We have all had those days where getting out of bed seems near impossible; where turning over and going back into a heavy dose trumps doing anything else, your body aches, you feel heavy and your brain is wondering if you are dreaming or if you are awake. NO! You are not dreaming, get up, GET UP!
You think that is bad for one or two days? Well try having that same feeling every single day for 66 days. Surviving on very little sleep was probably the biggest challenge for most of us on Contiki training. It allowed us to enter a phase that most dare not enter for fear that they will never return; the Zombie Phase.
Now when I say Zombie I don’t mean the human eating kind; with rags for clothes, red eyes and arms directly in front as they wander in your direction and you run screaming. No I mean the kind where everything is an effort and where each minute you are fighting sleep with your eyelids feeling weighted and the pen in your hand slipping off your sheet of paper.
You may be wondering how this is humanly possible? Living on less than four hours each night, running around cities all day, consuming more information than you every thought you could. The truth is I have no idea how I did it.
If training taught me one thing it was that I would be able to push myself further than I ever thought I could. Getting out of bed each morning was agony and having to endure the same belittlement and anxiety at the thought of having to do a speech, I may not have got round to the night before, was horrifying. So many days I felt myself living for the moment that I could fall into bed, absolutely exhausted and slip into a deep sleep that if it were up to me would last an eternity.
Each drive day there was always one person who would nod off and we each had a strategy to not get caught. Firstly you needed the help of your buddy, the person sitting next to you. You would inform them that you were going to try and grab a quick micro sleep.
Defined by all Contiki trainees as a recurring period of between 2 and 10 minutes on a Contiki coach in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended until violently woken by your buddy.
Secondly you needed to make sure you looked like you were doing something. The trick was to deceive your trainer. We did this by making sure our papers were on our lap, pen in hand, looking down to ensure we looked like we were working.
Lastly you had to be quiet about it; snoring would instantly give you away and if you looked odd or in the least bit funny; you risked alerting fellow trainees who would giggle, point and take photos of you as they tried to stick their finger up your nose.
Unfortunately sleeping on training is not allowed and the violent shove you got from your buddy was enough to alert you that the trainer is looking your way and that the pen, which a second ago lay limp in your hand, needed to be scribbling down something mildly relative to European subject matter.
The most entertaining part of my day was watching others take their micro sleep. Heads fell back and tongues flailed to the side, all while our pens were resting on our pages with tiny words scribbled down, slowly forming a long solid blue line from the minute we began falling asleep. I watched my buddy draw on his own hand for a solid four minutes while falling asleep, convinced he was still awake and writing an incredible history.
The Zombie Phase was made worse by some with the use of ‘No Doz’; a caffeine tablet to help relieve mental fatigue and drowsiness, helping you stay alert and awake. That is all fine and well, until you have been living off of caffeine tablets for more than two weeks.
You have endless shakes, paranoia, little sleep and a huge crash an hour after consumption. One Contiki trainee has told me she thought that they were going to kill her by the end, causing her to break out into spontaneous fits of tears, pull out her hair and vomit on a constant basis; not pretty. My advice; avoid all of that kind of stuff and ensure you are eating healthy and opt for coffee rather than a tablet solution.
Entering the Zombie Phase sounds frightening and alarming; I can assure you it is but that is the time where you need to push harder than before. You need to try and stay awake, pay attention and absorb everything around you. One thing I wish I had done was to pay more attention on training.
Prioritise your time on the coach and work as hard as you can, leaving the late nights for what they are meant for; much needed rest before that alarm goes off and the Zombie Phase starts all over again.