Sleeping Like Superman: Can I Survive For A Month Sleeping Two Hours A Day?

Sleeping Like Superman: Can I Survive For A Month Sleeping Two Hours A Day?

For one month Kotaku editor Mark Serrels intends to sleep using the Uberman Sleep Schedule. Instead of one eight-hour block of sleep, he will have six 20 minute naps, spread evenly throughout the day. Madness, panic attacks, zombie sleep walks, catastrophic failure. These are all very real possibilities. This is Sleeping Like Superman.

“As a Doctor,” said my friend, Clay, who is actually — believe it or not — a doctor, “you have my full permission and approval to try this.”

“I just want to see what happens.”

Hello, my name is Mark Serrels and it’s very nice to meet you. I am 31 years old. I’m 5 feet 9 inches tall. I weigh 72 kgs. I am married to a beautiful girl, who is pregnant with our first child. I’m about to go on an adventure.

A sleepy adventure.

Most human beings on this planet, including myself until today, have a very specific way of sleeping. They go to bed, they get eight hours of rest and then they wake up. They stay awake for the following 16 hours and then start the entire cycle all over again.

I want to try something a little different.

That something is polyphasic sleep.

When a human being decides to divide their sleep schedule into more than one block, that is polyphasic sleep. It’s also a strange form of madness. Some of you (especially parents) may already be in the midst of some form of amended sleep schedule. This also applies if you’re partial to the odd nap.

The sleep schedule I intend to use is a little more extreme. It’s called the Uberman schedule, and it looks like this.

For the next month I’ll be sleeping for 20 minutes every four hours — if I can stay awake. 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm; at these specific points in time, no matter what I am doing, I will stop and attempt to sleep for 20 minutes. Then I will continue on with my day, until the distinctions between my days become meaningless.

The Uberman Schedule

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‘Uberman’: the term comes from the German phrase Ubermensch, a word that — literally — means ‘Overman’ or ‘Superman’. Introduced by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the Ubermeshch was intended to be a goal for humanity to set itself. The Superman: an inspired being willing to risk all for the enhancement of his own humanity. Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Staying awake during this experiment is the only goal I have set for myself, and most people I’ve spoken to, including my own wife, expect me to fail miserably. I am not a Superman, or an Overman. I wouldn’t even make a decent Aquaman, yet for some strange reason, I truly believe I have the willpower to see this through.

But I am terrified. I’m scared of the consequences, both short term and long term. Will this experiment fry my brain to a frilly crisp? Will it negatively affect my health or mental well-being? Will I put on weight? Will I still be able to exercise? Will I be able to function correctly as a normal human being? Will I be able to stay up and watch Wimbledon if Andy Murray makes it to the final (he won’t!)

It’s difficult to say, and I’m getting mixed messages. One friend on Twitter told me his friend had to be hospitalised after attempting to transition into polyphasic sleep. Another, who has agreed to mentor me during the whole experience, miraculously managed to maintain the Uberman schedule for up for six months.

But everyone, everyone, says that the first week is the hardest.

The first week: the transition, the (deliberately) sleepless nights. One man stared at a wall for 90 minutes straight. Another found himself awake, but unconscious, strolling down the corridors of his apartment building, completely unaware of himself and his surroundings. Another baked many, many delicious pastries and consumed them. Others just feel the will to live slowly seep from the pores of their skin.

I’ve had multiple different types of advice for this initial breaking in period, to help shock my body from one large block of sleep to multiple tiny naps. Some examples:

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[left]

  • Don’t drink caffeine.
  • Drink caffeine.
  • Don’t lie down. Ever.
  • Don’t even sit down if you can help it
  • Do jumping jacks.
  • Dance in the middle of the night.
  • Eat small meals.
  • Find a project.
  • Eat spinach.
  • Avoid eating too many carbs.
  • Play video games standing up.
  • Play ping pong.
  • Go for long walks at night.
  • Be disciplined.
  • Don’t miss naps.

[/left]
[right]

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Whatever you do, don’t miss naps.

The fear

I’m afraid of madness. I’m afraid of hallucinations. I am afraid I’m jumping into this with too little preparation. I am afraid of having to go to hospital. I am afraid of permanent brain damage. I am afraid of setting the house on fire whilst attempting to bake many, many delicious pastries. I am afraid of not being able to function as a normal human in normal society.

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But I am also afraid of failure, and I want to push on. I am curious. I want to know if I have the pure will power to make it through the difficult first week, I want to unlock the hours of extra time. I want to be more productive. I want more time for video games, for writing, for cooking, for . . . everything. Life is short, and I want more time on this planet. Picture by David Blaikie

I want to see what happens when I push my own limits. Will I crack under that pressure?

