What Happens After You’ve Been Awake For Four Days

I’ve always had a strange relationship with sleep.

My parents will assuredly agree with that.

Even as a child I never slept a lot, much to their chagrin. I was always awake.

I’m still the same way. I get by on very little sleep. It’s not some strange workaholic adherence to keeping a crazy schedule. I just naturally stay awake long into the night and still wake early, with no deleterious effects.

I’m simultaneously a night owl and an early bird.

But, a benefit to this little quirk is that it leaves lots of time for writing.

Sometimes too much time.

Every once and while there’s a bit of of a hiccup and next thing you know there is far too much work to do and far little time.

The last this happened to me was last Spring where after a bit of a scheduling mix up I had two weeks worth of work to do.

So, I knew it was going to be a busy week.

The first night wasn’t so bad. I’ve pulled more overnighters than I could even count. Like every other writer.

It was the end of the second night where things started to get interesting.

I was coming up on 36 hours. That’s when the hazy feeling starts and you’re not sure what day it is anymore. I thought I’d grab a quick hour of sleep so I set my alarm and laid done.

Never got a wink of sleep though.

All I could think about was the amount of work ahead of me. So after about 20 minutes I got back out of bed and started writing again. And it pretty much went that way until I could no longer sit there typing.

You can’t type for four days straight as much as tried so I would also switch to research and editing and other tasks.

The only thing keeping me sane was walking my dog during short breaks. The physical activity also helped and each time I came back I felt better and could blow through an hour’s worth of work.

At a certain point it gets bad though. You eyes hurt from staring at a computer strain (even with a glue light filter). I also had the brightness turned down during the night to the point where I could hardly see the screen. This also made it hard to see but it was the only way to not feel like your eyes were burning.

The morning on the fourth day was the hardest naturally. I was actually ahead of schedule and could have gone to sleep before finishing.

But, I thought it best to power through.

However, I was having trouble staying awake. No matter what I felt like I was about to fall asleep every 15 minutes.

Because I’ve never had a problem staying awake I’ve ever drank coffee before. Well, there’s a first time for everything.

I found some old stuff in the pantry and that’s what I remembered a trick I read about soldiers eating coffee grounds to help stay awake while at post.

Let’s just say I do not recommend this. I ate a spoonful of ground coffee and it tasted like burnt dirt.

One does not make the best decisions when up that long.

But, a few hours later I was done.

To say I was elated is an understatement.

But, some funny things start to happen after you’ve been up that long. I was pretty sure I was starting to hallucinate. The last hour of work the computer screen was moving back and forth and I’m pretty sure I was talking to Ernest Hemingway during the last few minutes.

The really funny part is, after you’ve been awake that long it takes forever to fall back asleep.

I’m sure it was a combination of adrenaline and inertia but I could fall asleep so I spent the rest of the day a ghost of my former self.

Later though, I hit a wall and the sleep gods had mercy on me and I fell into the bed and slept for 10 hours straight waking good as new.

Though I didn’t want to see a clip board for a month.

Written by

Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories.

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