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Surviving a 48 Hour Contest
Home > HF Contesting > Tips and Techniques > Surviving 48 Hours
This page contains a number of tips and techniques to help you carry on contesting throughout a 48 hour contest.
The following techniques have been recommended by experienced contesters writing to the CQ Contest Reflector. All credit goes to the writers of these articles.

From Randy, K5ZD

Yes, it is possible to operate for 48 hours without any sleep! But it is hard. Some suggestions:

- You must want to do it very badly. This is the only thing that will keep you going after 36 hours!

- Get as much sleep as possible BEFORE the contest. I try to sleep extra hours each night for the 7 days before the contest.

- You must want to do it very badly.

- Exercise. Being in good shape will help.

- You must want to do it very badly.

- Eat well during the contest. There are many different diets. For me, low sugar and very little caffeine until day 2.

- You must want to do it very badly.

Good luck!

From Jim, K4OJ

I have always viewed this as the make or breaker for the winner of CQWW and the other big time contests....

In addition to having mastered one's station and propagation to win, one must also master their body...pre contest training and close scrutinty of what you eat both before and after the contest are added to the superior operating abilities of the winners. Stories of what kind of food to eat to minize side effects of sleep ceprivation have been placed on this reflector before....the link to a newspaper article about how NATO pilots do it is I think was the most fasciniating stuff I have seen on this reflector!

I personally have never been able to do it - I have come close a few times but those times are getting to be longer and longer ago...

I think this is the final hurdle...if you have mastered propagation and know when to be where and you have sharpened your operating skills to both run and S & P effectively, well what is left...maximizing your on air time...to those who iron man it, I say well done - and congratulations. Your focus on the entire commitment to winning is clear - yes, lots of us are only able to operate "most" of the contest but this little difference as they say is what seperates da men from da boyz.

Note - you must have an employer who grants you the following Monday off form work to pull this one off! CRASH!!!!!!

From Bob, AA0CY

Because, according to the experts, the body's sleep cycles come in 90-minute increments, you should take contest sleep breaks in the same ratios. I believe two increments should be the minimum, for a total of 3 hours. That seems to work very well for me, and I'm on the wrong side of 50; although I haven't contested, seriously or otherwise, for the past three years.

There are some experts who say you can use "half-increments," or 45-minute breaks or multiples thereof.

The effects of sleep deprivation and "jet lag" can be mitigated somewhat by what foods and drink are consumed, starting maybe a week before. Caffeine is one of the definite "no-no's," or at least should be used only toward the end.

From Mikael, SM3WMV

When laying down for a short rest, only lay down where there are a lot of lights on so it is easier to get up after 90 minute rest. Never put your alarm clock within reach. Force yourself to get out of bed to turn it off. Upon awakening, turn on all of the light possible in the operating room to help you wake up. While you sleep your competition is working people. Circadian rhythms dictate that for most people, if you can stay up past 5 a.m. you will be able to stay up well into the following evening. But beware, when it catches up with you during that evening you are likely to go quickly.

From John, K4BAI/8P9HT

The last time I did 48-hours straight was last CQWW CW at age 58. The next time I will try it will be this CQ WW CW at age 59 (both at 8P9Z).

I doubt that age has much to do with it. The first time I did 48 hours straight was in 1987 at age 45. It was suggested at a forum at the ARRL National Convention in Houston by Dick, N6AA. I had not seriously considered it before. The most I had previously done was in CQ WW CW in 1980 from PJ2CC which was about 46 hours. In 1985, I did CQ WW CW from 4V2C (Haiti) and slept only 20 minutes. Since that year, every year I have been in the Caribbean single op, I have done the whole 48 hours without sleep.

I find it almost impossible to sleep the daytime preceding the contest. The contest starts at 8 PM, so I am actually up about 60 hours straight. I do REST on the afternoon before the contest, but can't seem to relax enought to actually sleep.

Actually, older age may be a positive factor rather than negative, as long as one is in good health. We seem to require less sleep as we get older and we are able to condition ourselves (or practice makes perfect). I used to have hallucinations similar to those described by others, but they have not been noticed in recent years.

Actually, I think a 2 hour nap during the wee hours of the second night would probably be beneficial to most operators, including myself. But, I am generally at a place totally alone, with only an alarm clock to wake me. My concern is that I might lie down for a quick nap and wake up 6 hours later as others have described doing (W2GD?).

This is not to say that I operate the 48 hours without a break except for a dash to the refrigerator and bathroom. I nearly always take a hot shower and some years shave during the wee hours of the second night. Last year, I had a rig failure just before that planned shower break and decided to skip it after taking too much time to get the backup equipment on line, but was almost out on my feet and actually took the shower break during the Caribbean morning Europe opening. After that break, I was good to go for the rest of the contest.

By the way, I have actually gone to sleep standing up operating CW with the headphones on. I fell onto the floor and woke up then. But that was at TG0AA in 1967, when I was 25 years old, hi.

So, what I am saying in a round about way is not to let age discourage you if you are in good health. And experience will probably lead to more success each year.

From John, P40A

I also have trouble sleeping before a contest. I usually spend Friday afternoon walking on the beach and having a few brews and if I'm lucky I can sleep for an hour or two. The few times I've tried to stay awake as long as possible, haven't been able to make it through the Sunday morning hallucinations. There comes a point that I don't know what I'm doing or why. Usually things are slow then anyway and I take a nap. I'm afraid of being in worse shape when the bands pick up again. Do the hallucinations stop and do you start to feel better when the sun comes out even with no sleep?