For the next month I will be writing about my experiences. Every day. I’ll be writing about how I adjust, what I do to stay awake, what I do with the extra time.

Most likely I’ll be writing about my inevitable, catastrophic failure.

Either way, I’m excited. And afraid.

Follow Mark’s adventures over the next month in the Sleeping Like Superman series on Lifehacker.

Comments

  • The good news is, if you succeed we’ll all be terribly impressed. If you fail, it will be hilarious, so we really win no matter what.

    Good luck Mark!

    • I wanna know, who’s the poor bastard that has to wake angry, confused and very tired Serrels after 20 minutes.

    • In my last two years of high school I slept even less than this guy, constantly playing Steam games, being social, going to school and holding a job. I handled it pretty well, never sleeping during class or at work and performing really well in games and socially. Literally all the rest I got during that period was an occasional hour-long, non-REM rest period each morning right before the bus ran. This guy’s doing it for a month. I did it for a year and a half, consistently. It was like the movie The Machinist, only I looked completely healthy outside of my baggy eyes and I didn’t go crazy or anything. xD

      The trick is to rest your eyeballs whenever you get the chance. Close your eyes, you don’t even have to lessen your focus on the environment around you, just close your eyes and let them rest for minutes at a time. I never did it at work(you pay me money and show me respect, I’ll perform as well as I possibly can) and only did it in classes when I had completed all of my work and teachers weren’t giving lectures, literally didn’t rest during my gaming sessions and things like that. I’m not a coffee drinker, I didn’t drink energy drinks at that point because of a bad experience with them damaging my extremely healthy kidneys and I didn’t really adjust my diet to fit the lifestyle or anything like that. Just ate like I always had, drank what I always had(only with more water bottles during that period, for some reason) and cut sleep out of my life, for the most part. I totally don’t regret that experience, it was one of the most stress-free periods of my life.

  • Hey Mark, if I remember correctly, you were considering the Polyphasic sleep thing some time last year, maybe earlier this year? Anyway, assuming my memory is correct, is this simply that plan finally coming to fruition, or did something more recent inspire you to actually do it?

    Oh, and good luck.

  • I remember reading a blog, I think it was a blog, of someone who went successfully into the uberman sleep schedule, I *think* it’s this one http://officialuberman.blogspot.com.au/
    The best advice you can get is from someone who has already done it. I hope you’ve been reading up on those, Mark.

    • A link on that page led me to this one…
      http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/10/polyphasic-sleep/

      This guy documented his progress really well, and kept it up for over 5 months before going back to normal, primarily just because the fact that nobody else around him lived the same way made things difficult.

      I highly recommend reading through his progress logs Mark, and anybody else who is interested in this. I’m almost tempted to give it a try myself. Almost.

  • This is actually really cool. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

    Also, obligatory “not about games” so no one else has to bother saying it.

  • Hey Mark,

    It would be interesting to see a few stats as you progress. You could do an alertness test at various intervals for example, see how it trends as you get in to the regime. Maybe keep a check of your weight and energy levels somehow (?).

    It sounds like a pretty extreme challenge. Good luck.

  • This is going to be awesome! Can’t wait for the day 5 posts where half the article is just the letter ttttttt repeated a hundred times and you don’t even notice.

  • Brave man our Mr. Serrels. He will be remembered fondly as ‘that video game zombie journalist’.

    j/k, all the best! I heard it’s mighty hard but try and persevere. However I have also been told that not everyone can do it. So if after the 1 month mark it’s actually deteriorating your health you might wanna consider stopping 😮

  • Awesome – can’t wait to hear how it goes! Also, congrats on the forthcoming baby!

    I’ve trained myself down from 8 hrs a night to 4-5, so it can be done. I think that’s my best, though – I’m no ubermensch.

  • Mark, is there really no way to ease into this? Like to start with, doing 40 minute naps every 4 hours?

  • Man… hope you’re not driving anywhere is all I can say. Best of luck but be careful
    Congrats on your upcoming child!

  • But doesn’t it take an average of 7 minutes to fall asleep? So Won’t you really be getting 13 minutes of sleep?

    • That’s part of why it’s so hard at first. Once you train your body that you are only going to sleep for 20 minutes, you fall asleep faster to take advantage of the limited timeframe.

  • Good luck man! Sounds like a very interesting concept. Although I don’t know how I’d manage it considering how I fall asleep all the time anyway.

