Polyphasic Gaming: Trying To Play Max Payne 3 With No Sleep

Polyphasic Gaming: Trying To Play Max Payne 3 With No Sleep

Just in case you missed yesterday’s post, I am currently in the midst of a little experiment — an experiment that involves me surviving on a total of two hours sleep a day. This gives me an extra six hours in each day to play with — ‘play’ being the operative word, as I fully intend to use the extra time to help reduce my massive pile of shame.

Yesterday, for the first time, I tried to use my new found hours to play video games. Considering that July is Shameless Gaming month, a period where we find the time to reduce our pile of shame, I expect I’ll be spending many a sleep deprived hour trying finish off the games that time forgot.

Last night I started with Max Payne 3. At the worst possible time.

Just for some background, my sleep schedule is divided into four-hour blocks, meaning that each day I have six 20-minute naps and that’s it. Nothing else. I’ve taken to calling these four-hour period “cycles”. It was during the 2am-6am cycle that I tried to play Max Payne, minutes before embarking on the heaviest crash I’ve experienced so far in the last three days.

The above video was taken at 3am this morning. Despite the rings around my eyes and red eyelids, I felt pretty good for being awake in the middle of the morning. Thirty minutes later, I was doing jumping jacks in an attempt to simply stay awake…

I really have no idea why. My body clock is an unpredictable beast at the moment. At times I feel fresh, as though I’m getting eight hours a night. Others I literally feel like my body is crying out for sleep — my brain throbs, I lunge into multiple micro sleeps and have to fight tooth and nail to stay awake.

This is what it came to — in order to keep playing Max Payne 3 without falling asleep, I had to play the game standing up. Standing up. In order to stay awake whilst playing the most frantic action shooter released this year, I had to play standing up.

But even that wasn’t enough. The need to sleep was just so strong that, at 5.15am — with 45 minutes until my next scheduled nap — I had to rug up and head outside for a brisk walk.

So that’s Polyphasic Gaming — a constant struggle against an overwhelming urge to simply sleep. It’s the precise opposite of what usually happens when I game late at night. Usually the incredible amount of stimuli in modern games pulls you through, but last night it didn’t even come close.

Hopefully, I’ll be a bit more successful tonight.


  • I love the idea of the video updates, keep ‘me coming and who cares if there’s a game focus or not. You’re the editor of Kotaku, damn it. That makes it relevant to Kotaku.

  • What sort of Naruto paraphernalia is that in the background, a box set? Hmm. And yes, this is what I take out of your video.

  • How are you dealing with meetings/events/gym sessions/all that jazz when they clash with the sleep periods?

    • The times I’ve chosen are pretty solid.

      2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm

      Allows me to get into work and back, and also head to the climbing gym after my 6pm nap.

      • And is also the same time regardless of morning or night so, you know, keeping track of “am” or “pm” isn’t even crucial.

      • I did this. I have to warn you to plan out your days in advance. Set specific routines that your zombified/sleep-depped brain will be able to latch on to without conscious thought. All your background noise thoughts? They get a little quieter during the adjustment phase.

        I was interested by your choice of times. 2, 6, and 10 were the exact slots I chose for my 20-30 (I’d set it for 25 but usually only needed 15-20) every 3.5hrs. I did this on two separate occasions – one stint was nine months, the other was six months.
        Overall, very educational, very productive, very energizing… and an excellent way to chew through your lists of unfinished games, DVDs, and books. Not without drawbacks, though.

        The morning ones were the hardest to break out of the sleep routine for. Also, I got a LOT of pushback at work for trying to enforce those breaks. I think probably the most important point was that you can maybe afford to miss ONE session a day. Tops. Any more than two, and the next time you lie down, you may well find yourself taking a 4hr recovery session which defies any and all attempts by alarms, fire drills, or concerned friends/relatives to wake you. But you get used to making sure you don’t miss any.

        The only reason I stopped, really, was that I started to experience a very strange social disconnect and time-dilation. When you are fully-conscious for what seems like… entire weeks at a time, your naps aren’t serving as any kind of mental ‘book-ends’ to a defined day. The week feels like a day. And in that uber-day, you’re constantly watching all your coworkers, friends and family go through their wake/sleep cycles like you’re watching a time-lapse. I definitely started to feel a disconnect from the sleeping society.

        But having completed a significant period of time doing the polyphasic thing, I do note that I can get a very restorative 20min at the drop of a hat, now, and the ‘knock out’ 4hr sessions are instinctive to the body when trying to get ‘real’ sleep.

