In Sickness and in Health: MEOKO Investigates the Pitfalls of the DJ Lifestyle...

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Something that's become more and more apparent as we've interviewed more and more DJs is the effect that their lifestyle can have on their health. As the global DJ culture as we know it now is still a relatively new phenomenon there isn't really much insight into the side effects of what they do. Now this may sound a little bit exagerrated in comparison to the risks taken by say, someone who works in a dangerous industrial environment, but all the same this is something that MEOKO thought would be interesting to look at.

There are many factors to a DJ's job that can have an adverse effect on their health and we thought it would be helpful to speak to an expert from the NHS to get the inside track on how touring and living life to excess can be detrimental. As much as it's an amazing job to be able to travel the world playing music to people week in, week out, there are some health implications to consider and we think everyone has a responsibility to realise this and take action where necessary.

So here it is... by no means a call to DJs to stop what they're doing, just an insightful overview of how different factors of their job can affect their health.

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Lack of sleep:

Staying up late and waking up early, or not even sleeping at all for days at a time is pretty much par for the course in many circles. Whether the DJ is travelling constantly, hitting after-parties or up all night in the studio working on new music, lack of sleep is probably one of the most common problems in the DJ world. As well as the typical inability to focus, reduction in motor skills and increased irritability, lack of sleep can also lead to depression. Of course, one can become conditioned to a lack of sleep, although it's not ideal.

Jacqui Jedrzejewski, a Senior Nurse at the NHS, says: “The fatigue caused by not getting any sleep can affect your mood and create problems within your personal relationships and work environment. The average adult needs between seven to nine hours sleep per night, without this it can become difficult to function normally during the day – one can become irritable and unable to concentrate. Extreme fatigue also opens one up to danger, for instance many road traffic accidents are linked to overtired drivers. Having 10 hours sleep in bed on one night a week may not even be enough to cure the negative effects of chronic sleep restriction. Recovery from sustained sleep restriction may require even more sleep during one night or multiple nights of extended sleep. Adequate recovery sleep duration is important for coping with the effects of chronic sleep restriction on the brain."

Constant touring:

airplane food copy copy copyLinked to lack of sleep – the constant touring endured by many of today's DJs can have a overriding effect on their health and state of mind. It goes without saying that travelling from one time zone to the next constantly, with little sleep, hungover or on a comedown – jet-lagged and rundown – is really not good for anyone. The short space of time spent in each location means the body never really adapts to the different time zones, leaving it in a state of limbo. But touring has become a big (and lucrative) part of DJ culture, as many of the best known names from today's generation and older stars too, get booked to play the world over.

In some cases, superstar DJs have been travelling around the globe for close to two decades. Our health expert offered some insight: “Jet lag and the effect of moving from one time zone to another can have wide-ranging effects on an individual's physical and mental wellbeing. From being simply drowsy and confused to affecting one's bowels, urine production, digestion and blood pressure. One of the best ways to at least get your body used to the new time zone you arrive in is to spend time out in the daylight, which helps to adjust your body clock a lot quicker.”

Alcohol consumption:

drinks copyAt pretty much any event a DJ attends there will be a pile of free booze laid on by the promoter who has hired them, as we all know the bigger stars can demand what they like on their very own rider. Bottles of vodka, champagne, rum, whisky, beers... whatever they like, anything to lubricate the creative process and get them amped up for the night. In this kind of environment it's very easy to get carried away and drink to excess – if this is happening more than two or three nights a week, then eventually one's health is really going to suffer. The effects of excessive drinking are well documented – liver disease being one of the most common alcohol-related illnesses.

Our health expert Jacqui Jedrzejewski says: “Men should not regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day, that's equal to three bottles of regular strength beer or two double vodkas for instance. If you had a heavy drinking session, you should really avoid alcohol for 48 hours afterwards – hair of the dog may make you feel better in the short-term, you might think, but long-term it's really not a good idea. Asserting a degree of control over your alcohol consumption may not be easy, but it will benefit your health massively if you can get a handle on things.”

Drug use:

Although it's rarely spoken about, most people associated with dance music would quietly admit that drug use is pretty common. That's not to say that everyone that plays or listens to the music does drugs, but a large percentage do and it would be ignorant to pretend otherwise. For the purposes of this piece, I thought it would be necessary to explore every possible factor/extreme – and drug use is one of them. Constant and excessive drug use has many effects, from anxiety and paranoia through to memory problems, depression and even damage to one's internal organs.