  • Get into a good game of Civilisation or Heroes of Might and Magic, or any other addictive turn-based strategy game. Once you get into that “Just one more turn… just one more turn…!” mentality, miraculously tiredness never becomes an issue. The number of times that I’ve suddenly found it day-light after starting a game of Civ the previous evening…

    Good luck Mark! I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  • I wish you all the best with this. I have a thoroughly screwed up sleep pattern (If they ever came to collect on my sleep debt, my body would be repossessed) so if it works out for you then perhaps I will look into trying polyphasic sleep myself.

  • An online game I’ve played for years, Utopia, has it so that at the beginning of every age (every 3 months) we have to wake up roughly once every 1 hour and 50 mins overnight to do stuff online. After a while of doing this we started to develop strange behaviour. Once I started studying neuroscience as part of medicine at uni I looked into it to see if I could understand why. Turns out its due to an increasing tolerance to serotonin by our brain neurons. REM sleep provides a complete shutdown of the release of this chemical, allowing our neurons to retain sensitivity. Deprivation of the period of sensitisation can lead to behavioural abnormalities, and studies have shown a strong possibility that REM sleep is vital in other body processes as well such as the immune response to infections, memory, creativity and others.

    Long story short, I really, really would not recommend this. But I also would LOVE to see the end results from a scientific standpoint if you are committed to going through with it, including blood tests and neurological and behavioural evaluations. I have honestly never seen or read of this being done, so it will be rather interesting to see how it goes

    • Doesn’t Snoop Dog do this all the time?
      Though he probably has help from other “substances” too….

      • There are certain antidepressants that can simulate some of the effects of REM sleep, but as the name implies these still lead to personality and behavioural changes

  • You are indeed about to go on an adventure. I have recommended people try this style sleeping habit before their girlfriend/wife/etc actually gives birth and you’re forced into this style sleeping habit for a year.

    You will be one step better prepared than most new parents… even if you don’t succeed, you’ll be better prepared in knowing what you’re in for.

    • I hear you on that. First 6 weeks of having a newborn resulted in no more than 1 1/2 hours sleep at a time at night… and that was a good night.

    • That guy also smoke and drank the entire time (which the chinese refer to as a ‘healthy lifestyle’) whilst not sleeping AT ALL for 11 nights. It wasn’t the sleep deprivation that killed him, rather all the crap he was putting into his body, not sleeping didn’t give him time to recover from it all so it was a double edged sword.

  • Sounds interesting. I like the idea and I’m looking forward to the results.
    Problem is, it takes me on average 30-50 minutes to fall asleep… I don’t know how it would work for me.
    Also I think I would find it hard to keep the nap rhythm, what with pesky work getting in the way.
    Anyway good luck!

  • Serious question Mark – are you going to trust yourself to do any driving over this period? I would be terrified of nodding off at the wheel.

  • I’ve always wanted to try this. Read about it 5 or 6 years ago, but I’ve never had the work/lifestyle to allow it. There is literally nowhere in my office where I trust someone won’t walk in and accident wake me up.

  • i was under the impression that your body requires at least 2-3 hours of actual sleep before it entires a state of repair/revival? If thats true, wont that mean Mark wont be able to “recover” with such little sleep periods?

  • Speaking as someone who goes 2-3 hours a night on a regular basis, it’s entirely doable. However, I’m not sure on the whole sleeping in 20 min chunks since deep sleep is what your body needs and most people don’t start their first REM phase til an hour into their sleep…

  • The Tour de France has begun… not quite the same level of dazedness, but by the third week I’ll have impressive bags under the eyes…

  • In my opinion, the things you choose to do will play a major role. Boredom might trigger sleep. Straining your eyes by playing games for too long will trigger sleep and so on.

    And I would say that the things you choose to do or not do will determine your success.

    It may even be a once in a lifetime attempt. I would seriously recommend documenting / video taping the whole thing 🙂

    Let it be a progressive progress 😛

  • Good luck!!! I’d love to do this myself. I hate sleeping. I regularly only get 2 or so hours of sleep a night. I don’t think I would though whilst living at home.

  • Doesn’t work. Tried it a few years back for a semester leading up to exam periods and you’re so lethargic it’s not even worth the trouble. You’ll crash every Friday and sleep 14 hours to make up for it all.

  • The good tips:

    Don’t drink caffeine (or alcohol for that matter)
    Eat small meals.
    Don’t miss naps / Be Disciplined.

    Also, grab Pzizz Energizer (for iPhone).. will help. Also drink water religiously.. really make an effort to make sure you are drinking the recommended amount of water.