        If you want advance notice of other things to expect, you could check out Steve Pavlina’s blog. I used his notes as my guide when I was starting.

        • Oh, the other things I forgot. For me the adjustment phase was roughly 1.5weeks of being completely useless and really tired.

          After that, energy levels skyrocketed – but you gotta keep your cardio up, not just weights. Something about getting the blood into your brain. Also, because you’re ‘doing things’ all the time, expect your food consumption to go up. I was hungry ALL THE TIME. I noticed my grocery bill damn near doubled.

          Also, expect to be explaining this to people a LOT. They WILL think you are weird. You’ll eventually come up with a refined, brief way of explaining things that avoids the parts that tend to make peoples’ eyes gloss over.

        • OH. And on food: Fuck caffeine. That shit will ruin you. If you’re getting LOTS of water and exercise you may be lucky enough to only have 2-3 days of withdrawal. Some folks not replacing with super-smart eating can experience literally 1-3 months of withdrawal.

          Everything else? I recommend talking to a nutritionist, explaining what you’re trying to achieve. They may appreciate the challenge, and a little variety beyond typical athlete or weight-loss diets. My second stint went MUCH smoother, knowing what to expect and realizing the impact diet had on how good the sleep was.

          (Cliff’s notes: Aim for low-GI foods, but lots of them. Avoiding carbs, where possible, and if need be, save them for your 10pm stint so that 2am is easier. Try to avoid mixing carbs with protein. There is such a thing as ‘light-feeling’ protein that doesn’t sit in your stomach like a rock, but hint: steaks and energy bars/shakes are NOT that. A lot of those are designed around keeping dieters feeling full. Look more at shit like milk, eggs, nuts.)

  • Naruto boxset in the background. Good man.

    On Lifehacker you said that going for a walk was just what you needed to stay awake last night, but that was right after one of these 20 min sleeps. So how did going for a walk 45 minutes before your 6am sleep affect you – as in was it easy to fall asleep when you needed to or did it mess things up?

  • Wow. Can’t believe it’s this tough after such a short time. Best of luck Mr Serrels. Make us proud.

  • I’m sure as your body adjusts to your new rhythm that the little sleep you get will become more and more valuable and effective. Even when you’re not on a polyphasic sleep cycle, lying down with your eyes shut for 20 minutes can do wonders. when I used to work security I worked 12 hours on/12 hours off most weekends. I’d start at midnight Saturday morning and work til noon, get home around 1pm. I had tae kwon do at 5pm, and would be getting picked up at 4:30. 3.5 hours sleep? Hardly worth it. I’d get something light to eat, play some games, surf the net, take a shower. 3 hours of training later I’d be worn out but still energetic from the physical workout. I’d get home around 8:30 and get some real dinner. I had to be out the door before 11pm to be back at work for another 12 hour shift, so that left me with two hours. Again, I’d barely be getting to sleep by the time I had to get up again, so I’d entertain myself for awhile, then around 10:30 just completely chill. Lie on the couch, no noise, no distractions, eyes closed but not sleeping. By the time I had to get up and get dressed and start my commute, I’d be good to go again.

    Nowadays if I sit still long enough I’m likely to doze off, probably because I only sleep 4-5 hours a night due to my bad habit of never going to bed until around 1am.

  • I did the polyphasic sleep thing a few years back, but doing half-hour naps per 4hr “shift”. The 4-8 shift was always the worst, but I really enjoyed it.

  • This sounds painful, but I will be very interested to see how it works out as your body adjust to the cycles.

    I can remember many a night of late night gaming. It puts the difficulty into context that even something like Max Payne 3 can’t keep you awake.

  • did anyone else find that video funny, it’ll be fun seeing him start crazed outbursts due to sleep deprivation 😀

  • Word of advice from a night shifter – only do the things you enjoy when you are in a good / manic mood. When you feel like you would kill a small animal for a couple of hours sack time, you are much better off doing nothing or a task you already hate. I get the awful feeling you are going to really hate playing video games by the end of this month if you have to torture your body to stay awake. Kudos for the experiment, but srsly stick to laundry or something when you feel sleepicidal.

  • You look like crap, Its like when you see someone suffering and you want to help but you cant.

    So are you better at Max Payne 3 when tired or worse? This is important to know.

  • Hmm, this is interesting. It would be nice to know how your gaming experience changes because you’re playing in non-optimum conditions. Will you hate the game more compared to when you’re are relaxed? probably.

