Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Polyphasic Sleep

Recently, I've encountered stories of "polyphasic sleep." Polyphasic sleep is, in general, the belief that one can get by with 2-4 hours of sleep per day by napping for 10-30 minutes every x hours. It's been hyped by belief that Leonardo Da Vinci slept in such a matter as well as Thomas Jefferson (at times) and Nikola Tesla (among others!). In addition to saving time, it was also said to allow one to be more creative (like Da Vinci!), learn faster and have more time abound claims of feeling more energetic.

Naturally, I was intrigued and even planned for my own trial into this. I've always had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with sleep. I'd be pretty angry if I slept too late because then that meant lost time (this being before I could just stay up later to make up for the fact that I wasn't tired), and also didn't like that I couldn't just go to sleep when needed and get my full night's sleep out of the way. Mostly, it's not so much time that I hunger for more time these days as optimizing my brain in some fashion. Being able to learn faster or better could really help me out, and I've taken many different measures (sporadically, and with not enough dedication to any one of them) to try to increase my mental efficiencies.

I really don't like the feeling of being tired. To me, it's one of the worst feelings in the world and I've turned off alarm clocks manyatime in the past without even remembering that I did so the next day, skipping any non-work/non-school obligations. I can be a different person "in the morning" when someone tries to wake me up, I'll be fairly rude or inconsiderate about not getting up. I remember getting some 3 day weekend off in high school, and believing I'd sleep through that extra day, I had my Mom wake me up early that day, or rather, I didn't tell her there was no school that day, so she'd wake me up like normal. I woke up in the afternoon, as usual, and asked my Mom why she didn't wake me up. Apparently she did, and without thinking about it (or I did, but it was the other me that speaks for me when I'm asleep) I yelled at her not to wake me up because there was no school that day. I didn't feel proud about how I treated my Mom for something like that.

That's the "hate" part of sleep, but I've also quite often felt a fondness for getting sleep. I've always felt better after a long session of sleep, but I can count the number of naps I've had on one hand, as long as those naps don't include the "naps" that turned into 8 hour sleeping sessions unintentionally. After watching some sleep documentary in High School that lavished that one's work and obligations would feel lighter after sleep, "Ironically, after spending more time in sleep, I felt like I had more time to devote to blah blah blah", so I've always been sure to get a lot of sleep and didn't view sleeping for 9 or 10 hours as a bad thing. It's at the 12 hour mark where I draw the line though.

If I slept for 12+ hours, I wouldn't be happy. I'd usually have a headache from it, not feel like doing anything (though sometimes I'd feel like going back to sleep!) and in general just didn't feel good. Telling me that I was playing "catch up" for all the 5-7 hour sleep binges in High School seemed like so much BS because that was years and years ago and I've gotten way more than enough to 150% compensate that by now. Don't tel me that.

So I was a bit reluctant to just jump into attempting polyphasic sleep. Not because I avoid things that could mess me up, I have a few of those things going on right now or on the back burner at least. I'd say it's a mixture of permanent screw up (don't know if I might get something like Epstein-Barr or narcolepsy from sleep deprivation, sleep's not my intellectual strong suit... yet) and the fact that for me, me personally, it'd be monumentally hard to do. First I'd need a wristwatch that tracked every 3 hours and then beeped, and then timed 10-20 minutes or whatever and was sufficient to wake me up.

Well, I could get the timer by either finding an app for my Droid phone or... make one with several weeks of learning how to make apps, but I still can't wake myself up with sound and light anymore. I've slept through hours of a REALLY loud alarm before, and it's starting to take physical confrontation to wake me up for really really important things with not-much-sleep now. Also, if this made me less efficient, I'd want to save the "acclimation period," the period where you are getting used to this sleep schedule where you're drowsy all the time and sluggish, for a vacation. A vacation like the one coming two weeks from now.

So, I've been waiting until then to even really think about starting this. Even though it'd help quite a few things if I can save time, it's the learning acceleration I'm after, and even with these claims, my faith in this working isn't so high.