    One thing I wanted to know is if the 20mins of sleep is actual proper sleep or just the amount of time you have in total to lay down before standing up again. An average person takes 14 minutes on average to fall asleep… so that’s actually only 6 minutes of sleep if you only allow 20mins in total. I guess if you got really good at falling asleep, such as with help from Pzizz or just practise, then that would get more and more time… but I’m curious if you are going to allow for that average 14mins to fall asleep and what you are going to use to monitor your vital signs to check if you have fallen asleep or not. There are a few devices with apps available for this purpose.. you could have it check to see how long it is taking you to fall asleep..

  • Out of curiosity what kind of doctor is your friend? As someone whos studied this stuff pretty intensely, the jury is still out on whether it’s entirely safe, and still very much out on whether it makes you a whole lot LESS healthy by screwing with things like your metabolism and perhaps most importantly your heart. The most likely scenario is you’ll end up taking micro naps without even knowing it, which is what studies suggest most people do unless actively kept awake by a third party. The greatest risk is usually not your general health, because of the micro sleeps, but the risk that you’ll decide to have one while say… Driving. No surprises that it was lifehackers idea -_-

    • I had a glance over the research when Mark was first looking into it, and for memory there were airforce studies that showed in increase in focus and decrease of micro sleeps. No link, sorry.

      • I didn’t mean to imply it was anyone else’s idea Mark, and of course you’re free to do what you will with your body. That of course doesn’t mean it isn’t a risk either.

        Ben without going to re investigate I believe you are quite right about that research, however I think you might have missed part of the point, if memory serves this was when put under the SAME conditions.

        So, when you take two equally and very significantly sleep deprived people, those that had practiced this technique coped with it significantly better than those in the control group
        HOWEVER, both groups have significantly LESS concentration/reflexes/cognition than people sleeping a more, for lack of better word, ‘normal’ rountine. Hence its very much viable uses in a military setting, where like it or not you may have no other option than to be sleep deprived and only take power naps. Furthermore the results were only subsequent to using the techinique for a good while, intially it will make you feel horrible, function poorly, and for goodness sake stay off the road! :p (But really).

        Of course you have no reason to take the word of an internet random, and I don’t have the time to go sourcing things right now sorry, and as someone with chronic insomnia I might be biased in finding it difficult to understand why someone would willingly sleep deprive themselves.. but at the same time I’m on my way to being a polysomnographic technologist sooooo I have a vested interest in sleep and health 😛

  • There’s something…haunting about that photo. The dark walls, the suble highlights of the sleeping bag and the wall behind, Mark’s somewhat startled expression – I’m having trouble looking away. It’s serene, yet disturbing, as it only the beginning of what could become madness. Ok I need to sleep more.

  • Da Vinci was believed to have done this same sleep pattern, but I don’t believe it has ever been confirmed in any bio or in his mirror written notes. Nevertheless, I suggest playing a ton of Doodle Jump. With over 22 hours per day as your awake time, you might even be able to take down my 16.1 Million record. All you have to do is stay alive and continuously move up for over 30 hours, 18 minutes and 19 seconds. ~AWPrince

      • Yes, A.K.A, “The One”, as my friends jokingly call me since I’m at the top of the all-time Doodle Jump scoreboard and am a huge fan of “The Matrix”. I enjoyed your recent Doodle Jump stories on this site; we share a lot of the same beginnings in the game believe it or not. Feel free to contact me anytime at [email protected]

  • Always been interested in this, as another who hates the loss of time to sleep.

    Though I wonder if I’ve slipped into a somewhat polyphasic sleep pattern myself. Ever since uni (and I can even remember some times before that), I have a tendency to just completely doze off for maybe 20mins at a time, whether I like it or not. It kind of started during lectures back then, and has continued on even now. I thought I was off it for a while, but I went back to study and work this year and it’s kicked in again. Doesn’t seem to be affected by how long I sleep the night before, but I go down for my 20mins in the middle of the day and instantly wake up refreshed and get on with my work.

    Just that at work I try to keep it as hidden as I can >_>

  • There was a good article about one man’s attempt to do this in Men’s Health last year. See if you can find the article – it had tips and some good insight into the process.

  • Good luck man, I’ve always wanted to try this since I learned about it but unfortunately my work schedule won’t allow it. There’s a great little interview on the Irrational Behaviour Podcast (Epidode 4) with an Irrational Games employee who tried this.

  • ROFLMAO!!!! Seriously. NO ONE here realized this Ubermensch sleep schedule is the same one practiced by almost EVERY mother nursing a newborn? Nurse every two hours for up to an hour, plus burping, diaper changes, and trying to eat and shower, etc.

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