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Yasmin Vossoughian: What I've learned about sleep after waking up at 2:30 a.m. every weekday

"It’s really true that when you have good sleep you feel as if you can tackle anything and when you don’t, obstacles often seem insurmountable," says the MSNBC anchor.
MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian.
MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian.Travis W Keyes Photography

When people find out I’m an MSNBC anchor who begins the day on television at 5 a.m., one of the first questions they ask me is about sleep. “How do you do it?” they’ll ask, followed up with, “Do you get used to it?”

The truth is, getting up in the middle of the night every weekday for an early morning newscast and managing to function the rest of the day with two young kids, more work, meetings — you name it! —is beyond difficult. I’ve learned that getting through the day with little sleep is a balancing act, which often leaves you off balance.

You never get used to an early morning or overnight schedule, and you never really figure out how you do it, but you do. You prioritize what’s most important to you, and you accept that this is your here and now.

Yasmin Vossoughian and her sons Azur and Noor Clifford.
Yasmin Vossoughian and her sons Azur and Noor Clifford.Travis W Keyes

Recently, I was listening to a TED talk on sleep just to torture myself. Of course, Jeff Iliff, the speaker, laid out just how important sleep is for cognitive function. Not all of us need eight to 10 hours, some require more, some less. But we all need a substantial amount of zzz’s to function at our best at home and at work. More sleep also leads to more success personally and professionally. But, in my business, more work and more exposure also benefits you. And that’s hard when your alarm goes off every weekday between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m.

The second I hear the alarm, I’m up and after it. I’m dressed and out the door (in sweatpants and a hoodie) in about seven minutes.

During my commute to 30 Rock, I read up on whatever I have missed overnight and connect with producers on the show. Most days we go live at 5 a.m.except on Mondays when we are live at 4 a.m.

The best and worst part of my job is getting ready. There are a team of hair and makeup artists who make me look as if I didn't just roll out of bed. They also happen to lift my spirits so early in the morning.

Once I’m ready, I run straight to set. For the next hour or two, both Ayman Mohyeldin (my co-anchor) and I hold down the fort and get viewers ready for their day. It’s not out of the ordinary to deal with a breaking news situation in the middle of the show, in which case everything gets thrown out the window and we go in a totally different direction.

At 6 a.m. we hand off to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski for “Morning Joe,” and from there is when my schedule changes daily. There are days I’ll stay to weigh in on a “Morning Joe” panel or fill in as the anchor for a dayside show. Sometimes, I’ll rush home after my show to give my kids a kiss, only to scramble back to the office by 10 a.m. These days I take no naps and operate on five hours of sleep before I crash around 9 p.m. after running home to prep dinner with my husband and get the kiddos ready and off to bed. I repeat it all the next day.

Other days, I’m able to leave the office right after the show and I am home before the kids even wake up. I’m able to prep them for the day and get everybody off and running. I cherish these days, where I can get a workout in, possibly a nap and work on story ideas all before the kids are back home and calling for me. But, even on those days it’s hard to catch up operating on little sleep for two-and-a-half years and trying to catch up on what I neglect on the “packed” days.

None of this is to say I’m not grateful, nor is it to say I’m complaining. It’s more to explain what I feel I have to do to get (and stay) ahead, both personally and professionally. The schedule, I’ve learned, eventually wears on you.

It’s really true that when you have good sleep you feel as if you can tackle anything and when you don’t, obstacles often seem insurmountable. But, who wants to reach that breaking point? Not me, although I have gotten close. In those moments, I re-prioritize and remind myself these cardinal rules:

1. Say “no.”

It’s OK to say “no,” to not take on that extra project or extra hour in my case, because you need time for family or yourself.

2. Sleep when you can.

If you’re like me, you are sleep deprived even with a more “normal” schedule. Choose sleep when you can get it. It helps. Remember, when you sleep well, you feel can conquer anything.

3. Exercise and eat healthy.

If I can’t sleep, I’ll at least get a good sweat in and put healthy food in my body to keep me energized and focused.

4. Cherish the quiet moments.

Those mornings I’m able to be home with my kids, I’m 100 percent there. Cherish and take advantage of those quiet moments. Appreciate it, and know they appreciate it too.

5. Breathe.

This too shall pass, life is peaks and valleys. Roll with it, there’s always something else around the corner.

6. Have fun.

Don’t forget how to do it. Remind yourself how to have fun, and spend time with friends and partners that bring the best out of you.