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.

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.


Comments

    Interesting. Is it because you are getting used to it, or was the accidental two hour sleep enough to re-energise you?

    I'm also interested about what will happen when you get sick or injured. Stick with the plan and forgo extensive resotrative sleep or blow out your scheule and revert to normal and have to go through all this again?

    I've been there - it's a strange feeling when your body kicks in muscle memory and you have "become" used to it. It is deceptive. If you start to get ill consult a physician right away - it may be more than just a cold or flu - I'm speaking from experience. late last year I was virtually living in a sleep deprived state for months on end and it culminated in some VERY serious and life threatening medical conditions.

    Thanks for the update, Mark. By the sounds of it, you're having similar experiences to others that have tried uberman. I'm guessing that you'll look back on it and say to others, "Day three is the worst - you've just got to push through that."

    I'm normally very open minded to alternative ways of living a life. But this just sounds terribly wrong. Sleeping seems like such a natural human habit I find it impossible to buy into the arguments of the pro-polyphasic sleep people.

    Also, worth pointing out that the picture of Nietzche on the first post was taken either just before, or just after, he had a huge psychotic breakdown and spent the rest of his life sending rambling crazy letters to all his friends.

    After a little research I'm even less inclined to try Ubermen sleep. The only successful story I've read is by a motivational speaker in the US, Steve Pavlina, but he comes across as selling his personality and success rather than championing Uberman sleep. Plus he uses emoticons in blog posts.

    There's a good read here, a 2005 article, for anyone considering it: http://www.supermemo.com/articles/polyphasic.htm

    And a follow up to that article five years later responding to criticism and detailing studies and research done in the interim http://www.supermemo.com/articles/polyphasic2010.htm
    Follow up also comments on Pavlina's blog.

    Mark, I'd seriously like to know why you're doing this and where you read it was a good idea.

      I wanted to try it because I like to push my own limits. That's the first reason. The second reason is I want to have more time and be productive.

      I'm also curious. I've actually heard from multiple people in the wake of doing this who have been successful, and I'm actually being mentored by someone who maintained it for six months without any issues.

      The sleep experts I consulted before doing this informed me the risk would be minimal. I feel comfortable about attempting this and it is my choice to do so.

      I didn't just decide to do it on a whim.

        Mark, you look like shit warmed up. See before and after shots.

        I wasn't suggesting it was a whim, just curious if something had motivated you to do it. From what I've read not many people sustain it really long term, I can't even imagine how you'll manage with a newborn, when my kids were tiny sleeping was my recreation, and they were good sleepers. I'd urge you to check out those two links.

        You're a braver man than I for diving into something so radical.

    I really enjoyed the honesty in your writing. Thanks. Keep going!!

    Still sounds dangerous. I suggest you use only spoons, you shouldn't be using knives or forks.

    Just realised your wife is pregnant, get used to sleep deprivation as you'll be doing this experiment again in 6 months time!!!!

    Another question, are you doing any cognitive and motor skills tests to see if you are functioning as well as you think you are?

    Good to hear your in such positive mood! Hope it is the fact that your body is use to it. It helps to change your perspective a bit and try to escape from the fatigue! Awesome job so far keep it up!

    are you still alive? been no updates for a while lol

      He's still alive. Last I heard (via Twitter), Mark was packing it in.

    How has the weekend been ? i have been following this as i am a nightshift worker in IT doing 12 hour shifts and i feel as if i am half practising htis already.. sometimes i will have random naps and it feels like i have 2 or 3 days in one day and other times it just feels like one long day that never ends just with naps in between, but seeing as i cant seem to kick it into a normal enough routine i am going to try and attempt this properley i think.. i already feel as if i am going a bit crazy and i can understand the 'being a step out of reality' and being on autopilot.. any last update then if you have pack ed it all in Mark?

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