Polyphasic Gaming: Retry/Quit

The above video was made at roughly 4am. At that precise moment, I had never been more tired in my life. It's not in shot, but to my right is a television. I can't be 100 per cent sure, but it was most likely showing the Max Payne 3 kill screen. On it a single question: Retry/Quit?

Last night was the first time I used my Polyphasic sleep experiment to put serious time into a video game. From the hours of 11pm-4.30am — in between cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry — I played Max Payne 3. Flicking back to terrestrial TV when it got too much, or a particular check point was giving me too much grief.

Retry/Quit? Always the question. Retry/Quit. My reaction times were sluggish. Even on medium difficulty, I died frequently.

After my 20-minute nap at 2am, things became a little more intense.

The exhaustion was overpowering. The simple act of sitting down to play seemed to send my body into shutdown. My brain was screaming out for sleep. My brain had done this before, but last night, from about 3am-5am? It was like an overbearing pressure, pushing down on my chest. I couldn't ignore it. It was so hard to fight.

I did star jumps. Lots of them. Seriously — at 3 in the morning I did Star Jumps until my body felt lighter. I splashed water on my face, I tried to meditate. I tried playing the game standing up. I considered going outside for another walk, but I couldn't — before she went to bed my wife made me promise I wouldn't leave the house in a weird catatonic state. She worried about what would happen if I did.

I hopped onto the Polyphasic sleep forum I regualrly frequent. According to the experts, in times of real struggle, the best solution is to simply add another nap into the schedule. It's OK to get a little bit of extra sleep, as long as it's just a 20-minute nap. The important thing is to train your physical being to transition into the nap system.

So at around 3.15am, I had an extra nap. This was my first mistake, although at the time it seemed like an unavoidable one. The video blog above was recorded almost immediately after I woke up. If anything the nap made things worse, but I wasn't thinking straight. At around 5am, one hour before my scheduled nap at 6am, I decided to go for another short sleep.

That was my second mistake.

From here on in, things are a bit fuzzy. I clearly remember setting an alarm. I remember sitting down to sleep and then — oblivion.

The next thing I consciously remember was being woken up by my wife.

"Mark, Mark!" she shouted. "It's 7am! Wake up!"

I had slept through the alarm. If I had even set an alarm, I honestly can't remember. I sat up with a start. I started freaking out, swearing at myself. F**k! How could I have let this happen! It was then I realised that I hadn't actually taken my contact lenses out — something I've been extremely careful about since I started this experiment. But my eyes didn't hurt. Strange...

This didn't feel right. It didn't feel right at all.

The most bizarre part of the whole situation is this — looking back to when my wife woke me up, I sincerely remember thinking, 'why are you waking me up? I've been awake for hours'. I have this memory of me, lying on my back, staring at the ceiling as sunlight filtered through the curtains — I genuinely don't know if this is real, or a strange, lucid dream.

From that moment on, I was in panic mode.

I had a quick shower, got dressed and quickly ran into the living room to pack up my laptop. The TV screen remained as I had left it before sleeping last night. I had died at a particularly difficult check point. The kill screen had a single question: Retry/Quit?

Well I'm sure as hell not going to quit.


    That video was freakin' troubling man, what did this meth addict do to our beloved editor? I'm impressed at how you're maintained your writing, even more so after watching the update and not understanding a whole lot of it.

      Work hours are by far the easiest bizarrely. And I spend a lot of the early part of the night writing sometimes.

        Probably because the human body is conditioned to be awake during the day. It's much harder to fight the urge to sleep during night hours

    I guess you've *technically* lost the progress you were making but even if this counts as a restart because of the extra sleep you got throwing you off, you're in a better position now, since you've already started to rely less on your regular sleeping hazards. Good on you for persisting.

    Don't let this affect your health though!

      hazards = habits, though I guess you ARE experiencing some sleeping hazards right now...

    Are you able to get to work ok? I imagine you spend bus/train trips standing up so you don't pass out.

    I think the best thing to do is modify how you do it. Remember that the real obstacle to get over in terms of polyphasic sleep is that for the first few days your brain won't be hitting REM, because you'll need to be up again before that phase kicks in. To that end, it might be more manageable with 6 naps every 4 hours. The practice of training your brain is unaffected by the quantity of naps, because you will still be getting 0 REM until your brain properly adapts.

    I understand that, schedule wise, that's going to be a total bitch, but realistically you should be able to adapt that to 4 after the first week.

    I've also heard that the stupidest thing you can do is think 'wow, i'm still gonna have a week of this', I read about a navy study where, after having the subjects adopt polyphasic sleep patterns for 5 days, they interviewed the people (some made it, some crashed out early), and they found that a common theme with those who made it was that they "took it one nap cycle at a time", and those who crashed out were the ones who were thinking ahead. I know giving advice that pretty much boils down to "you've gotta live in the moment" is what you'd expect to hear from an unwashed yoga instructor, but in this case it seems it has some merit.

      That's sort of been my mantra -- one cucle at a time. When I think ahead it's actually really, really depressing.

      Indeed, going straight into the Uberman schedule would definitely be the hardest way to try out polyphasic sleep, especially for someone used to a good sleep every night.
      I know it is for a Lifehacker thing but easing into it with a less extreme schedule could make it easier.

        If I could go back I would do a less extreme cycle for sure.

      Sounds like you have been reading much of the exact same source as I have on this subject. ;)

    i said it on another post (that i think got deleted coz i can't find it) that its time to stop this terrible experiment.

    Thanks for the updates - it's oddly fascinating to watch and read about your decent into madness.

      "The most bizarre part of the whole situation is this — looking back to when my midget sidekick woke me up, I sincerely remember thinking, ‘why am I dressed in this clown costume? I’ve been sober for hours’.

