Sleeping Like Superman: Retry/Quit

Sleeping Like Superman: Retry/Quit

The above video was made at roughly 4am. At that precise moment, I had never been more tired in my life. It’s not in shot, but to my right is a television. I can’t be 100 per cent sure, but it was most likely showing the Max Payne 3 kill screen. On it a single question: Retry/Quit?

Last night was the first time I used my Polyphasic sleep experiment to put serious time into a video game. From the hours of 11-4.30 — in-between cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry — I played Max Payne 3. Flicking back to terrestrial TV when it got too much, or a particular check point was giving me too much grief.

Retry/Quit? Always the question. Retry/Quit. My reaction times were sluggish. Even on medium difficulty, I died frequently.

After my 20 minute nap at 2am, things became a little more intense.

The exhaustion was overpowering. The simple act of sitting down to play seemed to send my body into shutdown. My brain was screaming out for sleep. My brain had done this before, but last night, from about 3-5am? It was like an overbearing pressure, pushing down on my chest. I couldn’t ignore it. It was so hard to fight.

I did star jumps. Lots of them. Seriously — at 3 in the morning I did Star Jumps until my body felt lighter. I splashed water on my face, I tried to meditate. I tried playing the game standing up. I considered going outside for another walk, but I couldn’t — before she went to bed my wife made me promise I wouldn’t leave the house in a weird catatonic state. She worried about what would happen if I did.

I hopped onto the Polyphasic sleep forum I regualrly frequent. According to the experts, in times of real struggle, the best solution is to simply add another nap into the schedule. It’s okay to get a little bit of extra sleep, as long as it’s just a 20 minute nap. The important thing is to train your physical being to transition into the nap system.

So at around 3.15, I had an extra nap. This was my first mistake, although at the time it seemed like an unavoidable one. The video blog above was recorded almost immediately after I woke up. If anything the nap made things worse, but I wasn’t thinking straight. At around 5.00, one hour before my scheduled nap at 6am, I decided to go for another short sleep.

That was my second mistake.

From here on in, things are a bit fuzzy. I clearly remember setting an alarm. I remember sitting down to sleep and then — oblivion.

The next thing I consciously remember was being woken up by my wife.

“Mark, Mark!” she shouted. “It’s 7am! Wake up!”

I had slept through the alarm. If I had even set an alarm, I honestly can’t remember. I sat up with a start. I started freaking out, swearing at myself. Fuck! How could I have let this happen! It was then I realised that I hadn’t actually taken my contact lenses out — something I’ve been extremely careful about since I started this experiment. But my eyes didn’t hurt. Strange…

This didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right at all.

The most bizarre part of the whole situation is this — looking back to when my wife woke me up, I sincerely remember thinking, ‘why are you waking me up? I’ve been awake for hours’. I have this memory of me, lying on my back, staring at the ceiling as sunlight filtered through the curtains — I genuinely don’t know if this is real, or a strange, lucid dream.

From that moment on, I was in panic mode.

I had a quick shower, got dressed and quickly ran into the living room to pack up my laptop. The TV screen remained as I had left it before sleeping last night. I had died at a particularly difficult check point. The kill screen had a single question: Retry/Quit?

Well I’m sure as hell not going to quit.

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


  • Since I work for myself at home I have naturally slipped into a Biphasic sleep pattern without even trying to. You have inspired me to try changing to the everyman with 2-3 naps. I used to do shift work and I have never had trouble sleeping in weird cycles so I think the everyman should be pretty close to ideal to me. Extra time when you work for yourself is a good thing but so is being properly rested and taking care of yourself.

  • so does anyone actually use this Polyphasic sleep pattern as a regular thing? & if so, how long have they been doing it? it seems to me it’s only a theory that no-one an achieve, perhaps unless u are an enlightened monk.

    • From my experience with Polyphasic sleep I’d say that Uberman is impossible to maintain long-term. There have been several bloggers who have managed to continue the sleep pattern for even a year, however the impracticality of the schedule always gets to them. Which is interesting, it’s never because they can’t continue the naps for health’s sake. It’s that their sleep schedules can’t fit in with their real-life schedules.

      To fix this problem many people attempt slightly more “watered-down” sleep schedules. These include Everyman 2 and Everyman 3 as well as many others. These schedules are far easier to juggle in relation to your every day events because you sleep for a longer block of time (3 – 4.5 hours in everyman’s case) at night time. This schedule has been known to be kept for well over a year, I have even heard claims that some people have kept it for 4 years and are still going strong.

      To answer your question, yes. It can be kept as a regular thing. However, somewhat ironically, the sleeper needs to have less going on in his waking-life schedule in order to reap the time management benefits of his sleep-schedule.

  • Am finding this experiment fascinating. Keep in there. You have done great to get this far and you did say the first week was the hardest. I look forward to seeing you succeed.

  • Quite an in informed experiment. I’m a neuroscientist and have worked in sleep medicine. I doubt you doctor friend did more than an hour or two of sleep medicine training in his medical degree. Please read literature from the father of sleep medicine Dr William Dement.

    You are sure to end up with at best poor concentration and at worst hallucinations and a severely depressed immune system due to links between the SCN, immune end organs and the ANS.

  • as a precaution it may be worth getting a few of the LH/Giz team to take turns keeping an eye on you either physically or remotely, especially when you are travelling – at least until you’re finally acclimatised. Another precaution may be to check in with a doctor every few days to monitor things like blood pressure, response, et. al.

  • As a shift worker who spends decent chunks of time feeling so sleep deprived you feel physically sick, I can’t imagine trying to live with this type of sleeping pattern. Especially if you are limiting your caffeine intake. I don’t think I could survive without it. I’m definitely interested to see how things work out.

    • It’s well known that severely sleep deprived animals end up very sick and eventually die. One of the purported functions of sleep is to foster immune system function.

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