Sleepless in D.C.

A man asleep on his laptop.
Jaimie D. Travis

At NPR, we're celebrating National Sleep Awareness Week by waking up former overnight producer/director, Barry Gordemer, and asking him to describe the joys of sleep deprivation:

There are few topics in which I consider myself an expert, but I pretty much have a Ph.D. in sleep... or I should say, lack of sleep. (I aced the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep IQ Test.)

For 15 years, I worked the Morning Edition overnight — the graveyard shift, owl hours, the swirling vortex of blackness. I got to work at 3:00 am. (Others come in around midnight.)

Nothing bonds the princes and princesses of darkness together like discussing sleep: how much do you get? Do you use sleeping pills? (Ambien is the official drug of Morning Edition). When do you go to bed? (When Bob Edwards was host, he went to bed at 7:00 pm. — that meant no prime-time television for nearly 25 years).

I didn't want to miss Walker, Texas Ranger so I chose split-shift sleeping: in at 3:00 a.m., home around noon, sleep from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., get up, then back to bed around 10:00 pm. Theoretically, I got seven hours of slumber. Theoretically. It never seemed to work out that way. Most of us averaged about five hours of sleep.

After falling asleep while driving way too many times, I knew it was time for a change. I work days now, but I'll always be an overnighter at heart. My favorite quote about working late/early came from a former Morning Edition editor:

"Working the overnight is like being a hooker. You work weird hours, you dress funny, (the late-night dress code is 'covered') and when it's all over, you feel humiliated."



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