In a few weeks I'm going to be spending 4 nights doing night photography from just before sunset to just after sunrise. I generally avoid caffeine because it gives me a massive headache. Does anyone have any tried and true methods for shifting one's schedule for night photography and then shifting it back with minimum impact? I'm going to arrive at my destination a few days early and have a week to get back on schedule, if it matters.

My current idea is to stay up later and later in the days leading up to the first shoot. Then hopefully by the time we need to start shooting, I'll have naturally shifted. One problem is that I'll be staying in a chain hotel, where there will be noise from other patrons, vacuum cleaners, etc. during the day, making it harder to sleep. Any suggestions for dealing with this?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this could be about staying up to do anything, not just photography.
    – Blrfl
    May 13 '17 at 13:20
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    I think this a question more appropriate to somewhere discussing shift work. Perhaps the Workplace SE would be better suited.
    – StephenG
    May 13 '17 at 23:55
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    Just because the situation could be about many other things does not mean that it is not relevant to photography. This is a real situation that can occur for photographers and may likely be of concern to some. There may also be photography specific tips or tricks on how to keep oneself awake while shooting tired or what impacts being tired may have on your shooting.
    – AJ Henderson
    May 24 '17 at 13:32

Get a good sleep in the afternoon beforehand so you can last longer at night. Have a couple of very small snacks during the night also helps stay awake. Try green tea or peppermint instead of coffee. Also, do some physical activity during your session, and have a bit of music to rev up the early hours too. And most importantly look after your eyes - have eye drops handy and use a red light instead of a white torch. Nothing worse than stinging eyes the next morning, or the second or third night.

  • Thanks! I tried this and it pretty much worked. I didn't need tea or coffee, but getting a nap the day beforehand and the day-of helped, as did eating later both in the morning and evening. Jun 28 '17 at 3:02

To paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." With that in mind....

I do a number of shoots every years that have a similar functional requirement: Shoot around sunset, process or drive several hours, shoot some late night stuff when there are no people/cars/lights, shoot until just a bit after sunrise, sleep, wake up in the late afternoon/early evening, repeat. Transitioning to being a nocturnal creature is a serious pain in the ass, but I've found a way that works for me. Your milage may vary.


Not for everyone, numerous caveats apply, know your self, know your limits, act accordingly etc. If your knee is jerking just downvote and move along. If not, here is my process:

I have found that for me (200 lbs adult male, non-drinker) the combination of .5mg xanax and 5 mg ambien will give me a solid night's sleep shortly after whenever I take it. Hotel, certainly, but rest stop, large festival, whatever, I sleep for seven hours and awake feeling well-rested without the need for an alarm clock. People who are smaller or more sensitive have reported having a similar experience at .25 mg xanax and 2.5 mg ambien.

As for staying up, I don't find caffeine useful as it is usually delivered in the company of a major diuretic, ie, coffee, which will dehydrate you (perhaps resulting in that headache?) and then fade away when you really need it the most. Plus, there is a general lack of bathrooms in the middle of nowhere.

Also, I'd recommend avoiding the pantheon of stimulants that are generally available to school kids, college students, shift workers, engineers and truckers all the world over. They'll make you all twitchy and weird and overprone to yammer endlessly to anyone/thing in the vicinity. Not good.

The better option is Modafinil, AKA Provigil, which isn't exactly a stimulant in that it doesn't amp you up or make you feel high, and doesn't affect your ability to go to sleep when you are done shooting. It is what pilots use on long flights in the military. You are just awake, and OK with that, until it's time to sleep, and then you do, and that's about it.

You will need to talk to your doctor to acquire these items if you are in the United States. I only need to do this once to invert my sleep cycle. Make sure that you tell your doctor that you aren't looking for 30 of each pill so they don't think you are some kind of degenerate freak.

This protocol was something that I developed with my doctor, who already knew of and liked my work. Again, certainly not for everybody, YMMV, this does not constitute actionable advice, consult a physician, blah blah blah . Happy shooting!

  • Haha! Thanks for the advice. My spouse has actually been prescribed some of these things in the past, so I am familiar. It didn't occur to me to ask my doctor for myself, but I'll look into it. May 24 '17 at 6:15

This is what I did in Iceland, simply reversing my schedule than usual. The light was spectacular in a 6-7 hour period at night giving a very long combined sunset and sunrise, with the sun never setting in between. I do not drink coffee and rarely soft-drinks, so I also had to do this without caffeine.

The more efficient way to do this is just not to sleep the night before but spend the night staying awake. Find some good distractions, intense movies or go out and party all night (it's for a good cause).

When the day comes you will be exhausted and sleep quickly. Bring earplugs. People are not used to be quiet during the day and it's important you get a full sleep cycle. This put me on track every time.

  • Sounds like a fun trip! I hope to make it some day! Good call on the ear plugs. May 16 '17 at 1:12

Here are two things to take into account that will affect your circadian clock: light and food intake.

Light (especially blue) is linked to your melatonin production. This is why looking at screens before sleep is a bad thing. When seeing blue, your brain goes into day mode. Play on your phone, read stuff on your phone to have that blue light. However, if you are doing astrophotography, that's not the best thing for your eyes as you will see less stars (you'll see even less if you fall asleep, though). Watching a movie or series episodes will do the job. Anything to keep you entertained is good to stay awake.

There's also kinds of foods that induce insulin production and keep you a bit awake. I didn't do extensive research to confirm that. https://www.finedininglovers.com/stories/food-science-circadian-rhythm/

And finally, you have your psychotropic substances, like caffeine or nicotine.

There's also the party option to stay up late the night before your photography session, so you change your sleep schedule.

You can also check astrophotography sites for more tips on how to stay awake.

As for getting back to your regular sleep schedule, i'd advise you to stay awake the whole day after your session, get to sleep at a regular hour.


Your own idea ". . . stay up later . . . in days leading up to shoot" is along similar lines to what I was going to suggest and what I sometimes do, when anticipating jet-lag and sleep issues for long flights between very different time zones.

But of course it still doesn't necessarily fix the problem of ". . .noise from other patrons . . ." etc.

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    It depends on your natural diurnal cycle as to whether it will be better to progressively stay up later or get up earlier. Most people only run at approximately 24h, some longer, some shorter. If you're one of the 'shorter' people, then you'll find it much easier to get up earlier... speaking as one myself ;)
    – Tetsujin
    May 13 '17 at 10:08

Are you reasonably young? Just do it. After the first night, you'll be ready to sleep, believe me! Distractions won't matter. But don't expect to get a 'full day's sleep'.

You'll be tired. But if the night work needs doing and interests you, you'll cope. I've had to do all-nighters when working in theatre with one show in performance, another in rehearsal, and the orchestra arrangements to do. Only cat-naps available. You can keep it up for about a week.

  • Define "reasonably young". :-) I'm middle-aged, so I could probably pull it off. But I was hoping the few extra days before and after would make it possible to adjust a little more gently. May 16 '17 at 1:11
  • When you change your schedule, the fatigue will really hit you after the second or third day. Might as well make this happen AFTER a few nights of photography rather than guarantee it for the first one! You can over-think this sort of thing. Like so much else, it's largely a 'just do it!' job. May 18 '17 at 16:06

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