After waiting nearly five months since the last real pitch was thrown at Fenway Park, you are ready at last to watch official Major League Baseball games again.
So pay close attention, because for the average fan here in North America who is all set to watch the Dodgers and D-backs meet in the unprecedented MLB Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, it is going to require scheduling yourself in a way no baseball fans have had to do before.
"This is an opportunity to learn how to enjoy the event and not miss out on life," said Dr. Carol Ash, a board-certified sleep specialist and the director of sleep medicine at Meridian Health in New Jersey. "The two basic principles of sleep are the timing and the amount, and you can get the most out of both of these games if you follow a specific plan and are prepared."
In Australia, the series will be a Saturday night game and a Sunday day game. For fans in North America, the games are at 4 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET on Saturday. For fans on the West Coast, the games are at 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. PT. They will be streamed live for out-of-market fans on MLB.TV and via the MLB.com At Bat app, and broadcast on MLB Network.
This tricky separation of start times means smart planning, at least if you want to savor everything from the first pitch of the 2014 season and the last at-bat of Game 2. You need to know about sleep debt, the right window for an afternoon nap, how long to nap, why this is not the weekend to sleep in, when to go "antisocial" and turn off devices, avoiding alcohol and more. We'll highlight East Coast and West Coast time zones, and fans in the Central and Mountain zones can follow the closer one. Here is the plan:
1. East Coast: 4 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET
"There are times like this where you can't be on the same schedule, where you may need to interrupt a normal sleep routine," Dr. Ash said. "That's true for a lot of us. In healthcare, where we work non-traditional shifts -- for police, for military -- we all have to do things to break out of our normal patterns. So when you do have to break that pattern, how do you cope and manage?"
If you are preparing for a 4 a.m. first pitch, you want to get in bed early Friday night and avoid sleep debt. If you're going to a movie like "Divergent," go to the early showing. This is not the night for baseball fans to be among those taking in that film's midnight screenings.
"Try to get in bed and get the rest you need," Dr. Ash said. "A lot of people end up sitting there in bed watching TV or on the iPad or other device. [On Friday night], be antisocial. Get rid of all the electronics, because those are going to stop you from falling asleep. That suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that helps you fall asleep. Be antisocial. Get to bed earlier so you don't create some sleep debt. That tends to be really tough for people, but it is key.
"Just for the one night, take one milligram of melatonin two hours before bedtime to help get some extra sleep, if necessary."
Set an alarm for 3:50 a.m. ET, so there is enough time to be alert and focused on the first pitch, which will be thrown by Wade Miley, as the D-backs are the home team in both games. Clayton Kershaw vs. Paul Goldschmidt is reason enough to get up for this one.
Watch the game, which would typically end around 7 a.m. ET. There may be a tendency at this point to hit the hay again, but resist the urge. If you normally awaken with sunlight around 7 or 8 a.m., then stay on that pattern. Do not go back to sleep. Start your day.
"During the day, if you feel tired, get out, expose yourself to sunlight, because sunlight can be very alerting," Dr. Ash said. "Go out and do some exercise if you feel tired."
Sometime between 3-5 p.m. -- no matter what your time zone, in this case -- you want to take a nap that is from 20-40 minutes long. Not a minute longer.
"There's a natural circadian alertness at 3 to 5 p.m. in your local time zone, so that's what you would want to do," Dr. Ash said. "You don't want more than 40 minutes of nap, because then you will get into deeper stages of sleep. Once you've gotten into deeper stages of sleep, that's where all that brain organization is really going on. The brain uses as much energy in sleep as it does not asleep; the neurons are actively firing in REM and non-REM. If you nap for more than 40 minutes, it will be like taking a cake out of the oven before it's baked. Then you will feel groggy, like sleep drunkenness.
"If you've paid your sleep debt, it's like paying any other debt -- you don't need to pay any more money. If you get too much sleep after the first game in Australia, it will set you up for difficult sleep the rest of the weekend and can affect you going back to work on Monday."
2. West Coast: 1 a.m. and 7 p.m.
"This is something Dodgers and Diamondbacks fans are looking forward to, they've been waiting for months, it's a big event," Dr. Ash said. "So how do you really make sure that you are doing things right? Because what is life all about? You want to enjoy this event, and the risk is that sleep debt affects your mood. When you're not adhering to these basic patterns of sleep, it affects your mood, it causes you to be more irritable, and you won't enjoy the game as much as you would if you are well-rested."
So here is the Pacific Daylight Time Zone strategy.
"For West Coast fans, it's easier to delay your bedtime the night before," Dr. Ash said. "Many of these fans are going to want to just stay up. Even today, most of us are really sleep-deprived. If possible, the same thing would apply to them. It may be hard for someone to take a nap from 3-5 p.m. PT on Friday, because of our work schedules, but it's possible to go into the first game well-rested, and again the nap should be no more than 40 minutes.
"If you are able to fall asleep before the game on this night, it's OK. Set your alarm clock. That would actually be a better plan. Don't drink alcohol tonight. That is going to impair your ability to really get up again and will make this whole plan problematic; you'll sleep right through the event. Alcohol is a sedative. That is masking sleepiness. So if you're already going into your Friday with sleep debt and you drink alcohol, you are going to miss this event."
Watch the first game, appreciate the return of baseball and the unique look at the transformed Sydney Cricket Grounds, and then whenever the game ends, say around 4 a.m. PT, go right back to bed.
"Keep your room quiet, dark and cool," Dr. Ash said. "Set your alarm clock for your normal wakeup time, whatever that is, and get back up again at your normal time. This is the group where 'sleeping in' on the weekend will be a problem. Then take a nap around 3-5 p.m. -- again, no more than 40 minutes. The same rules apply for West Coasters. If you are tired during the day, expose yourself to sunlight, get exercise. You want to power through the day, because you don't want to offset that circadian clock."
Set your alarm clock for 6:50 p.m. PT. Splash some cold water. Sit back and watch Game 2 of 162. It will end around 10 p.m. PT for an average game time, and then call it a night. Whatever you do, make sure that you wake yourself up at the same time on Sunday morning. That maintenance of sleep pattern and body rhythms is going to be a key in staying in a routine entering your work week.
So the lesson is to make sure you have your subscription to MLB.TV, make sure you have At Bat installed, or make sure you are in front of your TV if you are in the Los Angeles or Phoenix markets, where blackout restrictions apply for digital streaming. And just as importantly, make sure you get your sleep, at the optimum opportunities.
"Most people fail to understand even the basics of sleep," Dr. Ash said. "Sleep is as important as oxygen. If we keep the same schedule, we wake up rested, refreshed and ready to take on the day."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.