        This sounds so much like a line from a Hunter S Thompson book.

    I feel sleepy just watching that video

      Haha! Me too, I'm not sure what it is but even my eyes felt strained. Solidarity perhaps? :P

      +1 to this. I remember nights where I got no sleep, feeling ridiculously drained and tired at work the next day, and this is only a fraction of what poor Mark is putting himself through.

    Just keep trying Mark. This is such an extreme thing to attempt, of course it's not going to go smoothly at first.

    Your eyes look kind of anime now. Keep it up!

    Mark you're nuts in doing this, absolutely nuts. But that's why we love you. Go for it mate! Keep it up.

    How many days do you think you'll sleep through once you stop and let your body do it's thing?

    I really don't get this at all. People are supposed to rest and recover. Sporadic napping is a ridiculous idea.

      Well, that's rather close-minded.

      There's a guy in China (I think) who has not slept in 33 years. Tell him that you think he's ridiculous. As for sporadic? Given that sporadic means 'at irregular intervals, having no pattern or order in time', and from what I can see, it's more planned than what one would usually do in regards to sleep, i'm a monophasic sleeper (like 95%+ of everyone else), and he's put way more thought into planning this than I ever have, he's changed his meal structure, is sleeping ONLY at given times.

      Just like hunger, sleep is one thing that we (as humans) have yet to fully understand. Much research suggests that the only kind of sleep that a human needs is called REM sleep, and the theory behind what Mark is doing is that you can force your body to, instead of taking hours to hit REM as it would normally, hit REM instantly, meaning eventually, after he has adapted to instantly hitting REM, he's getting the same amount of essential sleep as anyone who gets their regular 8 hours, only he's cramming it down into 2 hours total time per day.

        Oh ok, so one Chinese (you think) man hasn’t slept in 33 years. Let’s all stop sleeping. Who needs it?!

          You were the one who made the broad sweeping statement. 'People need to rest' etc? Is he not people?

          Way to read the first 10 words and fly off the handle, I suspected I was wasting my time typing out a proper reply. Won't happen again.

        The issue I have with this is that, beyond the amount of time it takes to enter rem, we also need a certain amount of it. At 2 hours, even if he is at 100% REM from the moment he goes to sleep he is only just getting enough. Beyond that, the stress on his body, which is usually recovering during the extra hours of sleep, will just build up over time.

          El Kapitan - you're not making any sense. Please rephrase your responses.

    Why don't you start at 6 x 1 hour naps and wind your way back by like 5 minutes per hour every day - at least that way you'd be able to gradually adapt.

    I didn't have headphones in so I watched the video with closed captions on.
    I may have stumbled across the single funniest thing on the internet today.

      Oh ok, so one Chinese (you think) man hasn't slept in 33 years. Let's all stop sleeping. Who needs it?!

      This so true. OMG that's funny

      That is brilliant puppylicks. Thanks for the heads up. Couldn't stop laughing at the fail translations!

    get through this and im nominating you for.... something...
    im not sure what but something!

    'Hopefully, less bluuueeghh.' Man, I hope so! For sake Mark! That seriously looks very painful. Comparing it to the only situations I personally have (staying up all night on occasion), this looks infinitely worse.

    Have you tried changing your alarm tone to an edited version of the Wiggles, with kids screaming out, 'WAKE UP MARK!'?? That might help....

    Go man, go!!
    But, please stop when the couch starts talking to you.

    I haven't really posted anything by now, but I strongly suspect this whole thing is complete bullshit. My understanding (from a few undergrad psych subjects) was that all of the sleep cycles have (theoretically) important functions. This superman stuff seems totally concerned with REM without considering whether the other components are important.

    Anyway - please, please don't drive during this. Please. Driving whilst fatigued is worse than drink driving, and if your reaching the point of micro-sleeps, you are very, very likely to have an accident.

      Yes this is so true. If you are at the stage of micro sleeps don't drive!!!!!


      Complete waste of time and he's failed already anyway.

        He hasn't failed; transition isn't as simple as stop/go. Failure is him bailing because he's genuinely concerned about his health or, worse, being hospitalised before taking the chance to bail.

        If this is such a complete waste of time and a stupid thing, in your opinion, why the hell are you here reading the article and following is progress, let alone leaving multiple comments? Surely, as someone who seems to know what is "worth the time," you have better things to be doing than posting useless comments designed to add absolutely nothing to the conversation.

      His article of LifeHacker today described his routine and it all involved the train. Don't think you guys need to worry.

        Excellent. Glad to see that picked someone who could do it responsibly!

          Not sure there's really a responsible way to do something that isn't really safe when you don't NEED to do it.

      Ohhh good. I had a micro sleep in a car one day. It was halfway around a round about. Nothing happened, no damage to the car or property and I stayed on the road. But it was one of the worst feelings I have had in my life. It could have been so much worse.

    Oh man, I hate it when you fall asleep with contacts in. It's when I couldn't tell if I had them in or not is when I stopped using them.

    I suppose the gaming stories on Kotaku have become so irrelevant and naff that this attention seeking crap is almost passable.

    I hope that Allure is giving you an extra day's leave for every day this experiment goes on, for recovery time when it's done.
    Good luck with it, you may not achieve the schedule you set out for, but you will learn a lot about yourself and what works best for you.
    All I ask is that you stay safe, and the moment your wife asks you to stop, you stop. Our loved ones know us best.

    Mark, I'm worried now! I stay up till all hours of the night and even I'm starting to consider this exercise way over the top. Bail out! I repeat, bail out! Think of your family, friends and all olf us - the beloved Kotaku readers! We need you!!!

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