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
‘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:
- 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.
Whatever you do, don’t miss naps.
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.
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.