How Do I Prepare to Stay Awake?

How Do I Prepare to Stay Awake?

I received the following question for Richard’s and my mailbag show on Gambling with an Edge. It’s too involved to answer on the air. I thought I’d give it a go here.

Can you describe the steps you take to prepare for a play that may require you play during a time of day (graveyard for example) that is not a normal time for you to be playing? How far in advance do you start to adjust your schedule, and what other steps do you take?

First of all, let’s step back and look at the larger picture. What is your life about? If you have an important job where you must function at a high level from 9-5 (or longer) for five or six days a week, you may need to always avoid mid-week promotions that take place during graveyard hours.

In a similar vein, if napping during the day isn’t feasible because of other people in your household (spouse, children), or commitments you have during the day, playing after midnight may not be a practical endeavor.

I don’t know that I can answer how to do it for a general audience. I can only address how I’ve done it. Maybe some of I’ve figured out will apply to you. Maybe not.

One of the important lessons I learned back when I was playing backgammon in the 1970s and 1980s is that gambling at a high level is much more difficult if you also have to maintain a full-time job along the way. For me, trying to burn the candle at both ends did not end up with me being able to keep the job.

For my entire video poker career (starting in 1994), I have not had an outside job. I’ve had classes to teach which MUST start on time, and articles to be written where deadlines must be met, occasional appointments with doctors, barbers, and the like, but for the most part I’ve been able to choose my own hours. To me, this is a key part of my experience in getting ready to play a graveyard promotion, and this is how I’m going to approach answering today’s question. If this is not how your life works, you may find my approach not so useful.

I’m not a physician, but I believe that everybody has some sort of natural clock. Some people are naturally early birds. They get up at 4 a.m. every day and proclaim how much they can get done by starting so early. I’ve never been one of those people.

When I’ve been stuck at home recuperating from something, without any outside responsibilities, normal for me is to get up at perhaps 3 p.m. and go to bed at 5 or 6 in the morning. I get the most done during those hours. Writing after midnight comes easier for me than writing during the hours other people consider normal. I’ve had two wives (not at the same time!) during my video poker career, both of whom learned about my “weird” sleep patterns early on and figured they could deal with it.

Currently I have a 7:30 a.m. gym date three days a week because that’s the time my gym buddy can make it. I almost always take naps in the afternoon. When I first met Bonnie, she thought naps were for babies. She, and her deceased former husband always got up early and stayed up until they went to bed. Now she’s become a convert to naps herself. Had she not been able to deal with my hours, we would not be a couple.

So that’s my pattern. Nap when I can. Be up when I must. 

I usually find out when I need to be awake in advance. For example, if I know a promotion is starting at midnight on Tuesday, I start getting ready for that a day or two early. I might adjust my nap my nap that day so I have a full sleep ending at 10 p.m. That gives me plenty of time to get something to eat, do so stretching, clean up, review strategy, and be at wherever that promotion is taking place before midnight. Done correctly, I’ll be able to function at a high level for many hours after the promotion begins.

How many hours I can function well is decreasing over time. I’m 75 years old now. When I was 45, I could easily go 16 hours straight. Today, it’s closer to six hours. 

On the 24-hour promotions, I’ll often be there at the beginning and play as long as I can alertly, take a four-to-six-hour nap, and then go back and have another whack at it. Sometimes I’ll take two three-hour naps over the 24 hours.

If the casino is 15 miles or less from my home, I’ll usually drive home and sleep in my own bed. Everything at home is how I like it and I know where everything is. I have slept in hotel rooms many times, but I don’t fall asleep as quickly or sleep as well. But if I’m not close to my home, it’s far better to sleep in a hotel than not at all.

The next promotion may well start at 6 a.m., or noon, or any other time. I do the same thing to get ready.

Going to an all-day seminar these days is something I can’t do. I can’t stay awake hour after hour after hour starting in the morning. I can do two or maybe three (maybe not) hour-long sessions, but that’s about it. I then need to go lie down for a while. 

This is the opposite of how I was when I had to work a 9-5 job. Back then I was used to those hours and could function rather well during them. But it’s been so long since I’ve done that, it would be very, very difficult for me to do that today.

A final key I want to discuss is I can go for far more hours when what I’m doing is interesting to me. If I’m playing a video poker game, I can go long hours. If I’m listening to a lecture that isn’t exactly what I’m interested in, I have a hard time staying awake even one hour. 

I’ve been switching my hours back and forth for so many decades, now my biological clock is quite messed up. I don’t know what normal is for me. I get up when I need to, function for as long as I have to, and go back and take another nap. It’s probably not the way I would have designed things, but I’ll take it! It works for my life right now.