Every second Saturday between the hours of midnight and 4:20 am, 26-year-old Mikkel Nielsen is tortured with loud noises, flashing lights, and electric shocks. With a camera pointed at his cartoon bedding, the Dane tries to sleep while around 1,000 people watch live on Twitch. Typically, around a hundred of these viewers donate money during the stream—the amount donated affects Nielson’s environment. For $1, viewers can type a message that a bot will read aloud to Nielson, waking him up. For $95, they can zap him via a shock bracelet wrapped around his wrist.
Nielsen is an “interactive sleep streamer,” a type of content creator burgeoning on Twitch and TikTok. In 2020, WIRED covered the rise of sleep streamers—but these early adopters simply filmed themselves slumbering peacefully, a phenomenon that seems quaintly antiquated once you’ve watched a man scream and punch his mattress while a high pitched whine rings through his speakers. This new cadre of sleep streamers don’t really sleep. They rig their rooms so that every online donation corresponds to an action—more often than not, one that is loud and annoying.
An Australian TikToker named Jakey Boehm is the sleeper of the moment—in May alone, he earned $34,000 during his streams. Other creators, such as YouTube’s “Asian Andy,” a pioneer of the format, boast about how much they earn in videos like, “HOW I MADE $16,000 WHILE SLEEPING FOR 7 HOURS.” Of course, they’ve inspired copycats. My TikTok For You page has recently fed me a slew of amateur sleep streamers—from the man with a flour-filled balloon above his head to the woman who will allegedly have a bucket of water thrown over her for just shy of $150. One man is currently begging for 1,000 followers so he can start sleep streaming. (TikTok doesn’t allow users to livestream until they reach this threshold.)
For viewers, being able to rob a streamer of sleep is hilarious, but sleepers are drawn to further extremes to keep audiences entertained. While Boehm initially offered viewers only the opportunity to control his printer, his set-up has become increasingly elaborate—donations can now trigger a bubble machine and an inflatable tube man. How does it feel to earn money while losing sleep? What is life really like for successful sleep streamers—and should we be worried that they’re inspiring unsuccessful ones?
“Every time I do sleep stream, I’m laughing my ass off every single night because of sleep deprivation,” says Nielsen, who has nearly 1.4 million Twitch, TikTok, and YouTube subscribers combined. Nielsen estimates that he’s only ever had around six minutes of uninterrupted rest on a stream—and even then, he’s never managed to fully fall asleep. He ends his streams at 4:20 am, “plays a weed song,” processes his footage until around 5:30 am, and then sleeps until noon.
Nielsen uses the Lumia Stream program to connect his smart lights to his social media, and viewers regularly wake him up with a bright burst. The program If This Then That also enables him to connect different devices so that, for example, a donation on Twitch can zap his electric shock bracelet or blast out a YouTube video. Once, a neighbor’s boyfriend knocked on Nielsen’s door at 3 am to make a noise complaint, but after that he bought $200 of booze for each of his neighbors to apologize—he hasn’t received a complaint since.