Presenter Jenni Falconer tells Elizabeth Archer how she learned to live with long-term sleep deprivation, after more than two decades of working unsociable hours and wake up calls as early as 2.30am
Napping at the dinner table, worrying about falling asleep in the dentist’s chair, and missing her stop on public transport are all hazards of the job for TV and radio presenter Jenni Falconer.
After more than two decades working unsociable hours – sometimes setting her alarm as early as 2.30am – Jenni has become a pro at managing without eight hours’ sleep.
“It’s really challenging but over the years I’ve learned to make up for the lack of sleep in other ways,” says
Jenni, 46, who lives with her husband James Midgley and their 11-year-old daughter Ella just outside London.
In the UK, four million of us work shifts. That’s 14 per cent of the workforce. But the disruption it causes to sleep can play havoc with our bodies, putting us at increased risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes.
In 2007, the World Health Organisation classed shift work as a risk factor for cancer. This is because our bodies release hormones at certain times of day to help regulate mood, appetite, digestion, and even fertility. Working irregular hours disrupts their natural patterns.
Jenni got her break as the co-host of Entertainment Today on GMTV in 2000, when she was 24. Filming for the programme started at 4am, meaning she had to wake up at 2.30am.
“I pretty much walked around in a trance, hoping I wouldn’t fall asleep at the dinner table or on the tube home, which happened at least once a week,” she says.
In 2013, she joined Heart as a morning radio presenter, starting at 6am, and then moved to cover the 4am slot.
At times, she and her husband James, who was working as an actor, became “like ships passing in the night”.
“Sometimes he’d only get into bed an hour before I had to wake up for work,” says Jenni, who now presents the Smooth Radio breakfast show and running podcast, RunPod.
The key to surviving, Jenni found, was having a bulletproof wellbeing routine. While many colleagues went home for a nap after work, she could never get back to sleep.
Instead, she uses exercise to help regulate her body clock, and often runs the seven-and-a-half miles from central London to her house.
“I don’t think it’s healthy working those hours for a long stretch of time and not seeing the daylight,” she says.
“So no matter how hard it is, I always find time to exercise. I started running home, which helped me to re-energise, got me some vitamin D and kept me fit.”
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Supplements also play a key role in Jenny’s routine, leading her to launch the supplement Kollo with her husband James.
Each day she takes the brand’s blend of collagen, vitamin C, and B vitamins. “B12 is especially good for making you feel energised,” she says.
While tiredness can make people crave fatty, sugary foods, Jenni is keen to maintain a healthy diet.
Instead of snacking on sweet treats, she focuses on complex carbs and protein for a boost of slow-releasing energy. She has a banana or bagel after work, followed by a breakfast of eggs on toast or chicken salad when she gets home from her run.
As well as physical health drawbacks, studies show there is an increased risk of depression for shift workers, partly due to lack of social contact.
Jenni has certainly struggled with the impact her hours took on her social life. She combats this by playing golf in the afternoons, often with her mother.
“Keeping your mind active and playing a social sport like golf is so beneficial,” she says.
“When you work these hours, you make sacrifices but it’s amazing the difference exercise and nutrition can make.”
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