Just yesterday, though, I read alllll of this article about polyphasic sleep. I'll be honest and say that I went into it thinking "yep, you say that, but I'll discover it for myself when I try it" and even questioned some parts of the scientific integrity of the author (no offense) when he/she wrote

Sometimes the blog just ends abruptly without a conclusion. Rarely does the "polynapper" admit defeat, or concludes on the infeasibility of polyphasic sleep. Few, disingenuously, claim the successful adaptation to the sleeping schedule and go on to blogging on other subjects.

I mean, how would he (I'm assuming it's a guy for now) know that the schedule is legitimately not working? One can't just say "nope, it's not working even if you say it is!". He does say quite a bit about the mechanics of sleep and why polyphasic sleep wouldn't work by our current understanding, but what if there is something to this we just don't know about yet?

However, even with that in my mind, it just doesn't seem worth it to pursue. For anyone else, their chances of getting acclimated are some percent (if there's a chance at all), but for me and my habits and my NEED TO SLEEP FOREVER it's effectively zero percent. As much as I like experimenting with such promethean potential changes to my life, I just think this will be a collossal waste of time, especially after I read some more the lines from the end of this publication about the failed experiment blogs. I've kept some experiment logs (but not blogs... YET) about the... >.> other things I do which could potentially ruin me, and they ringed a certain "I've heard this before" note with me in that I've written such disappointed lines before. I'd quote them, but they're conveniently at the end of the article in the "doubts" and "the end" sections mostly.

The author says that in 2005 (5 years ago), there was more rumor milling of polyphase sleep, but I haven't really heard of it until recently. I forgot where at first, but then adult swim ran some sort of bump about Da Vinci, imploring the viewer to do the same and, what else, use the extra time to watch their channel. I'm not sure if all the talk about polyphasic sleep has died down that much, it may be time for a revival.


  1. I'm still doing a limited amount of polyphasic sleep.

    The trick is that it can take up a lot of mental effort just to schedule caffeine, sleep, food, and exercise properly.

    At my best, I can get by on three hours of sleep out of 24. It's vastly easier to get by on five or six hours out of 24.

    Rather than micro-managing my time for three hours a day and sleeping for three hours, I prefer to sleep for five hours a day and not worry too much. However, this topic tends to attract a lot of haters, so be prepared for hate mail.

  2. Here's a typical sleep schedule, for me:
    120 minutes of sleep, ending 0620
    82 minutes of sleep, ending 1229
    140 minutes of sleep, ending 2030

    5.7 hours of sleep, with zero effort and zero attention to my alarm arrangements.

    If I'm willing to set up my computer as a multiple-alarm clock and watch my caffeine intake, I can easily do less than 30 minutes of sleep every four hours, i.e. less than three hours of sleep out of 23 hours.

  3. I forgot to mention -
    when my caffeine, exercise, and food levels are perfectly balanced, I like doing a schedule that goes like this:

    0400-0530 sleep
    1200-1330 sleep
    2000-2130 sleep

    The trick is that I usually can't do a workout of perfect intensity every day. So my energy level varies depending on how hard I work out, or whether I skip a workout day.

    4.5 hours of sleep, broken into three 1.5 hour segments, is pretty easy IMHO. I didn't like Steve Pavlina's idea of 2 hours broken into 6 naps of 20 minutes each.

  4. Interesting, those were quickly-came comments compared to usually postings. Thank you for the advice, but it may have to be a while before I can even give it a proper month long try.

  5. Men, it is time to make our voices heard.

  6. Sounds like it would wind up being mentally exhausting to me. I've read that you don't even start getting the brain-refreshing benefits of sleep until about 45 minutes into your sleep.

    I also hate sleep deprivation,it makes me feel like absolute shit and I start hallucinating fairly early (about 26 or 27 hours with no sleep) which freaks me out because I'll be dodging shadows coming at my face while doing important things like driving, my short -term memory suffers,it's hell.

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