I’ve completed my first day on the polyphasic sleep schedule, napping for 20-30 minutes every four hours. It’s been almost 36 hours since I last awoke from a full night’s sleep. “Day” is a relative term on this schedule, since the daytime sleeping schedule is no different than the nighttime one. I’m not sure whether to think of today as “day 1″ (the day after my first night of sleep deprivation) or “day 2″ (the second day after I officially started this sleeping pattern). I opted to call it “day 1.”
No serious problems thus far aside from some fatigue, lower concentration, and occasional sleepiness. I’ve stuck to the plan, always beginning my sleep periods within 10 minutes of the target times and never oversleeping.
Yesterday seemed tougher than it should have been, as I experienced some tiredness even though I was initially getting more sleep than usual by beginning the nap schedule after having a regular night’s sleep. It could have been that the naps were interfering with my usual daily rhythm, but I suspect the effect was largely psychosomatic. I think my mind was getting a head start on this experiment and inducing feelings of sleep deprivation early in order to “get on with the show.” Supposedly it’s the sleep deprivation that brings about the adaptation.
Last night was semi-difficult, with lots of sleepiness and fatigue between the 1am and 5am naps. 5am was my normal waking time. I was only semi-functional both mentally and physically during this period. I spent some of this time catching up on my backlog of magazines to read (all caught up now). I also did some food preparation by chopping veggies (carrot and celery sticks). I also think making a bunch of interesting recipes would be a good way to pass the time when I’m most fatigued, since cooking is engaging but not overly fatiguing in short bursts (mentally or physically). My wife and I have many gourmet cookbooks, and she’s also in the process of publishing her own vegan cookbook with about 200 recipes submitted by her site’s readers — her book is at the printer right now. So I have lots of interesting recipes to choose from, enough to keep me well occupied.
Things became easier once I made it past the 9am nap, and I felt alert enough to pump out a podcast. I’m sure I could have done a better job if I’d had more sleep, but hopefully I was coherent enough to get the point across. That was the last real mental “to do” I have planned between now and Halloween. All other major mental work during this time is unscheduled and optional for the next 10 days. In fact, my schedule is pretty empty all the way through November 6th, and I’ll aim to keep it that way in order to have enough time to let this process play out. In some ways it’s like a vacation, albeit a pretty twisted one. What kind of person takes a vacation from sleep?
I’ve received some advice-filled emails from people who’ve previously tried polyphasic sleep. I appreciate the pointers. If you’ve tried it yourself and have advice to offer, please let me know. As far as I can tell though, none of the people who’ve contacted me thus far were able to stick with a polyphasic schedule for more than a few days, so they never made it to the supposed adaptation point. While much of their advice seems sound, I’m taking it with a grain of salt, since those ideas alone apparently weren’t sufficient to ensure success. Sleep deprivation is strange territory, so even advice that sounds reasonable and intelligent could actually be the very thing that yields failure. The proper way to manage this process isn’t obvious, but I’m going with my intuition when all else fails.
I agree that it’s important to keep busy because doing nothing makes it too easy to focus on the fatigue, and that only makes it worse. But I don’t feel capable of working a major mental project during this experience, and I’m also concerned about overloading myself physically. As far as exercise is concerned, I’m doing a fairly light routine that includes 60-minute walks plus about 30 minutes of yoga per day. These aren’t strenuous, but they help to pass the time. As previously mentioned, I think doing some gourmet cooking would be one of the best activities, asssuming I’m extra cautious about not chopping my fingers off. I can also listen to podcasts or music while cooking, so that may help keep me engaged. Repetitive tasks like peeling and chopping carrots or making banana chips in the dehydrator seem like good activities — they’re mentally and physically easy, but still engaging enough to keep my mind off sleep.
I find that my main goal now is to find creative ways to pass the time until the next nap. I’m not trying to be super-productive during the adaptation period. I’m just taking it one cycle at a time. I only have about 3.5 hours of waking time between the end of one nap and the beginning of the next. Planning activities one cycle at a time is working well. It feels more stressful if I try to plan 2 or more cycles ahead. That kind of thing makes sense to do later, once I’ve made the adaptation and feel more alert and energetic. But for right now, my intuition tells me the one cycle at a time approach is best. Just make it to the next nap. This way I only need to concern myself with the current cycle, keeping my mind focused on achievable short-term goals instead of overloading my mind with the possibility of days of sleep deprivation. Staying in the present moment makes it a bit easier to handle — that’s one of the lessons I learned from Navy SEALs who successfully made it through hell week, which involves hard labor and little or no sleep for about 5 days. Those who made it through said the secret was staying focused entirely on the current task with nary a thought about what was next. Those who were thinking about the next 24 hours didn’t make it.
I’ll aim to continue making daily log posts of my progress, especially in the hopes they may be of benefit to others who wish to try polyphasic sleep. Plus typing these logs also helps pass the time until my next nap.
If all goes well, I’ll only be getting 20-30 hours of sleep between now and Halloween. Inconceivable!