Magazine

Ashes: How to stay up all night without preparation

Graeme Swann flies
Image caption Levitation - one way of bringing viewers back from the brink of sleep

This year's hotly-anticipated Ashes series between England and Australia kicks off in the small hours of Thursday morning. But the 10-hour time difference presents a problem for fanatical cricket fans who would otherwise be fast asleep during the hours of play.

The first Ashes test at Brisbane's Gabba starts at 0000 GMT on Thursday, with the action finishing round about breakfast time.

Cricket fans in the UK will be facing some tough decisions about how much of it they can watch or listen to live.

As anybody who has ever done a job which involves sudden switches from days to nights will know, it's rather hard to stay up all night.

But the sleep experts suggest you can give yourself a fighting chance with the the help of carefully-timed naps, caffeinated drinks, avoiding certain foods and keeping yourself stimulated.

By far the best way to prepare for a night shift, whether eight hours of work or eight hours of leather on willow, is to shift your sleeping pattern over a matter of days.

If a would-be night worker stays up until 5am the night before a shift that finishes at 8am he's half way there.

It takes anything up to a week to get used to a new sleeping pattern, says Prof Jim Horne of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University. But there are certain things you can do if you've got no time to ease into the switch.

"One way to stay awake is to drink coffee intermittently," says Prof Horne.

A 15-minute nap during lulls in the play - if Paul Collingwood is required to defend for example - might help.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, Prof Horne says you can combine these two tactics for maximum effect. Drink a cup of coffee and in the 20-minute interval before the caffeine really kicks in, have a nap. You will awake and get a double boost from the caffeine kick.

Don't sleep any longer than 15 minutes as a deeper sleep will then set in which will leave you drowsy.

And as any night worker will testify, there's a period about 4am where you can feel agitated, fidgety and really rather unhappy to be awake.

"The body clock reaches its 24-hour trough about 3-5 in the morning," says Prof Horne. "Once you are after the trough you will start to perk up."

You might, he suggests, want to time naps for 2am and 4am - the latter helpfully coinciding with the players' lunch break.

Then there are some things you will want to avoid. A heavy meal will make you sleepy. Very sugary foods or drinks can also be problematic, says Prof Horne. They can produce a short-term high but a longer-term, sleep-inducing lull. Alcohol will also make you sleep, and will have an exaggerated effect during the 3-5am lull.

Other tactics include keeping all your lights on, avoid overly comfortable furniture, as well as making sure you speak regularly to friends during the night. Stimulus is vital during slow patches in play.

And there is an important safety message. Anybody going without sleep and then trying to go to work should not do anything like driving or other tasks where an accident could be dangerous.

But there are no long-term health risks from the odd night without sleep.