Sleeping Like Superman: Closing The Distance

Sleeping Like Superman: Closing The Distance

Sleep deprivation — it’s like a barrier that shields you from the world. It’s like trying to walk underwater, or pounding on the windows of a glass case. When you’ve had no sleep you evacuate your body, and keep the world at a distance.

Disclaimer: No games are played or discussed in this post!

For days I was unable to laugh at jokes. I could tell that jokes were being told, that information was being parsed. Some part of me was aware said jokes should be funny, but I felt like a stranger in my own skin and the connection was never made.

I’d pretend to engage with people. I would answer questions with nods, I’d produce words if necessary, but there was always a disconnect, a short delay between the idea and the sentences I spoke.

For the past three days I’ve had nothing but time. And distance.

When you’re sleep deprived you see the world through hollow eyes. You navigate space like a puppet on a string. You’re in control of the body you inhabit, but it doesn’t belong to you. I’d look in the mirror and I could barely recognise myself. Thin strands of hair clinging to my forehead, rings around my eyes, a smile replaced by a dead grimace.

A distance between myself and mirror image I was gawking at. An awkward lag. A strange delay between telling my wife I love her, through sheer instinct, and having those words mean something.

But yesterday that all changed. Yesterday was a revelation.

Yesterday I woke up with a start. Oversleeping by an hour felt like a catastrophe, but I remember the feeling as I stood up; the feeling that my body was actually listening to my instructions and responding in a timely fashion.

I was as surprised as anyone. Slowly the world around me became something I could engage with. Words passed from my brain with fluidity. Someone cracked a hilarious joke on Twitter and I laughed… out loud.

The relief was palpable. But I waited for the euphoria to fade. One thing I’ve learned in the course of this experiment is this: there is a cycle to your alertness. Stay tired for long enough and you’ll stop being tired, even just for 30 minutes. I wondered how long this feeling would last.

But the feeling continued. Not euphoric, not fluttery and hyperactive — strangely normal, as if I had a good night’s sleep and was going about my day.

“You’ve just forgotten what normal is,” said my wife, when she got home that night. “You’ve lost all sense of perspective.”

My wife. My poor neglected wife. She’s had to deal with this ludicrous experiment. She’s had to suffer the disconnect of unanswered questions, the conversations I’ve killed stone dead. She’s had to deal with the fact we’re sleeping in separate bedrooms, and listen to me complain in a listless monotone about how difficult these past four days have been, despite the fact that my wife is 15 weeks pregnant and has problems of her own.

It’s been tough. Really tough. I created a barrier for myself. I became like the walking dead and held myself at a distance. But then, almost suddenly, I managed to close that distance. I felt like a human being again.

I walked up to my wife. I kissed her on the cheek. I rubbed the part of her belly where our baby is growing inside her. It felt so real that I started to smile. I looked up, my hand still on her stomach. Slowly I began to laugh. Tears streaming down my face.

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


  • You LOOK a million times better than you did yesterday, Mark. Like you actually seem a bit energetic.

    • Yeah. That’s pretty amazing. Maybe it’s just relative to the past entries but he doesn’t look tired at all in this one.

  • You look so much better! And hey, on the bright side when the baby is born you’ll be able to tend to him/her all night without losing sleep. 🙂

  • Now that you look like you’re actually alive, I feel a lot less guilty about automatically turning on the closed captions.

  • You look so much better and happier in this video – just like the Serrels I know! This video made me smile so much, just seeing how happy you are and how much better you are doing. INSTA-REM SLEEP IS ONLY AN EYELID SHUT AWAY VERY SOON!

  • Man if you pull this off I’m really worried I’m gona give this a proper shot.

    And that scares the bejeezus out of me haha.

  • Loving the updates Mark! Question: are you finding that you are eating tons, by being up all night? Or are you still just eating at normal meal-times?

    • The problem is we don’t have any control group footage of what Mark’s like before the experiment. (We’ve only got the Good Game: Spawn Point stuff, which was pretty warped at the best of times. :P)

      • People have met Mark a few times at gatherings and whatnot.

        I’d say most of them would agree that “mad’ is a pretty accurate term.

        • And unfortunately since he can’t do anything that lasts longer than 3 hours and 40 minutes, future meats with Mark are likely a thing of the past until this experiment is over. Noooo.

          • Or we have a designated nap area for him.

            Actually, I think every time I’ve met him, he was around for less than four hours.

  • Good to see you might have found your stride. Still, seems like a slightly dangerous and childish experiment to dabble in and advertise online. You realise sleep deprivation can be fatal over a long period? Whether you don’t sleep for a week straight or sleep a few hours per night for a month, it can be seriously dangerous. Someone with a wife and incoming child should be a bit more mature about their health. Whatever floats you boat I guess. Just don’t operate heavy machinery any time soon, hahaha.

      • Technically it is, not getting enough sleep is still being sleep deprived. Simple reality is there’s no solid evidence of anyone actually keeping such intense schedules for their entire lives, the claims are always first hand from people who are taking micro sleep without even knowing it, I mean we’re talking minuscule amounts of time here, 5 seconds in a minute, not to mention they can be taken without ever closing your eyes, it’s about brainwaves not “ooo i only sleep an hour a day.” that said I don’t think mark is doing it for childish reasons, he’s shown he has an interest in trying this for awhile now, as long as he’s taken precautions to keep himself from harming others the worst that will likely happen is he will fall asleep, chances of Heart attack an the like while real are minuscule unless there is someone actively keeping him from going to sleep. The body just overrides eventually, it’s like trying to drown yourself, doesn’t work if you don’t tie a brick to your foot.

        On the other hand I’m not sure about posting it for what essentially amount to infotainment, almost seems to trivialize the concept, looking at the comments many people apparently see this as inspiration to try the same thing, when it’s frankly not something people should be doing. I said it the other day I’ll say it again, you can train the body to function on less sleep than ideal, you can never train it to function as well as it would though, this amount differs from person to person, but the evidence suggests no one if capable of functioning to even close to their full capacity on 6 20 min naps a day.

  • I understand where you’re coming from.

    The line of work I’m in tends to cause me to have inconsistent sleeping patterns, last week I worked a 12 hour shift from 7am to 7pm, the next night 7pm to 7am and then back to 7am to 7pm.

    It’s bizarre – I find that the weeks I am predominantly sleep during the night and work during the day I am more driven and focused at work but less creative and affectionate however the weeks that I sleep during the day and work at night it’s the other way round, my creativity spikes to unbelievably heights, I’m more engaged and focused on my relationship however my work effort reduces to less than I normally expect.

    The other downside to night work is if I work too hard, by the end of the week my perception is muted and I feel outside of my own body.

    And the weeks where I combine both night and day shifts, I sleep into near oblivion.

  • This experience is preparing you for parenthood. In 5 months time, sleep deprivation will no longer be by choice!

  • Good to hear you’re feeling better Mark! It was also great to see Andy Murray take out Ferrer. Tsonga should be no issues!

  • Good to see you looking chipper! I think I speak for everyone when I say your last video kinda concerned me..

  • Not to be a wowser, but are you driving at the moment?

    There’s a very high chance of you passing out at the wheel…

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