One Question Quiz
A man missing out on seeing a classic batting collapse (Getty Images)
A man missing out on seeing a classic batting collapse (Getty Images)

SportsJune 18, 2021

Match fit: A sleep expert on surviving the overnight World Test Championship final

A man missing out on seeing a classic batting collapse (Getty Images)
A man missing out on seeing a classic batting collapse (Getty Images)

The World Test Championship final poses severe challenges for any NZ-based fan hoping to watch it overnight. We asked a sleep expert for some survival tips, and whether it is totally foolish to stay up all night and then podcast. 

If you’ve been a long-suffering New Zealand cricket fan for decades, the upcoming World Test Championship final, in which the Black Caps take on India, is non-negotiable. You simply have to watch it. And you have to watch it as it happens.

Unfortunately, this means the suffering will continue regardless of who wins, because each day of play starts at 9.30pm NZ time. That means play will be wrapping up about an hour before it starts to get light outside. 

The Offspin podcast – hosted by Simon Day and me – will be putting out episodes as early as possible every day after play has finished. That means being up overnight watching carefully.

Follow The Offspin on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Can that actually be done? Is it an incredibly stupid idea? Should fans push through regardless of how badly the lack of sleep hurts them? Is it possible the answer to all of those questions is an emphatic yes? 

I spoke to senior lecturer Karyn O’Keefe, from Massey University’s Sleep Wake Research Centre, for her tips on how best to get through the long nights to come, and what the effects are likely to be.

Is it too late (interview conducted on Wednesday) for me to be adjusting my sleep cycle so that I’m fully nocturnal by Friday night? 

Yes. The challenge is that it’s virtually impossible to push your circadian body clock to align with a night-time schedule. So even a night shift worker who’s on permanent nights – very few of them actually align with their night time schedules in terms of what their body is doing. We’re always working against our physiology. 

So there’s nothing I can do about it now?

You can try to do some things with careful exposure to light, meal times, things like that. But the reality is the environment outside is constantly reminding us what time of day it is. So it’s very difficult, you have to be incredibly careful. 

The first night of the game will be an all-nighter, on a base of a normal night of sleep and a normal day at work beforehand. What would be the best way of doing this one without being a wreck the next day? 

It’s still quite difficult for most people to do [one night without sleep.] You could try having a nap before you start watching the cricket – that could have some benefit. But the benefits of that are not long term. The longer you nap for the longer the benefits will be, so a short and sweet power nap won’t really provide that.

I’ve heard of sleep debt before – is it possible to get yourself into “sleep credit”, as it were?

Banking sleep basically? A study was done on that and it seems that if you’re missing out on sleep already, then you experience the effects of sleep deprivation more strongly. If you bank sleep when you’re well rested, it doesn’t impact you so much as if you’re already missing out on sleep. You can’t really put sleep in a bank and then perform better during a period of sleep restriction. 

Getting deeper into the game, on days 3 and 4 when the debt starts to build up, there’ll be a 40 minute break around midnight NZ time (for lunch) and another 20 minute break closer to 3am. Is it a good idea to nap during these?

You’d have to set an alarm, and some people might sleep through that, depending on how high their sleep need is. If you’re thinking about enjoying the game, then a power-nap would certainly be beneficial. They provide short-term benefits for a couple of hours. 

What sort of mental effects can I expect after four nights of this? Is my body and mind likely to be telling me to quit? 

So you’re not going to be up for four nights straight – you’ll be going to sleep in the daytime I’m assuming? 

Well, hopefully yeah, but as you say it’ll be difficult to tricking my body into thinking that’s a sleeping time.

What we know is that sleeping during the day is shorter and poorer quality. It’ll be harder to get to sleep, and you’ll have to be careful to block out light and talk to your family about that. [Note: I have already informed my flat that I’ll be utterly horrible to be around during the game.]

In terms of what it’ll be doing to your functioning, the more sleep you’re missing out on, the higher the pressure or drive to sleep gets, to the point where you might fall asleep uncontrollably, or have micro-sleeps, where you briefly fall asleep without intending to. 

That sounds dangerous.

We don’t want to be doing that sort of thing when we’re driving, or working. That’s going to be really important if safety is a priority, or if we need to make good decisions. The danger of missing out on sleep is that people who haven’t got enough, they’re not very good at estimating how they’re functioning. We actually tend to overestimate our functioning quite substantially. We also take more risks. 

So…maybe recording and publishing a podcast of my thoughts and speech after four nights of this isn’t the best idea? Like I might not realise if I’m talking complete bollocks?

Yeah, it’s possible. We know that communication changes as well, so our ability to let people know the information we want them to is actually impaired. It depends on what you want the podcast to be maybe – it could be more entertaining if you’re not quite your normal self. But if you want to be clear and articulate, that starts to become impaired as well.

Follow The Offspin’s World Test Championship sleep experiment on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Keep going!