The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a must watch, featuring some of the bravest and most talented drivers on the planet in some of racing’s most advanced machinery. But it lasts for an entire day, and we’re all crazy for even trying to watch it. Here’s how to curbstomp your drowsiness and keep going anyway.
Some of us are better at pulling all-nighters than others, and that’s exactly what Le Mans is: an all-ages all-nighter for racing fans. For me, riding a wave of caffeination, overwhelming anxiety and type-A perfectionism got me through college, but now I’m just out of practice at that crap.
So, here are the tips and tricks I’ve found over the years for watching as much of the best race in the world as I can physically tolerate.
To fully enjoy Le Mans, it may help to think of the start time as 3 p.m., not 9 a.m. or earlier like it will be in the U.S. To me, waking up early is a chore. Resting well and getting up at your leisure for a lazy afternoon start time, not so much.
It’s totally a head game, but the best piece of advice I got before I went to Le Mans last year was to resist the urge to nap early on the day I arrived in France and wait to go to bed until it was bedtime there. Power through that awkward long day however you can, but get through that and the rest of your time spent watching Le Mans is much easier to cope with.
Now is a good time to set your clock for the appropriately weird hours that correspond to the Central European Summer Time Zone that you may or may not physically be in right now. Get a good night’s sleep in CEST before the race as well, because trust me, you’re going to need that sleep.
Here’s something that’s a bit easier for those of us staying in America, as the race starts first thing in the morning over here: get a good, long nap in (if not just a full night’s sleep) before the race actually starts.
Show up at the race (or your TV) well rested so you’re not immediately pounding Red Bulls and setting yourself up for a mortifyingly early caffeine/sugar crash. If you start drowsy, you’re bound to fail. The longer you can go without needing to rely on caffeine to pick you up, too, the better.
Family-friendly uppers like coffee and energy drinks are great for when you do start to fade—within reason. The last thing you want to do is shotgun four cans of NOS in the first hour and go into diabetic shock. (Or worse, fall asleep.)
Like any other fuel used in a 24-hour race, you need to spread out your caffeine consumption to go the distance. That means maintaining a comfortable, mild buzz instead of binging and crashing.
If you’re shaking, you’ve had too much. Back off the caffeinated drinks for a while, eat something and have some water to calm yourself down. If you’re tired, grab another cup of coffee—that’s a singular cup, not several Monster cans poured in a 42-ounce bucket. Don’t drink coffee? Learn, jackass.
Of course, France is known for its wine, and it’s quite nice to have a glass while watching race cars whiz past at the speed of plaid. It just seems appropriate. Problem is, alcohol makes you sleepy, so watch your consumption carefully. Alternate your adult beverages of choice with water or coffee, if you must.
If you’re at Le Mans itself, you’re going to see a surprising number of passed-out drunk folks around the circuit on Sunday morning. As in, randomly lying on a berm, because that’s where they passed out. Those guys are also missing the race. Unless you want to wake up with a crippling hangover that renders loud engine sounds intolerable, don’t do that.
Save the keg stand for the WOOOO [INSERT CAR OR TEAM HERE] afterparty.
The best thing, bar none, about Nissan’s paddock hospitality space last year was their tube slide. There’s nothing that can wake up a bunch of delirious, exhausted journo-guests at 3 a.m. in an unfamiliar time zone like running up and down a big curved slide a few times. Clearly, playground equipment needs to be a common addition to race trailers everywhere.
Because most of us don’t have a big slide to run down during the race, I’ll make this advice more general: keep active. Move around. Stay on your feet. Get off the couch more often, and not just to make coffee.
I always had to doodle or take notes in school to stay awake, so do what you need to do to fend off sleep, be it walking around your living room, doing yoga in front of the TV or knitting a long “PORSCHE FTW” scarf. Get creative, or maybe just install a slide. (Did I mention how much I loved that slide?)
Point being, if you’re stationary, you’re one set of droopy eyelids away from missing the race. Get up, and stay moving.
Sometimes sleep is unavoidable. If so, it’s best to admit defeat before you oversleep the end of the race. Modern endurance races are often hotly contested down to the last few laps. If you know that you can’t stay up for an entire day, find a good time in the middle of the race to work in a quick nap in a safe place (read: not alone on a berm on the side of the track).
Don’t nap right at the beginning, as it takes a while for race cars to spread out and find their rhythm. There can be quite a bit of action in the meantime. Likewise, yellow and red flag periods are a mixed bag for snoozing. Restarts are chaotic, and you don’t want to miss those.
Your best bet is to nap a couple hours in, when cars are circulating normally, without incident. Make it short. Sleep experts recommend keeping it brief so as to avoid waking up groggy—under 20 minutes is best, but if you need more Zs, aim for over 90 minutes to work through all the stages of sleep.
If you’re not at home, pack an alarm that you know you’ll wake up to, even if you don’t plan on napping—just in case.
Fortunately, the World Endurance Championship (the series which Le Mans is a part of) has been very good this year about doing periodic recaps of race highlights. If you’re hesitant to nap but know that some health or sanity reason demands that you do it anyway, bookmark the WEC YouTube channel. Most of their in-race highlight reels get posted there relatively quickly after they’ve aired on the broadcast. Don’t skip a nap if you must for fear of missing out in the middle of the race. You really don’t want to miss the end.
Pack it in, bucko. You’re done. You just tried to stay up for an entire day. That’s not just an all-nighter. That’s, like, two consecutive all-nighters blurred together into one dumb idea. You’re going to be barely coherent after that.
Nothing of value will get done the following day. Sleep in after the race is over. Don’t set an alarm. Give in to the sweet, all-encompassing darkness of the inside of your eyelids.
But first, just go ahead and cancel Monday. You’re going to need it to get back in to your regular schedule.