From Leigh, KR6X

48 hour DX contest operations are a reality for some. I was able to put in that kind of effort in my mid 20's. The first 30 hours is a piece of cake if you get some sleep right before the contest begins. The last 18 hours of the contest I often experienced some of my worst delusionary or hallucinatory periods, but there were also some short moments of lucidity. Caffeine can help you keep awake, but one of my ARRL DX contest operations taught me to:
1) use caffeine lightly and only approximately in the last 18 hours, don't start early.
2) don't drive home from a guest operator position before sleeping.

And then my best suggestion is to get about 2 hours of sleep at around the 30 hour point. Any contacts lost by being off the air for a rest will be compensated more than adequately by improved operator efficiency in the last 16 hours.

From Stewart, GM4AFF/GM0F

My favourite subject! Here's a repeat of the information I gathered a few years ago when we had a similar thread. It might be helpful to some. Apologies to those who have seen it before (I have modified it slightly)...

There is no doubt that the human metabolism will function better over a 48 hour period of little sleep, if attention is paid to fitness and diet. Diet seems to have the most obvious and immediate effect on the ability to last the 48 hour period.

1. It's a proven medical fact that we should sleep in multiples of 90 minutes. Most sleep 90 mins on early Sunday morning, and some on Saturday morning too. In general, it seems like a good idea to get 3 hours in before the contest starts, which is easy in Europe, but difficult in West USA. Varied feelings about whether to get a'lie in' on the Friday morning, but certainly not good to have a very late night on Thursday. 'Adrenelin' seems to be a big factor for some in keeping you going through the weekend. For others, the opposite is true - relaxed and laid-back gets them through. Whether you're wired or tired, it makes little difference to the final result. It's the ability to sustain concentration that matters.

2. Drink in moderation, but regularly. Drink to quench thirst. Do not drink caffeinated beverages. Caffeine will lower the blood sugar level thereby affecting the ability to concentrate. Coke, tea and coffee contain caffeine. Milk will make talking difficult - radio and TV news readers avoid milk. Unsweetened fruit juice, a little often, is good. It is far more difficult to waken up if you have managed to get to sleep with a high caffeine level.

3. When to eat? Stick to eating at regular intervals. Every 6 hours with a small snack at 3hr intervals is good. Normal eating times are also good. It's what your body expects.

4. What to eat? The objective is to maintain a steady blood-glucose level of around 4-5 mmol throughout the weekend, with a slightly higher than normal intake of protein. In normal healthy individuals, high blood-glucose levels lead to poor concentration and drowsiness whilst low blood-glucose levels lead to iritability, short temper and loss of aptitude. 4-5 mmol, a moderately low level, will be achieved by avoiding anything containing simple carbohydrates like sugar or bleached pure white flour. So, good is wholemeal bread, bad is plain white bread. Good is potato skins, bad is creamed potato. Good is natural fruit juices, bad is sports drinks. Good is fruit, bad is sweets/candy. Whilst sports drinks will give the body a big hit of energy, this hit is followed by a very deep low in blood-glucose levels. Complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits and grains) are good, in that they take a long time to digest, help maintain a steady blood-glucose level and help avoid surges.

So what should we eat and drink?

  • sandwiches of wholemeal bread, with meat or cheese
  • fruit/grain/granola bars (but watch out for high sugar content)
  • pure orange juice
  • water
  • nuts
  • apples

5. How much to eat? In general, it is best to eat less food than you would normally.

6. Avoid smoking.

7. Keep fit. This is really quite important. If you are fit your body will react less badly to poor sleep patterns.

8. Avoid alcohol.

9. Avoid working on 'stuff' right up to the wire. Prepare well for the contest and 'know' that you have. There is a hidden side to knowing that you are well prepared. This will help you relax prior to and during the event, which is one of the keys to making it through the full 48 hours. It feels good to feel loud, and believe that your signal is getting through - 'I know what I'm doing'. Learn from the previous year. Immediately after a major contest write down what was wrong, what went wrong, what was good, and what was bad. That way, next year you will be a little more prepared, and a little more relaxed.

10. Smile when you talk. Sound happy. Even if you feel like death, don't let the other guy know it! People like to call happy people. Not a lot of good on CW, of course.

Other points worth noting...

Vitimin B can help you feel less tired over a period of time, and may be beneficial. I would not take this as a recommendation to take vitimins though - see your doctor first!

Tablets/medication like ProPlus (in the UK) which are really just concentrated caffeine, will keep you awake but your ability to make even the simplest decision is diminished, and concentration is virtually impossible. Trouble is, I don't think you are aware of this if you have taken them! Perhaps, useful in the last 12 hours.

Someone suggested avoiding salt, but this may not be recommended in hot climates, as lack of salt can lead to muscle cramps. It's unlikely that the lack or even overdose of salt over such a short time frame would have that much effect anyway.

A number of ops mentioned feeling rough for the whole of the week following a contest. I didn't after the CQ WW SSB, but did after the CW. And I haven't felt bad like this before - I recover fairly quickly normally. I don't know what this is all about.

Some ops mentioned a lack of aptitude - the inability to physically send certain complex CW codes. This is probably due to low blood-glucose levels and lack of sleep. The inability to receive more than 3 or 4 characters at a time seems to result from high blood-glucose levels and lack of sleep. What to do? Sleep, I guess!

I believe a shower and shave will work wonders on Sunday morning. [Put some clean clothes out beforehand - EI8IC]

I was told that pineapple juice is a lot better at refeshing you than orange. I tried this, and it seems to be true. It's also less acidic I think, and orange juice can be a migraine trigger.

Essential oils may have a beneficial effect, but leave the shack smelling for weeks afterwards!

I don't want to sound like an expert. I'm not a dietition. I'm not a top-flight operator. But I am diabetic (insulin dependent), and hence, have a requirement to keep my blood-glucose level under control. I made some fundamental mistakes in the last CQ WW CW Contest (1999), and I am passing on what I have learnt, both from personal experience and from the experience of others. I hope others can benefit from this.

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