Ask LH: How Can I Prepare Myself For Extreme Food And Sleep Deprivation?

Hey Lifehacker, I'm about to go on an extreme exercise regime unlike anything I've ever tried before. It involves as many as five days of complete food and sleep deprivation following a couple of weeks of pre-fatigue training. How can I prepare myself for this exercise? Thanks, Mister Masochist

Exhausted picture from Shutterstock

Dear MM,

Five days of complete food and sleep deprivation? That doesn't sound healthy at all. If this is for some kind of fitness camp, you might want to carefully check their credentials. If it's a self-imposed exercise regime, definitely discuss the specifics with your GP before getting started.

As luck would have it, our Allure Media colleague (and self-confessed fitness freak) Mark Serrels has dabbled in both these endurance experiments for a series of Lifehacker articles. Back in 2012, Mark attempted the "Uberman Sleep Schedule", which saw him attempt to survive off two hours of sleep per day for an entire month. Instead of one eight-hour block of sleep, he had six 20-minute naps spread evenly throughout the day.

Mark managed to keep this up for a total of six days before collapsing in an exhausted, sleep-deprived heap. During the experiment, he experienced everything from unexplained memory blackouts to actual hallucinations. (You can read the whole fascinating series here.)

In in his own words, here are some of the things that Mark realised he did wrong:

  • I tried to sleep in a reasonably well lit office
  • I ate too much sugar at times
  • I played too many video games
  • I set alarms one at a time, instead of planning in advance
  • I didn’t plan enough things to do with the extra time at my disposal

If you're going to be sleep deprived for five days on end, our advice is to memorise the above and do the exact opposite. You can find plenty of additional tips for staying awake via this handy infographic.

In 2013, Mark went on an extreme juice fast in a bid to lose 5kg in seven days. His diet was restricted to apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, lemons, grapes, spinach, kale, celery and any other vegetables or fruits that can be successfully stuck in a juicer.

Interestingly, Mark discovered that he didn't particularly miss solid foods after the first few days of fasting. Even being subjected to a roast family BBQ failed to break him. In short, he found himself less attached to food. (Read the rest of Mark's Juicehacker series here.)

To an extent I’ve managed to reset my relationship to food. I've allowed myself to ruminate instead of simply reacting. That’s a positive that I know will result in better food choices when I leave this diet behind. I’m fully aware that a juice diet isn’t really sustainable in the long term, I’m aware that it has flaws, but it’s been a worthy challenge and one that’s provided me with valuable lessons — and that’s what I’m hoping will help keep the weight off.

If you're going to be denied food for five days, our advice is to wind things down in the weeks leading up to your fast. Start by removing sugary treats from your diet and keep striking foods off the list until you're down to the bare essentials (fruits, cereals, vegetables and a small amount of meat.)

This way, it won't be such a shock to your system when you cut out everything. Naturally, you should also look into effective dietary supplements to stop your body from completely disintegrating. Good luck — I have a feeling you're going to need it.

If any readers have extreme exercise tips of their own, let MM know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    It involves as many as five days of complete food and sleep deprivation following a couple of weeks of pre-fatigue trainingI have no idea what this person thinks they're going to achieve, unless they're going through one of those 'drop you in the middle of the jungle and see if you survive a week alone' type exercises. I don't know of any scientific reason to deprive your body of food and sleep as part of an exercise regime.

      Yes, this sounds like all sorts of crazy.

      Selection for special forces? If so, thinking about preparation this late is probably not a winning strategy.

    Food - carb up baby
    Sleep - get yourself a prescription for modafnil, she removes all the cognitive impairment of sleep deprivation.

    This is the exercise here:


      If it is Shaggy Ridge, then it's part of Army officer training at Duntroon. It's a tough week spent in the bush doing military training on absolutely minimal food and sleep, and will include patrols, pack marches, decision making exercises and much more. The important thing is that this week is part of 12 to 18 months of broader military training. It's as much about finding people's mental and emotional limits as their physical ones. It's not insane, and it should be carefully monitored and risk-managed. So, it is not some new lose-weight-quickly-and-gain-insights-into-the-universe fitness trend, nor is it quite as difficult as special forces selection (which I think goes over several weeks and requires months of individual training beforehand).

    Book in for the psychologist straight after. Probably need them more.

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