a weeknight, the schedule works well.
Throw in the occasional freelance gigs, when I work until 2 or 3 p.m., then I typically get a full “night’s” sleep, from 5 or 6 p.m. until 1 a.m. Honestly, that’s what I should do every day.
But to be happy at work, you must be happy in life. And despite the bags that are permanently developing under my eyes, my exhausting schedule makes me as happy as I can be.
Just don’t take my yawn as a sign of disinterest.