The secret to surviving on zero sleep

Have you ever seen the movie Due Date with Robert Downey Jr and Zack Galifianakis? I did once. And to be honest I didn’t really like it and I even had to look up the name before writing about it here. It’s about an uptight businessman who needs to get across the country to be with his wife as she gives birth. He meets a no-hoper actor, who gets them kicked off the plane home, and they have to take a road trip across the country to get home as quickly as possible.

The scene that sticks in my mind is where their car overturns and crashes. The Robert Downey Jr character ends up breaking his bones but the Zach Galifianakis character is fine; he was relaxed and his body just went through the motions and didn’t get hurt.

I’m not sure of the science of that movie, but I think it teaches us all a lesson about how to survive on no sleep.

I’ve just had a second child. It’s great, wonderful, fantastic, all the superlatives you can think of. But of course, I haven’t slept properly since he was born. For one thing he wakes to feed every couple of hours and, even though my wife is breastfeeding him, I still keep involved as much as possible.

Too many of us suffer through those early months and years, struggling to maintain our day-to-day lives all the while getting no sleep. The best time for me was paternity leave when I could sleep during the day when the baby did. And then I had to go back to work.

I think the key to surviving on zero sleep is flexibility.

We try to get back to our normal lives but our sleep won’t return to normal, so we suffer. Just like the Robert Downey Jr character in that movie, we end up hurting ourselves through our tension and inflexibility. What we need to do is go with the flow, be more flexible, sleep when we need to sleep, rest when we can. It’s not forever, and eventually the baby will settle into a proper pattern.

It’s probably hard for most of us to be so flexible, given that we have jobs with shifts or standard working hours.

We can start by looking at our free time – do we need to make rigid commitments to friends, exercise, and fun stuff? What if we just exercised in the moments of free time that emerge rather than schedule things in? I’m a big advocate of productivity and scheduling but I’ve realised it’s not so easy with a child. Most of my scheduled activities end up being moved anyway.

Once we’ve gained some flexibility in our personal lives we can tackle our work lives.

Every employer in the UK is obligated to consider flexible working requests and I’m sure similar rights exist in other countries. If more of us start to request flexible working then we begin to break the mould of the 9-5 working day, which is based in the early industrial past and has no real relevance in today’s society.

If we accept that our sleep may be good one night, terrible the next, then we should also accept that we’re going to have good days and bad days, days when we can function and days when we barely get by. It’s ok and we shouldn’t give ourselves a hard time. And then all of a sudden it will become easier to get things done.

The secret to surviving on zero sleep is to relax, be flexible and go with it. It won’t be forever!

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