Thoughts on polyphasic sleep 20 Sep 2013


Polyphasic sleep. I’ve been toying with it for years now, making half-hearted jabs at adaptation since high school. It all started with me discovering Uberman and shortly thereafter the Ubersleep book. I ignored all advice against trying Uberman at 16, and lasted 3 days before succumbing to sleep deprivation. I tried again less than a year later and failed 2 days in, then failed 3 days in at 17. Add a few more half-hearted attempts, and we arrive to today.

1. Sleep 2h a day 2. ?? 3. Profit!

The idea of sleeping for 2 hours a day has always fascinated me. I found myself running low on time in my last year of HS, and after a bit of googling discovered power naps. I would sleep for 20 minutes in the middle of the day, and continue powering through my workload. This got me thinking about adding more naps throughout my day, and I eventually arrived at Uberman.

Uberman (which many would argue is not sustainable) allows one to sleep for only 2 hours a day by taking 20 minute naps every 3 hours and 40 minutes. Long story short, after the initial hellish period of adaptation, your body begins to go into REM sleep during those naps. You get some SWS as well, but REM is the important part (from my past research). Once you get through adaptation and your body adjusts to the schedule, you begin feeling rested (more so than normally). Similar to Uberman, Everyman 3 (2 and 4 being other flavors) and Biphasic are alternative polyphasic schedules. Uberman is the most hardcore polyphasic schedule (Dymaxion is harder, but also impossible for the majority of the population).

Dat sleep dep

Adaptation is extremely unpleasant; on my last serious attempt, I failed because of sleep de-induced amnesia. My alarms would wake me, but for minutes after waking I couldn’t remember who I was, or what I was meant to be doing. I was beyond discomfort; I forgot to feel uncomfortable, and would just zombie around. Quite the unique feeling, a ways beyond unpleasant.

Monophasically, I’m a 9-hour kinda guy. 8.5 hours work similarly well, whereas 8 hours is right on the cusp of sub-optimal. 7 hours, and I feel nearly hungover. So that got me thinking about making another attempt at going polyphasic. Not necessarily Uberman; Everyman 3 seems flexible enough to be practical, and from the large numbers of people that have successfully adapted (as opposed to Uberman), it seems doable even for me.

Sleep? Or Party?

I decided to switch to a Biphasic schedule yesterday, then slowly phase into Everyman 3 by adding naps and reducing the core. I slept 5 hours last night, napped for 1.5h before noon, and for all intents and purposes was ready to keep going.

Then the possibility of partying came into play. That, and a mis-fortunately positioned meeting tomorrow, right at the start of my nap. Of course, I could simply move the nap forwards by 30 minutes. That doesn’t solve the missing core tomorrow evening though. I could simply not go partying, but eh, not so appealing. Work hard party hard, no? That’s when you say ‘Yes’.

Monophasic. Works.

That got me thinking (that, and an ensuing discussion with friends/colleagues). Situations like this don’t come up often in life (temporally misplaced meeting, night out partying, etc) but when they do they need to be handled properly. Going out for a night of drinking twice a month means gaining 4-6 days of sub-optimal awake time. Add meetings/other social events that break up naps, and you could potentially lose a week per month simply recovering from sleep deprivation.

Of course, if one adapts to a polyphasic schedule, then optimally one should have a very low possibility of such events, and the schedule should offer enough flexibility to accommodate them. For me, sadly enough, even E3 seems impractical. Business partners won’t wait for me to nap in the middle of a meeting.

I still want to adapt to E3, eventually even Uberman, but at the moment I can’t. At the same time, there are many other areas in my life that I can improve on. Diet and productivity (I’ve pretty much nailed productivity already, cough cough) being the two biggest. So, while I initially wanted this post to document my journey towards Everyman 3, instead it’s documenting a mini realization to not do so.

By all means, pursue Everyman 3, possibly even Uberman if you think you have the willpower to survive adaptation. Just ensure you have improved in the other, simpler areas of your day to day life first. Also, party hard, work hard :D

  • “If things seem under control, you’re just not going fast enough” Mario Andretti