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Matt Barbet Headshot

Tired and Tested

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As I write, I'm rubbing my eyes in vain, trying to wipe away the vague fug of tiredness that now seems to plague me most days during this time. By mid-afternoon, my circadian rhythm usually gets the better of me and I start to flag. Such is the effect of getting up at 0330 every weekday.

That's the answer to the first question pretty much everyone now asks about my new job presenting Daybreak on ITV. In fact, second only to the stories of the day, sleep seems to be the constant hot-topic in the newsroom - or perhaps that's the way it seems to a heavy-lidded newbie like me.

Everyone is eager to share their routine, or someone else's, or lack of one. Some stay awake until they practically collapse, others nap where they can, in the back of a cab, or on the train home, at the risk of overshooting their stop. I've heard of those who've been in my shoes before bringing in duvets, or managing to sleep in split-shifts of four hours each for years on end, in order to maintain some sort of social life.

In fact, this kind of segmented sleep was apparently the norm prior to the industrial revolution, with some arguing it's more akin to what humans need naturally. After being conditioned since birth to sleep for eight hours in one go, though, dabbling with a two-sleep day has left me feeling groggier than an 18th Century grog merchant.

Having two young daughters, I'd written off a decent social life anyway, while also saying goodbye to a decent night's sleep into the bargain. A single shift of four hours, which Mrs Thatcher famously got by on in Number 10, is more likely, but is probably also inadequate.

Don't think I haven't done this before though. A career in journalism rarely means doing the 9-5. Overnights, early starts, long days and late finishes have always been my domain. Maybe it's the fact I'm older now (36), but through rose-tinted spectacles (or is it fatigue?) they all seemed easier hours than actually starting a job slap-bang in the dead of night.

It's peculiar, and slightly gratifying, that friends who've successfully done time on breakfast sofas themselves still seem fascinated with how I'm coping with the early mornings. They nod knowingly when I describe that almost constant feeling of jetlag, and agree when I say the adrenalin of live television tends to be what keeps me going. Then we cease to sing from the same hymn sheet as they relish revealing how much their life has improved since they stopped keeping such ungodly hours - because it does affect your whole life.

A stab at trying to eat at normal times spectacularly failed when I began seeking out the breakfast trolley that arrives in the newsroom at 5am, to scarf down a muffin. Inevitably, it's led to my having two breakfasts, early and late. Unfortunately, I can find no evidence of this being considered more natural for humans, or if, in the Middle Ages, they wolfed down two lots of baked goods of a morning.

Consequently, I've tried to switch to porridge and yoghurt, while lunch is around 11am now. The day is punctuated by three or four strategically consumed, very strong coffees, and I then try to eat with my kids at 5.30pm if I can. It sounds civilised, all being round the dinner table, but they're only three and one, so my wielding cutlery for all of us is far from relaxing.

Counter-intuitively, at least if you're someone who doesn't exercise, I relax the most, and feel more awake, when I hit the road on my bicycle. Forcing the heart to beat a bit quicker, and sensing daylight on my retina leads to better results than anything else at making me feel more like me. It's no great revelation to say that being disciplined about it, and those early-morning carb-loaded temptations, is key to being on-form when everyone else is rubbing the sleep from their own eyes. I just regret it's taken several weeks for that to dawn on me, but that's what can happen when you're living much of your working life in the darkness before dawn.