Former bartender turned journalist, Dan Miles is the best-selling author of Filthy Still – a tale of travel, sex, and perfectly made cocktails, and a contributor to the Huffington Post, TNT and the New Zealand Times. Here he explores the hospitality industries relationship to sleep.
Picture the scene – shuffling, shambling figures with dead eyes and blank expressions, ready to chew the brains out of the next person to cross their path. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about a zombie movie, but the staff of any hospitality outlet the world over after a long week. The cause – an industry-wide lack of sleep.
Over more than fifteen years as a bartender, I had a complicated relationship with sleep, mainly as there never seemed to be enough of it. Then when I finally did get to bed my brain would decide to revisit every rude customer and irrational thought I’d ever had, or just continued to work at breakneck speed thanks to a shift-long drip feed of adrenaline, anxiety and French Press. Unfortunately, lack of sleep is commonly viewed as part of the job, or an accepted danger, like a poor diet or collecting vintage cocktail shakers, yet comes with very real health issues.
As well as leaving you tired and cranky, persistent lack of sleep fundamentally redraws the brain’s chemical makeup, affecting your balance and ability to concentrate, increasing the risk of accidents in an industry that comes equipped with knives, liquid nitrogen and, let’s face it, fire, given half a chance. As if that wasn’t enough it also lowers the immune system, raises blood pressure, causes weight gain, mood changes, lowered sex drive and is one of the key causes of a particularly shitty bastard already rife in the hospitality world – depression. It’s also exacerbated by alcohol, which, in a truly horrible bit of industry irony, leaves you feeling tired, but disrupts the sleep you do get. Unlike other major hospitality issues however it also cannot be cured by a gym membership, packed lunch or good intentions. Neither is Espresso or Redbull a decent substitute, but a temporary, if sometimes necessary, fix to a problem that’s all too easy to stress and obsess about.
Over the years I’ve tried every solution going. I’ve drunk my weight in chamomile tea, sipped hot milk with cinnamon, meditated, worked out and got up when sleep no longer seemed an option in order to do something else entirely – though my other half has mentioned that writing the summer cocktail list was probably not what was had in mind. Not all of it worked and much of it didn’t, however like any recipe, I believe there is a combination out there that will, you just have to find it – and the first stage is to recognise the enemy and what it’s doing to us.