Laser vision, super speed, killer six-pack: Being a superhero has a lot of perks, but good work-life balance certainly isn’t one of them. Between holding down down a secret-identity desk job and staying up all night fighting crime, there’s little-to-no downtime. “But,” you might think, “they’re superheroes. Why do they need to rest?” Well, not all of them need a full buffet of Zzzs to save the day, but even the mightiest of the spandex-clad fall prey to sleep deprivation. Just like normal people, superheroes vary in their rest requirements. Some never need sleep, while others nod off for days or even years at a time. In honor of this week’s San Diego Comic Con, we dug up the habits of some famous heroes to see how they size up. So put on your finest spandex pajamas and read on.
Although the Dark Knight has no formal superpowers (other than being filthy rich), he’s also not comparable to an ordinary human. In addition to his freakish strength and endurance, Batman doesn’t seem to require sleep the way the rest of us do. As the panel below illustrates, he’s immune to the effects of a wonky biological clock and, much to Alfred’s chagrin, stays awake for days at a time. When Batman feels like sleeping, he takes a power nap — or, as he would put it, a “problem-solving micro-sleep.” For longer lie-downs, he’s “mastered the skill” of compressing a full night’s rest into a little more than three hours, an ability also perfected by notorious supervillain Donald Trump.
Once upon a time, Batman’s sleeping habits were the subject of a national morality panic. In the 1950s, Dr. Fredric Wertham led a crusade against comics, which he blamed for juvenile delinquency. He described Batman and Robin’s relationship as “a wish-dream of two homosexuals living together.” While Wertham was testifying against comic books in the Senate, a new Batman comic came out, with this opening panel:
As Glen Weldon points out, the comic featured more and more characters (Batgirl, Batwoman, Bat-Ape) living at Wayne Manor in following decades, ensuring that Batman and Robin wouldn’t get to spend as much time alone — or in bed.
As we’ve discussed, Superman’s mental health depends on the restorative power of dreams. Physically, he of the blue and red cape can get by without sleep, because he derives energy comes from the yellow rays of our sun. Mentally, however, sleeplessness can wear on him. Always ready to one-up Batman, Superman once went three whole weeks without sleeping and suffered a personality breakdown. The exhausted Superman took took on a third identity that tried to assassinate Clark Kent. He only recovered after some good sleep and advice from a friendly fellow alien.
Between fighting crime, going to school and taking pictures for the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker is as sleep-deprived as any busy teenager. And when he’s free from obligations, Peter, like anyone his age, logs large chunks of rest.
If James Cameron had his way, however, things would have taken a turn for the more...pubescent. In 1991, the “Titanic” director was set to helm and write a major Spiderman motion picture. And Cameron described a cringe-worthy wake-up scene in which Peter Parker discovers he is stuck to the bed sheet. After a bit of hemming and hawing, however, Spidey realizes his nocturnal emission emerged from his wrist-based web shooters.
Thankfully, financial problems kept this web-slinging Spidey story from going into production, but the entire cringey script is available here.
As a divine being and whatnot, Thor doesn’t need to worry about sleep. Well, except for one day a year, that is. Thor’s daddy Odin sleeps for 24 hours straight once a year to regenerate the superpowers that make him the strongest of all Norse gods. In the comics and movies, Odin’s yearly sleep is a plot device that leaves Asgard vulnerable to enemies, forcing Thor to prove his mettle by defending the kingdom without his overpowered dad. In one run of comics, Thor inherits Odin’s powers and has to take the big sleep himself.
Green Lantern and Flash
Anyone who wears a Green Lantern power ring can conjure up whatever their mind desires and go without sleep. Same goes for anyone who taps into the Speed Force to become the Flash, save for the whole mind-conjuring thing. Unfortunately, there isn't a ton to say about these guys, except that, much like folks who try their hands at intense polyphasic sleep schedules, they have a lot of time on their hands. Maybe we’ll find out more in the upcoming Justice League movie, which looks like it’ll focus quite a bit on everyone’s favorite D.C. B-listers.
Much like Thor, Wonder Woman is a god-like being, but she has a more human relationship with sleep. In the comics, she has a palatial bedroom in her hometown of Themyscira, so we can assume she spends at least some time bedding down. Her alter-ego Diana Prince also appears to have a bedroom of her own, which later becomes the site of a regrettable affair with Superman. In one plotline, she sleeps for an entire year after the magician-detective John Constantine casts a spell on her. One thing the comics never reveal, however, is whether or not Wonder Woman suffers from invisible jet lag.
Tony Stark seems to share Batman’s love of an ultra-compact sleep cycle. He uses the extra time to tinker away at his many metallic objects of affection. It seems efficient...for a while. In “Iron Man 3," Colonel Rhodes tells Tony that his friends are concerned about his rest habits. Tony tells him “Einstein slept three hours a year — look what he did!” Well, Einstein actually slept ten hours a day, but at least his retort sounds smart. And regardless, Stark is dedicated to the all-nighter lifestyle.
Robert Downey, Jr. reportedly based his character on real-life workaholic Elon Musk, who works 100 hours a week but still manages to get “almost exactly” 6 hours a night, a detail that might have slipped through the cracks of his research. Each movie features a montage of Tony staying up all night in his workshop. After Pepper Potts asks him to join her in bed, he says “You go to bed and I come down here, I do what I know, I tinker.” Dude just can’t stop tinkering. Of course, Stark’s insomnia isn’t entirely a choice; he suffers from PTSD after getting attacked by inter-dimensional aliens in “The Avengers.”
Steve Rogers is one of the most illustrious sleepers in the Marvel universe. After crashing a plane in the North Atlantic Ocean, Cap freezes in a block of ice and wakes up decades later (20 years in the comics, 70 years in the Chris Evans movies). Why didn’t he die when his body froze? Well, it just so happens that the plane he crashed was carrying a cargo of top-secret nerve gas from the evil Nazi organization HYDRA, which was designed to put anyone who inhaled it in a state of suspended animation. What a coincidence. Is suspended animation the same thing as sleep? Maybe. But when Captain America wakes up in the present, Nick Fury tells him that he’s been “asleep.” So there.