Last week, Kotaku Australia editor Mark Serrels set out to accomplish something massive: to adjust his sleep schedule from a solid eight hours per night into what's know as a polyphasic sleep schedule. That is, to go from sleeping eight hours a night, to having 20-minute naps every four hours. It took a week before the the experiment was called off, and what I witnessed during that time was one man's slow descent into madness.
The schedule that Mark would be keeping is known as the Uberman schedule. It comes from the German word Ubermensch and means "overman", hence the sleeping like Superman experiment.
Day One: Smiles All Round
After consulting his doctor, his friends and his wife, Serrels brought his sleeping bag and pillow into the office, set himself up a little nap area in our test lab (very apt) and started on his schedule.
From the very first night, though, Serrels found himself demoralised, and it showed the next day. This was the start of a worrying trend that would quickly accelerate. A trend that would bottom out in four days time and leave the once-buoyant Mark Serrels a tired, demoralised husk of his former self.
Mark posted video diaries between days two and four, and watching them in quick succession, it's terrifying to see what a lack of sleep does to a person.
He describes a difficulty stringing sentences together, unsettling dreams during sleep, symptoms that can be likened to drunkenness and, of course, the intense exhaustion that goes along with sleeping for two hours a day.
Watching an exhausted person go to sleep for 20 minutes, only to wake up almost as exhausted as they were before they went to bed is really disheartening. You just want to help them out with a coffee.
As the days went on, Mark became distant and he said that micro sleeps were a constant problem.
Day Five: The Crash
Serrels crashed out of his sleeping like Superman experiment in spectacular fashion at the end of the week. To this day, there are still two whole hours of Mark's life that he can't remember. Was he asleep or awake? Did he go outside? Was he moving around his house? Nobody will know.
The scariest development was how he had started doing things without even knowing it. That's how exhausted he was. At the end of the day five video blog, an alarm goes off on Mark's iPhone. He doesn't know if he set it and why a week later.
Can It Be Done?
Mark Serrels is a determined guy. If he wants to get something done, he's in both the mental state and the physical shape to achieve his goals. He's got mental willpower like Iron Men have strength on a kneeboard, and he still failed.
The experiment was too dangerous to continue, and it was a relief to know he had stopped.
This isn't to say that a successful polyphaisic sleep state can't be achieved. Mark over the course of his experiment spoke to a few people who achieved a Superman-like schedule and stuck to it, so it can be done.
But should it be done? In my (non-medical) opinion, it's something that needs intense thought before undertaking. Definitely consult a doctor before doing it.
Polyphaisic sleep is a noble idea, but it seems like something that would only suit those needing to do it for a short amount of time. University students cramming for exams or assessments, shift workers looking to pull a double or someone with no signifiant other who will spend the night waiting for you to come to bed.
Have you tried polyphaisic sleep? Did you succeed?