Our NHS spokesperson adds: “The long-term effects of using recreational drugs on a regular basis include mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and paranoia. The effect on one's state of mind are increased further when combined with lack of sleep and the other factors mentioned in this piece. Physical issues include liver, kidney and heart problems – for instance, coke and amphetamines cause increased stress to the heart.”

She added: What should you do if you feel that you may have an issue with substance abuse?

l Speak up! Share your concerns with someone you trust such as your GP or a therapist who is experienced in helping people with substance abuse issues.

l Get help! If you do not know where to turn for help then a simple Internet search will help you connect you with agencies which specialise in substance abuse treatment and management.

l Act now! Addiction will worsen and become more severe over time if left untreated. In extreme addiction cases the result can be severe physical or mental health issues, or even death.

Back issues:

Back problems have been a common factor within the DJ world for quite some time. Going back to the days when vinyl was the only medium DJs used to play their music, carrying their record bags around to gigs of course put quite a strain on their backs. Nowadays lack of exercise, being constantly sat down on flights and being hunched over the decks also contribute to the condition of their backs. Steve Bug and Heidi are two notable sufferers of back troubles in the DJ world, among many others.

According to our expert: “Back problems are common the world over and in many different areas of employment. Life in the modern world for many means that lack of exercise and being sat in a bad position all day are commonplace. It takes very little time to build up the core muscles in one's back, simple daily exercises (which you can find online) can be executed in many locations, even while on the move. By making these exercises part of your daily routine you can work towards strengthening your back and avoiding long-term ailments.”

Tinnitus:

berghainsoundsystem copy copyAnother hugely common, and inevitably unavoidable consequence of the DJ lifestyle is tinnitus. From the loudness of the monitor speakers in the DJ booth, to just being in a club environment on a regular basis and, for the producers, the studio environment too. Being at such close proximity to high volumes emitting from some of the world's loudest sound systems all the time, with the added pressure on the eardrums from headphones and, occasionally, really badly EQ'd systems can leave many with ringing ears. In serious cases this becomes such an imposing problem that there is almost no alternative but to quit the music business. There is no cure for tinnitus, though it can be alleviated through sound therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Jacqui says: “It goes without saying that one of the most important methods of protecting one's hearing is via earplugs. In a world where your hearing is paramount, DJs must take responsibility for this by protecting their ears with the necessary implements. Working in the world they do means constant exposure to high levels of volume and they must counteract this with adequate protection.”

Lack of exercise:

Back-exercises-for-lower-back-painAside from bopping away behind the decks and maybe making a dash to catch their next flight, there really isn't a lot of time for exercise in the average touring DJ's day-to-day calendar. Lack of exercise can lead to the aforementioned back issues, but also a wider range of problems, from heart disease, to being overweight, lethargy and general poor health. Linked to this is a poor diet, which can also be part of a DJ's lifestyle – aside from the pre-club dinners that promoters sometimes organise, the poor food on offer at airports/on planes and other fast food outlets and so on means that they often miss out on the good nutrition of a healthy diet.

Our health expert says: “Exercise and eating well are two of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Though many people lead a very busy lifestyle, DJs in particular, it's not actually that difficult to squeeze in 10-minutes of exercise into one's daily routine. This can be hugely beneficial, especially when on the road constantly. Likewise, eating well and having a balanced diet - including lots of fruit and vegetables – is also not as difficult as you might imagine, it's all about being more aware of what you eat and trying to avoid fatty, unhealthy meals.”

Depression/stress of fame:

Life on the road isn't always one big party from beginning to end, often DJs end up in their hotel rooms isolated and alone. They can become isolated from friends who don't understand the life they lead, or the breakdown of personal relationships through long distance/always being away from each other and, with the combined effects of many of the factors already discussed in this piece, can sometimes end up suffering from depression. Likewise the pressure of fame, being constantly in the public eye or in demand from fans can provoke anxiety and stress.

Jacqui says: “The effects of depression range from lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling tearful or on edge constantly. Becoming isolated from friends, or the world in general and feeling alone or misunderstood can quickly lead to depression. There can be physical symptoms too - such as feeling constantly tired, insomnia, having no appetite or sex drive and complaining of various aches and pains.”

As I said before, the lifestyle of a DJ is a dream come true for many, and many don't live their lives too excessively either. The aim of this piece was simply to look at some of the health issues that can arise from this life they lead and, hopefully, help some of them to avoid serious long-term repercussions. 

By Marcus Barnes