Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor an expert on sleep disorders. This article is for entertainment purposes and should not be consulted for medical advice. If you are suffering from a sleep disorder, please consult a specialist.
It’s January again, a time of year when many people resolve to improve themselves and their lives. Long-time Nintendo fans are no strangers to the subject of self improvement. From the Brain Age games to the recent Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo has a history spanning over a decade of releasing products to improve the health and cognitive well-being of their fan base. There was even a time not too long ago that the Big N toyed with the idea of building a third pillar to their business around the idea of quality-of-life consumer electronics. The only product in this line that we fans ever even heard about, however, was a device that was supposed to improve the user’s quality of sleep. As someone who has trouble maintaining a healthy sleep cycle, I was disappointed when they announced that the project had been canceled.
Now that I think about it, though, I’m not the only one with an odd circadian rhythm. One of Nintendo’s most iconic characters has exhibited strange and potentially worrisome sleep behaviors on multiple occasions: Mario. Ever since his landmark 3D debut, Super Mario 64, Mario has often been depicted as nodding off in a matter of minutes if left inactive. This leads to me wonder: how does he do it, and is it cause for concern?
A Brief Overview of Sleeping Disorders
Before we examine the sleep habits of the man himself, let’s take a second to talk about sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can be divided broadly into three categories: dyssomnia, parasomnia, and circadian rhythm disorders. Dyssomnia refers to a disorder that affects sleep itself, specifically falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up. Parasomnia refers to disorders involving actions occurring during sleep, such as sleep walking. Lastly, circadian rhythm disorders—as the name implies—are disorders pertaining to the rhythm of one’s sleep.
In Super Mario 64, Mario starts to nod off after a mere thirty-one seconds of inactivity. He’ll yawn, sit down, and quickly start snoring. After about a minute of this, Mario will shift to a more comfortable position. While the times involved may differ, this holds true for every explorative 3D Mario game. Moreover, he’ll do this even after intense physical activity. While recent research has shown that moderate physical activity doesn’t have much impact on one’s ability to fall asleep, the same studies have also shown that intense exercise, such as the sort Mario typically engages in (running, jumping, acrobatics), does impact one’s ability to fall asleep immediately afterward due to raised heart rate, body temperature, and the presence of hormones such as adrenaline in the blood stream. This suggests that Mario may have some form of dyssomnia.
In Super Mario 64, Mario starts to nod off after a mere thirty-one seconds of inactivity.
Additionally, in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey Mario will periodically mutter the name of varieties of pasta. That alone confirms Mario has a form of parasomnia: somniloquy. Admittedly, sleep talking is about as benign as sleeping disorders get and rarely affects the well-being of those who have it. As someone who’s witnessed it first hand, it’s more inconvenient to those sharing a room with the sleep-talker than the somniloquist himself.
Now, the first possible sleep disorder that comes to mind is narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is known for causing those that have it to pass out immediately. However, narcolepsy can strike at any time, during any activity, not just when the narcoleptic stops moving. Moreover, Mario doesn’t appear to be suffering from any of the other symptoms of narcolepsy. For instance, he doesn’t seem to suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness; most of the time he seems very energetic and fairly alert. Additionally, he doesn’t appear to suffer from hallucinations, nor does he seem to have difficulties staying asleep. I’ll just scratch narcolepsy off the list.
Let’s transition to circadian rhythm disorders for a moment, namely irregular sleep-wake rhythm. Sufferers of this disorder often take frequent naps throughout a 24-hour period, with very little consistency from day to day. This often results in not having a main, extended period of restful sleep at night. This is more likely, but I’ve never seen any indication that Mario has trouble getting to sleep at night, plus he still doesn’t seem to exhibit excessive daytime sleepiness, which is a common symptom.
Perhaps it’s the quality of his sleep? Mario does snore like a chainsaw, so maybe he has sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is caused when the airway is obstructed during sleep, essentially resulting in brief bouts of suffocation all throughout the night. Again, he doesn’t seem to be tired except when standing still. Because those with sleep apnea are constantly briefly woken up during the night, excessive daytime sleepiness is the major waking symptom of sleep apnea. Additionally, Mario’s snoring is very consistent and steady while he sleeps—almost like clockwork. If he had sleep apnea, we’d hear him snort, stop breathing, and then start back up.
Bug or Feature?
It would seem I’m running out possible sleep disorders. While there are many more out there, most don’t even come close to describing Mario’s ability to fall asleep at the drop of a floppy, red, monogrammed hat. Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps it’s not a disorder, after all. Perhaps it’s tactical decision.
Perhaps it’s not a disorder, after all. Perhaps it’s tactical decision.
Okay, hear me out. Back in World War II, the U.S. military noticed that the immense strain placed on pilots was often too much for them to handle, resulting in accidents and increased casualties during combat. Hoping to reduce their losses, the Navy developed a special method to help soldiers relax. It was so effective, troops were able to fall asleep in as little as two minutes, allowing them to get some extra rest whenever they could.
The method itself is relatively simple, too. All a person does is focus on relaxing every part of their body, one limb at a time if necessary, and then thinking peaceful, relaxing thought, or letting their mind go blank. So in other words, completely relax both physically and mentally. A simple trick, but effective. Tests showed that after six weeks of training, 96% of test subjects were able to fall asleep in two minutes or less, under any conditions.
So maybe when Mario realizes he has a little down time, he actively chooses to take the opportunity to get some rest. Think about it: when adventuring, Mario is constantly moving. The man almost never stands still when Peach is in danger. Moreover, despite his reputation as a lumbering brute, Bowser is a master of the element of surprise. Seriously, think back to how every Mario game starts: Bowser always launches a surprise attack and gets the drop on the heroes. Considering that Mario never knows when he’ll have to drop everything to run through fields, swim across oceans, climb mountains, and jump over everything that gets in his way, being able to identify and utilize any opportunity for rest would be an invaluable skill.
Being able to identify and utilize any opportunity for rest would be an invaluable skill to someone in Mario’s position.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that despite his peppy exterior, Mario could just be a lot more tired than he lets on. Back when I first started college, I’d often sit down to read through my text books thinking I was fully rested, only to lose consciousness ten minutes into my study session. Until Nintendo finally gives us that Mario life-simulator spin-off where we get to explore every facet of his daily life, I don’t we’ll ever have enough information to definitively say whether Mario is getting enough sleep. That said, I think it’s safe to say the evidence clearly shows that he’s not suffering from a disruptive sleeping disorder.
…unless all of that sleep talking about pasta is indicative of sleep eating. Hmm…