I’ve just woken up from the best nap of my life. Lately, I’ve been working three jobs, so sleep is precious. Adjusting the soft pillow underneath my lower back—which consistently aches from sitting all day and the circus training I’ve picked up as a hobby at night—I turn my head just slightly and meet a dozen pairs of eyes staring back at me.
Did I mention I’m naked and in public?
I am a professional figure model. Sometimes I pose for portraits, which are head and shoulders only, but more often I stay still for 25 minutes at a time, wearing absolutely nothing, while as many as 20 people at a time render me in charcoal, paint, or clay. I started modeling after quitting my full-time job four years ago, posing for any art class that could pay me, from university freshmen to retirees.
It’s not easy money. Try sitting motionless for one minute without even scratching your nose. Multiply that by 25 and add in a slightly awkward position that presents interesting angles for the artists, and tada!—you are now a figure model. The job has definite perks, like seeing gorgeous artwork with your image and getting paid to feel a nice breeze on your bare skin. I now have a nude painting of myself hanging in my apartment.
That said, when you’re working multiple jobs ranging from office assistant to front desk at a barre studio, getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night can be challenging. Luckily, I’ve learned to tune out the scratching of pencil on paper and the angry muttering when someone’s run out of paint, and aided by the soothing drone of NPR, pass out while lying still.
Here are three tricks that help me sleep on the job.
Pose in a reclining position
Even I can’t sleep standing up, but I can catch a few winks while on my back or my side. Yes, usually my arms are above my head or one leg is crossed over the other, but when I’m lying down, I inevitably drift off. (Perks of a busy lifestyle: You learn to sleep anywhere and everywhere.) Not to mention the results: I once posed on my side, facing the back of the room—easier to shut my eyes!—for four and a half hours. One of the artists painted me on a couch, with a small cat watching. “That looks like the beginning of a horror movie!” I exclaimed at the end of the session. I definitely meant it as a compliment.
Pillows, pillows, pillows
Pillows are a good idea with any pose: They cushion your delicate joints from the often unforgiving (and sometimes splintery) wood of the platform on which you’ll be spending the next several hours. Thanks to friends who also figure model, I learned from the beginning to ask for anything possible to make me more comfortable: a fan in hot and humid summer, a heater in the dead of winter, and most importantly, as many blankets and pillows as possible—not to cover my body but to support it. Once my neck and back are fully comfy on down-filled fabric, I’m on my way to dreamland until the timer goes off.
Breathe and relax
One of the best pieces of modeling advice I got came in the form of a text. The night before my first gig I fired off questions to a more experienced pal. “Relax into the pose,” she replied, and I’ve taken those four words with me since. Not to mention, it’s helpful when I need to sleep, even in the comfort of my own bed. Once the pose of the day is “set”—my limbs are where they need to be and properly padded, every artist has their materials at the ready, and Terry Gross is hosting “Fresh Air”—I immediately relax into the pose. (Here are recommendations for other podcasts that can help you sleep.)
I have sleeping on the job down to a science. I let my mind wander, listening to the murmurs of the artists mingled with the radio, knowing they are comparing lights and shadows while mixing colors and making lines. Knowing I’m a part of their creation inspires and relaxes me, and I take that knowledge with me as I breathe deeply, settle in, and keep one ear open for the timer announcing my break.
Another way to relax so you can snooze more easily: practicing meditation. Here’s how to meditate for better sleep.
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