Sleeping Like Superman: Game Over

“This isn’t for you. You’re not good at this,” says my wife, shouting from the other side of the apartment. She’s curled up in bed, reading a book, lazily. I’m hunched over the computer desk, jaw clenched, inches from a monitor screen. I can feel the pulsing of the brain inside my skull. “You’re not Superman,” she says. “You’re a sleepy man.”

I am a very sleepy man.


1am. The same position, posture crunched. Eyes on the keyboard. I have a throbbing on the upper left on my back; each time I turn my head a shock of dull pain fires on that one specific spot. I can’t abide it. I don’t know why it hurts; I don’t know when it started. For the last three days at least I’ve been rubbing my back constantly, checking in the mirror, enduring it and, bizarrely, putting a band aid on it. I may be going crazy.

Involuntarily I nod, in the sharp semi-circular motion of a micro-sleep. My eyelids droop. Today has been a bad day.

The night before felt like a revelation; as though I had emerged from a cocoon of sleep deprivation and become something spectacular, like I had made the transition into the polyphasic pattern. But at 1am, on Friday morning, I felt less like a butterfly, and more like a broken moth, stumbling towards fluorescent light, dizzy and drunk. I just couldn’t stay awake.

My apartment building has a gym, so I decided the best way to stay awake was to head down there, hop onto the treadmill and simply walk. I had roughly an hour until my next nap at 2am. I couldn’t fall asleep if I was walking, right?

The fluorescent light was blinding. I walked at a brisk pace as the treadmill hummed. For the next 40 minutes I felt awake and somewhat alert. I felt as though I could at least make it to the end of this cycle.

I took a deep breath and continued walking.

At 2am, I set my alarm, and slept.


What happened?

Where am I?

I’m in my apartment, it’s pitch black. I stumble in the shadows, I hear swords clashing, people shouting. I know I’m in my apartment, but there is still noise, chatter. The sound of people fighting. I have my phone in my hand, slowly I come to…

It’s 4.34 am. I have three missed calls from my wife; two messages.

What the hell just happened.

I don’t understand. I clearly set my alarm. I absolutely, vividly remember doing so. In a panic I head into the bedroom where my wife sleeps.

“Why did you call me?” I ask. Silently, I wonder why I didn’t pick up…

“I heard someone leaving the house,” she said, dozily. “I was worried.”

Did I leave the house without being aware of it? Or did Heizy hear me coming back from the gym. I have no idea. I’m frantic.

My wife falls back asleep. I walk in circles, blinking. Looking at my phone. Why are all the lights out? I distinctly remember leaving every single light in the living area on – I needed that light to stay awake, I would never have knowingly turned the lights off. I just wouldn’t do that.

My heart is pounding against my chest.

I have two whole hours I can’t account for. Did I leave the apartment in a sleep-induced trance? Ten minutes ago, I could remember walking around my living room in complete darkness, with the sounds of a battle ringing around my brain. I could clearly remember that terrifying mix of lucid dreaming and reality.

I am confused. I am worried. I’m really scared. Another human being, residing in my strained, exhausted subconscious seems intent on tricking me, sabotaging me at every turn. Did I really do all these things?

I can’t remember anything.


But I’ve got it covered, I can still do this. The uberman schedule is just like a prescription — if you miss one, you just keep on going. You keep on pushing until, eventually, you prevail. You stay strong until the transition — until this waking nightmare of sleep deprivation, phantom pains, and dead eyes in hollow sockets stops. Until it all stops.

I sit down to make a video blog, the one you see above. I stutter through, pause to try and make sense of what has just happened to me. I just don’t understand.

Then, all of a sudden, an alarm I absolutely don’t remember setting goes off. Piercingly loud.

Why is this alarm going off? Why now? At 4.45am, at this strange time.

Who set the alarm? Who set it?

Quickly, I turn off the liveblog. I look at my phone. The alarms have been changed.

This is too much. The lights, the movements in the middle of the night I don’t remember. The missed calls, the blurred distinction between dreams and reality. The changed alarms, the fact that I may have left the house in an unconscious state…

I hear a voice in my head

“This isn’t for you. You’re not good at this,” echoes the voice.

“You’re not Superman, you’re a sleepy man.”

At 5.04am on Friday morning Mark Serrels, afraid he would literally go insane, willingly gave up on his polyphasic sleep experiment, and clambered dizzily into his bed, next to his pregnant wife. He slept for 13 hours of the next day. He has no intention of attempting the Uberman schedule in the future. He’s no Superman, but he will tell you what he has learned this week during Lifehacker’s Sleep Week.

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