North Fork Outdoors/Martin Garrell: Don’t discount the importance of good sleep

It’s pretty well known these days that a good night’s rest is important for health. For mental acuity, weight maintenance and physical performance, the standard is a solid eight hours or thereabouts. But tell that to your typical outdoors person and they’ll laugh at you!

Often outdoors activities are all about juggling and accommodation. How can you manage a long day’s work late into the evening and get ready for a 4 a.m. start on some fishing boat 100 miles away? How do you hunt, fish or ski all weekend long, arrive home in the wee small hours, then show up for work the next day? Rather than passing up opportunities, you find a way to show up.

When you are just beginning a life in the outdoors, you don’t care. As a young saltwater fanatic under the influence of Florida skippers and guides, I thought nothing of going out on a blue water trip during the day, catching a couple of hours sleep, fishing a night tide for tarpon and snook, sleeping briefly, then going back on the party or charter boats the next day! Young skippers and guides do this everywhere, too, usually at the beginning of their careers. Look around the East End docks at the folks who take fluke trips by day and bass parties by night.

Of course, this swing shift routine with short naps sandwiched between work hours gets old fast, which is why wise water-men and water-women hire reliable crew as soon as they can, so the assignments can be shared, at least for most of the season.

As one ages, the realization comes (slowly!) that burning the candle at both ends comes with a price, namely performance. Thanks to an adrenaline rush, when you first unpack the gear into a blind or onto a boat, you can probably set up pretty well. You’re even ready most of the time for the first shot of the day or the first strike. But bad things tend to happen toward day’s end, at the bottom or top of a tide, when you’re drowsy and prone to reacting poorly. It’s one thing to be snoozing when a bottom fish engulfs a bait (some of our biggest fluke and cod have taken baits fished on a dead stick anyway), but it’s quite another to be daydreaming when a monster bass, musky or billfish comes out of nowhere and crashes a lure. You may just kick yourself for days (or years) when you react awkwardly or not at all to the strike.

In recent years we’ve had some very good field dogs and have gotten seriously into competitive trials with them. While trialing and judging we’ve watched a number of sleep-deprived handlers at work. Often these folks leave work on a Friday afternoon, drive all night to a trial 300 to 500 miles away, and stagger into the field or onto their horses just in time to run their dogs after very short sleep or no sleep. In one recent trial we watched in dismay as one groggy handler, figuring that his dog was unsure of itself, sent the poor dog ahead into a bird it had pointed perfectly (pointing dogs must stand birds, never flush them).

Failure to pay attention to horses is just as bad or worse, of course. The ground below rudely awakens the sleepy rider who hasn’t sufficiently tightened a girth, for example.

There are ways of coping, at least temporarily, with short sleep and the outdoors. Light meals, eaten steadily, help a bit. So do caffeinated beverages, although they can lead to unwanted problems, like the need to “tap a kidney” during a lengthy drive or in the middle of the only bite of the day aboard a party boat or out in a blind when the birds finally come in. Given the stupid attitude of many states that one of the best ways to save money is closing rest areas rather than minimally maintaining them, the first situation is probably most common. Perhaps governors, legislators and state officials only fly and never ever drive!

The scariest thing one can do in a drowsy condition is setting off on a long drive. Indeed the drive homeward is usually a lot more dangerous than the drive to the outdoor destination. After a long day of activity, you’re feeling really good; maybe your stomach is pleasantly full, and you’re prone to daydreaming rather than paying attention to an open road. You may have heard suggestions to turn on tapes, CDs or radio, open windows wide, etc. Maybe you can survive by periodically parking and walking around the vehicle. Still, if you cannot switch drivers when you feel your eyes beginning to close, get to the next possible parking area, lock the vehicle, and take a nap!

Don’t ruin a day in the outdoors — or your life — by dozing behind the wheel!