    Also I bet your power bill might increase slightly this time because of the night-time playing, having the lights on, showers to stay awake etc. Hopefully we can get an update on that as well.

    Good luck Mark. Stay strong.

  • This is a solid effort, I would have crashed out a drooling mess in front of the game, so good work. Also staving off boredom, finding enough stimulating things to do in that 6 hour gap…

    When you need some inspiration, listen to ‘Sleep Apnea’ by Chevelle, I’m sure you will find some comfort in there somewhere… ;D

  • Your feeling of ‘no full stop to the day’ or distinct separation of days (i.e. day 1, day 2, etc) reminds me of exactly what was like when I used to work 24/7 shift work. There was no such thing as regular monophasic sleep and I certainly couldn’t sleep at the same time every day – my sleeping patterns had to shift along with whenever I was working. Having no regular sleep routine was tough. I know that feel, bro.

  • “It’s like staring to the abyss of 20 minute naps” – Best line ever

    Seriously Mark, I’m worried for you, but hell if I’m not proud. I couldn’t do it!

    Also, 2:28, with YouTube captions, Mark apparently says: “Descendants into my pants”

  • I’m really curious in the concept of Polyphasic sleep, and will definitely be keeping a close watch on your blogs. I’d love to give it a go myself one day when my social and work commitments allow that freedom (in particular for the ~week adoption period)

    I just want to add that I’m not really sure how you could consider Max Payne 3 ‘pile of shame’ worthy. It’s only been out several months.

  • I’d be interested to hear what sort of impact it has on parts of your daily routine that are normally linked to going to bed and waking up. Brushing your teeth, showering, eating, etc. Even changing clothes seems like it’d be sort of weird without a standard sleep cycle. Especially considering you’re now napping/sleeping in your day clothes a few times per day.
    Like you say there’s no clear beginning or end to a day now so that’s got to throw a bunch of stuff out of whack.

  • By the way, have fun Serrels, I suggest playing some Silent Hill 2 or Silent Hill 4: The Room, mwahahahahaha

  • Not to discourage you because this is interesting (even if I wouldn’t do it), but just wondering if you have a car and if you’ll be driving it at all over the next few weeks?

    I would imagine that if you did and had an accident of any sort, and not even necesserily involving a car but just any level of accidental negligence even at work, you could be criminally liable for any injury caused given that you’re clearly documenting this experiment online.

    Just a thought- I don’t want to be a dick.

  • Let us hope that Mark becomes very suggestible with his lack of sleep

    “Mark… you want to send me a PS Vita”

  • I seem to remember seeing some sort of documentary about this, but IIRC the subject was taking some sort of substance/substitute to offset the effects & was used by soldiers in Vietnam or Korea??? could have been Louis Theroux… cant find it on google… soz Mark.. be safe.

  • Um… Worried about you, Mark. I regularly sleep 4-5 hrs a night, and sometimes it hurts. My assumption would be that with 2hrs sleep EVERYTHING would ALWAYS hurt.

    Be safe, buddy.

  • Mark, you really should have got a sleep monitoring device like the Zeo to have made your napping more quantitative. A nap may not have been the same as the previous nap in terms of REM/light/deep sleep durations.

  • Good luck with your experiment, Mark!
    And remember – you can always quit. A failure to achieve an expected result is just as valid an experimental outcome as achieving the result.

    I worked a hellish roster for two years where I worked two consecutive ten hour days, followed by a day off that let into a ten hour night, then three nights later, another ten hour night – repeat cycle after 24 hours off. (It’s hard to follow, but this adds up to a week)
    I never could get into a good routine with this set-up, so mostly settled for 2 sleep periods a day, but they weren’t at the same time due to work demands.
    I eventually fell off a ladder at 3am, leading to 5 weeks on work cover and a further 12 weeks of twice-weekly physical therapy sessions until I was back to proper fitness.

    Take two lessons from my story.
    1) Regular sleep is good. Irregular sleep is bad.
    2) Don’t let sleep deprivation lead to health problems or injury. But if you HAVE to injur yourself, do it at work. Work cover paid for everything including private hospital surgery by an incredibly expensive specialist, physical therapy sessions, and even transport for those therapy sessions, mostly during paid working hours.

    So yeah – good luck.

  • Please don’t drive o r operate heavy machinery or do anything that requires licencing in light of your microsleeps.

    Hope you start being less unpredictable soon!

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