The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How To Prepare for the All-Night Reading

What, if anything, can you do to stay alert for the entire 25-hour reading of Moby-Dick? Lemuel seems to have no problem staying focused for the whole show, while I start to flag around 4:00 AM and nod-off in my chair a couple of hours later. Chalk it up to age (mine), intelligence (his), or the fact that Lemuel arrives sober as the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, while I less so.

A troll of the Web returns lots of suggestions from college kids who face all-night cram sessions: caffeine, B-vitamins, pumpin' music, occasional 10-minute naps (and bumming Ritalin from dorm-mates [not recommended by Lemuel or me]).

One article cites "chronobiologist" Cynthia LaJambe who, even after her studies at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), can only advise "a short nap [less than 20 minutes] and a moderate amount of caffeine, like a cup of coffee, is still the best approach."

An article in The Guardian gives advice for cricket fans trying to go for days without sleep so they can watch The Ashes match series televised from Australia. They recommend: a high-protein meal beforehand, high-protein snacks during, no alcohol, no large doses of caffeine, vitamin B supplement afterwards.

One study holds particular promise for us Marathoners: "Sleep Extension Improves Performance and Facilitates Task Acquisition During and Following 7 Nights of Subsequent Sleep Restriction," by Dr. Tracy Rupp, also at WRAIR. Its findings were summarized by BBC News. The bottom line is: extra sleep each night of the week before the MDM will help you "perform" better, and recover faster. They call it "banking sleep." (Dr. Tracy also recommends naps.)

Here's my list of suggestions:

  • Arrange local accommodations for Sunday night well before the MDM. (See Lemuel's post on sleep-deprived driving.)
  • Come well-rested and well-fed. Try to "bank" some shut-eye the nights prior.
  • Bring a copy of M-D with large type.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Pace your intake of caffeine & sugar. Some folks use green tea for its reduced caffeine content -- bring your own (hot water is available).
  • Take breaks in the snack room. You'll meet some interesting folks there.
  • Step outside for some bracing January air and imagine Melville's arrival in New Bedford.
  • Save the adult beverages for after the reading, if you're absolutely convinced that it will help.


  1. "Save the adult beverages for after the reading"

    Physician, heal thyself.

  2. The tips are all well worth reading and taking to heart. Though I'm quite surprised by the idea of "banking sleep" and the findings that it might actually help. Although isn't that along the same lines as staying well-rested? And the benefits of that is a long-held belief of mine. Something to sleep on!

  3. I suppose one can survive on food and water, but only just.