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.


    Haha you did good Mark! I can't even begin to imagine how nice that 13 hour sleep must have felt.

    Great attempt Mark... No-one in their right mind could say that you gave up... When you lose 2 hours and weird shit starts happening, it's really clear this sleep cycle isn't for you.

    Wow. Nice effort Mark, and good decision to bail. Sounds like it was really affecting you :/

    Good for you, it really sounded like that was getting out of hand.

    I think that maybe only part of it is that it's so hard, but also that you were trying to juggle other commitments around your sleeping schedule. I think if anyone is going to attempt the transition it needs to be over a period when they have literally nothing else going on, and there's no risks associated with it. Even then it's only a maybe.

    I'd like to try it myself but once I'm asleep the only thing that reliably wakes me up is the urge to pee and the startling realisation that I am running late when I finally glance at my phone after hitting snooze for the 4th time and realise it's after 7.

    You made the right call man, there's no way you could continue like that. Even in the times you were awake, it seems like you weren't really able to enjoy yourself. Top effort, though.

    good read man, Enjoyed hearing about it. I think I'll stick to my 5 + 1 hour schedule.. 5 hours in bed then another hour on the train on the way to work!

    Congrats man. You've pushed yourself further than most people would, and have now learnt your sleep limits. I hope you never have to do this again, for any reason.

    Personally, I know how much and when I need sleep. If I get extremely sleep deprived, I know I can have random emotional outbursts, I can become fairly aggressive, and I'm more likely to have panic attacks. Most people learn their limits with most things, but sleep is usually one territory people aren't willing to push.

      I'm exactly the same. There's no way I could attempt this.

    We salute you sir o/ o>

    At least your a bit more prepared for the new born sleep schedule than most

    Would have been interesting to video tape those lost moments at 2am.. Sounds like the usual horror movie premise

    I don't know why everyone is congratulating him. seriously stupid fucking idea, really really bad idea. Sleep deprivation is terrible thing to do to the human mind and body.

    look when you have a kid you'll be fricken lucky to sleep longer then 2 hours at a time for the first 3 months.

      Agreed, one must be seriously lacking intelligence if they think they can survive on two hours sleep a day - in this day and age.

        Once upon a time they said a person was seriously lacking in intelligence if he thought he could sail around the world, too. Experimentation is about putting theories into practice. and finding ways to make them work.

        I feel sad for you.

          This 'experimentation' (read: stupidity) is dated and unrealistic.

          I feel happy for you.

    I really want this to be made into a game. We control you, as you slowly descend in to insanity.

    I kept expecting you to say "That's when I noticed the piece of Origami in my hand"

    I'm glad its over now so we don't have to be concerned for you :D

    You're a superman for sticking with this as long as you did man. Well done.

    I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did. While not as extreme as your experiment, I spent nearly two years after the birth of my son in a severely sleep-deprived state. My son would wake me up every couple of hours and my husband sleeps so soundly that I couldn't ever wake him up to help me.
    During that two year period I had conversations that I didn't remember having just five minutes later, I'd often have waking dreams and I couldn't focus on anything properly. Not to mention the constant zombie-state I was in.
    Sleep is now one of my favourite things ever. :P

    A man with a baby on the way voluntarily chose not to sleep!? Oh well, I suppose you'll get to do it again soon enough.

    Yeah, don't do that again, Mark. You worried me.

    PLEASE tell me your lucid dream was Braveheart

      On a more serious note, it's good to see you back to normality! Good on you for giving it a go though

    That video is pretty terrifying, to be honest. :/

    Reminded me of the Hangover. But well done Mark, and its good to have you back.

    Good on you Mark for giving it a solid go. I'm glad that you've been sensible about the whole thing and quit when you realised it's just not going to work out for you.

    Ballsy crack mark, epic read, congrats man!!

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