There are very few things I value more than sleep. So when I got an opportunity to work on an entertainment news television show, I was jazzed—until I learned what the hours were.
The new job would require waking up early—as in 4 AM—so I could be at work by 5 AM, with my workday finishing up by 1:30 PM. Sure, I’d still be working about eight hours a day, just quite a bit earlier than your standard 9 to 5.
Accepting this role meant accepting my entire life was about to change. Not only would I be starting a new job—a unique challenge in and of itself—but I’d also be moving across the country to do it. I’d be acclimating to a new position with a new company in a different city with a different time zone and a bonkers new work schedule. And I’d have to make this adjustment all at once and preferably without exploding all over the open-office floor plan.
To top it all off, the early-bird shift meant reining in my side hustle as a freelance writer and stand-up comedian, at least while I was getting settled. As a general rule, most comedy-related events start late and end really late. I knew taking the TV gig meant I’d have to trim my performance schedule, but I was hopeful (or delusional) and believed I could manage both.
A month in, I’ve learned a few things about how to make a transition like this without sacrificing your sleep, social life, or stability.
Everything Was Great
I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and a month’s worth of it’s-chilly-before-sunrise cardigans. (The rest of my stuff would arrive during the official move later on.) I had to start work at 5 AM the next day, so I went to bed early. For once, jet lag was on my side. My body was so confused by the changes in time, location, and climate that it gave up and I fell asleep without a problem.
I was able to enforce my 9 PM bedtime almost every night and had no issues waking up at 4 AM each morning. I tried to exercise daily, usually right after work, assuming it’d help regulate my sleep schedule. I began showering at night, which felt weird, but it was the only way to ensure I didn’t give up on hygiene altogether.
Things were going so well that I started to suspect I was invincible or—maybe, possibly—a morning person.
I was feeling great about all my life choices until Saturday, when my car got entangled in a three-car pileup on the freeway caused by a hit-and-run driver. This turned out to be an accurate foreshadowing of the week to come.
Everything Was Terrible
The move, the job, the schedule—it all caught up to me. Whatever enthusiasm and adrenaline had been propelling me through the previous week was gone and I felt exhausted all the time. I experimented with naps, but was spending most of my free time on the phone arguing with the rental car company over the accident, which had the opposite of a sedating effect.
Since I was struggling to control my sleep and stress levels, I worked instead to regulate my eating. But I couldn’t quite nail down the best times to eat to maximize my energy. The only thing I knew for sure was that my company gives us free bagels on Thursdays, so I was relieved to have one meal figured out.
Eager to establish myself in my new city, I pushed myself to go out and perform almost every night and found myself crashing into bed between 10 PM and midnight. But that was a mistake. I limped toward the weekend and spent my time off catching up on sleep and planning how I’d make the next week less awful.
My new co-workers shared their tricks for surviving the transition, suggesting everything from blackout curtains to melatonin, all of which I’ve yet to try. One kept it real and told me that six months into his tenure, he still hadn’t fully adjusted.
Everything Was a Compromise
After two weeks of extremes, I was craving balance. With the exception of lunch, I stopped messing around with full meals and instead focused on eating healthy, protein-filled snacks throughout the day. Since my job requires me to spend lots of time in front of both TV and computer screens, I tried to take hourly stretch breaks to stay loose and focused. With the car situation finally behind me, I could devote more time to exploring and enjoying my new city.
I accepted that I’m not a nap person and stopped trying. And I made an effort to take advantage of my afternoons, arranging to meet up with friends during happy hour. I set a rule that I couldn’t stay up past 9 PM two nights in a row. So I couldn’t be as spontaneous, but I could stay out later on nights when I really needed to. I discovered I couldn’t have the same social life I previously did, but with intention, careful planning, and caffeine, I could come pretty close.
This transition isn’t over, but I’m already wiser. As much as I love sleeping in, I’m actually a morning person. While my body enjoys getting 10 hours of sleep, it really only needs seven to function. That said, it’s crucial for me to get those seven hours of sleep consistently. Mostly I have to be conscious of not overdoing it and cognizant that my body’s still reacting to this new schedule differently every week.
I’m lucky that many people in LA have non-traditional work schedules, which makes it easier for me to make plans with people during the day. And I’m lucky to have supportive friends who don’t make me feel bad for bailing early on weeknights and understand when I nod off during movies.
As much as I loathe to admit it, having a consistent exercise routine has been so helpful. On days when I’m struggling, working out and drinking water have helped me push through. My challenge going forward will be to remember this particular lesson as I become more settled and have better offers for entertainment than the elliptical.
Having unconventional hours comes with some great perks, too. My commute in the morning is a dream and it’s great to feel like I’ve freed up so many hours in my day.
I wouldn’t have picked this schedule on my own, but now that it’s mine, I’m learning to love it. And on days when I’m too tired to love it, at least I know I can live with it.
Photo of person waking up courtesy of Jasper Cole/Getty Images.
Ilana Gordon is a writer originally from Connecticut. She has lived in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles and currently resides in a state of continuous panic. She contributes work to sites like The A.V. Club, The Takeout, Atlas Obscura, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and Reductress. You can visit her website here.More from this Author