Polyphasic Sleep – Response to Reader Feedback

October 26th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Now to address some questions/issues that readers raised with respect to my polyphasic sleep experiment.

More Details on Naps: On my polyphasic schedule, I spend about 15-20 minutes asleep during each nap. I set my countdown timer alarm for 30 minutes right when I lie down. It usually takes me 5-10 minutes to fall asleep, and currently I’m waking up about 5 minutes before the alarm goes off (on average). My record so far for lying down, falling asleep, having a dream, and waking up and remembering the dream is 13 minutes. I block a full 30 minutes for the naps because of the time it takes to get in and out of bed and to fall asleep. But the actual net sleep time is only about two hours per day total. It’s pretty amazing.

Core Sleep: Core sleep is a period of longer rest, often 3-4 hours, that you could include as part of a polyphasic sleep schedule. For example, you might have a core sleep period from 2-5am, and then three or four shorter naps spread throughout the day. Some people argue that this allows you to get some amount of all the phases of sleep that you’d get on a monophasic schedule, since you’re getting at least a couple of those full 90-minute sleep cycles in each day. Other people say that REM sleep is the only essential phase of sleep, so core sleep isn’t necessary. You also have the option of doing a longer sleep “reboot” by sleeping 8+ hours in a row once every few weeks. I think adding a core sleep period might be an interesting variation to try down the road, but I imagine it would be harder to adapt to polyphasic sleep if you include core sleep from the very beginning. I think you’ll be more likely to have problems with oversleeping, and the adaptation may take longer because you’re still experiencing those full 90-minute sleep cycles each day instead of wiping them out completely. This isn’t just my opinion but also the observation of others who’ve tried including core sleep from the beginning — oversleeping is very common, which makes adaptation take longer. Pure polyphasic may look harder, but I think it’s actually easier.

Longer Sleep Periods: Would it be easier to try polyphasic sleep with longer naps, such as 40 minutes each? Not necessarily. In fact, what I’ve read thus far suggests it would actually be harder. If you sleep longer than about 20 minutes, you’ll pass out of REM and into other (deeper) phases of sleep. When you awaken from REM sleep, you’ll feel refreshed and alert. But if you wake up during another phase of sleep such as delta sleep, you’ll feel groggy or drowsy. A 40-minute nap might give you some extra REM sleep, but you’d likely sleep past the REM phase and wake up tired, which can mess up that whole cycle. When your alarm goes off, you’ll just want to go back to sleep. So I think your risk of oversleeping would be much greater. Do not assume that more sleep equals more energy and alertness. This is definitely not the case at all, even with monophasic sleep. Sleep is a lot more about quality than quantity.

Shifting Sleep Times: How much flexibility do you have in shifting around the nap times? I don’t know. I’ve been pretty strict about the nap times so far, always taking them within +/- 15 minutes of the target times, and I’ve never missed a planned nap (although I added some unplanned ones in the early morning as I mentioned in previous log updates). But I often feel I could delay a nap by at least an hour. I wonder what would happen if I stuck with six naps total, but clustered more of them in the early morning when I experience some drowsiness and spaced them further apart during the day when I’m normally alert. I haven’t tried this yet but probably will at some point. I suspect this sleeping method can be made more flexible with practice. But that will require some experimentation, and it could certainly vary from person to person just as monophasic sleeping habits do. This could take months of trial and error. I’m still seeing changes each day, so I believe I’m on the backside of the adaptation phase. I want to get a sense of my new baseline before I do further experimenting.

Practicality: This is perhaps the #1 concern for people seriously considering polyphasic sleep. Some people just don’t have lifestyles that can accommodate it. Your options in this case should be obvious: 1) Stick to your current routine, and forget about polyphasic sleep; 2) Alter your current routine to accommodate polyphasic sleep; 3) Compromise (try variations on polyphasic sleep like adding core sleep to reduce the number of naps, and make some adjustments to your routine). I chose option 2. There’s no right or wrong answer. By definition polyphasic sleep means you’ll be taking multiple naps during a 24-hour period and spending more time awake at night. But you’ll also gain several extra productive hours per day. So you have to decide if that trade-off makes sense for you. I still haven’t decided this for myself for the long term, as I’m currently only committed to doing this as an experiment (at least through Halloween). But right now I’m very much in favor of continuing. I won’t make any long-term decisions until I see things stabilize. In terms of practicality though, realize that you can always shift back to monophasic patterns for a while if necessary. I’ve heard that re-adapting back to polyphasic sleep is easier the second time around.

Family Adjustments: I found it easy to work this out with my family because of my particular situation. My wife and I both work from home each day, so it wasn’t a difficult adjustment to make schedule-wise. During the day I pop into the bedroom as needed to take naps, and at night I nap on the couch. It is a bit of a relationship adjustment though. The strangest part is that now there’s this long period where I’m awake but my wife and kids are sleeping. It feels like the whole family is in hibernation. I’m used to spending each day at home/work with my wife, so it’s odd to have such a big stretch of time when I don’t see her. We spend the same amount of time together, but now it’s a smaller percentage of my total waking hours. It’s also weird not sleeping in the bed with my wife at night. I do consider that a downside, but given how much time we normally spend together (a lot!), it’s not as bad as it would be for some people. I think the biggest adjustment for me is that I now have a long stretch of personal/alone time at night. Whether this is a good thing for you or not depends on your situation and your values. Personally I quite enjoy it, and I’m just beginning to consider all the things I can do with this extra time. It’s practically the equivalent of an extra full-time job.

Too Weird: Yes, this is definitely weird. No doubt about that. As I’ve mentioned previously, it feels even weirder to be doing it. Some people worry that if they were to adopt a polyphasic sleep schedule, it would distance them from the rest of humanity. I guess it depends on how much you value the safety-in-numbers, sheep-following-sheep approach to life. If that’s how you’re committed to living, then polyphasic sleep isn’t for you. I happen to prefer the “Go where there is no path and leave a trail” manner of living, so doing weird stuff like this feels perfectly normal to me. In this case there was at least a very narrow, poorly lit path that could be followed up to a certain point. Weirdness is relative though. If I keep this up for a year, it will seem perfectly normal to me. In fact, it’s already beginning to seem more sensible to me than monophasic sleep. It seems a heck of a lot more efficient for one. I’m beginning to think other people are weird for spending so much time lying in bed each day. ;)

Health Risks: If there are health risks related to polyphasic sleep, it’s my understanding that they aren’t yet known or documented. Keep in mind that polyphasic sleep is not remotely the same as sleep deprivation. The long-term negative health effects of sleep deprivation have been studied and documented. Not so for polyphasic sleep, especially with its many variations. From what I can tell, the current anecdotal evidence suggests that polyphasic sleep is just fine healthwise, perhaps even better than monophasic sleep. Keep in mind that we’re born polyphasic sleepers by nature, and we’ve adapted to monophasic sleep. If there are health risks to polyphasic sleep, they certainly aren’t obvious. At the very least, I’m going to pay close attention to what my body and mind are telling me. Presently they’re saying, “So far, so good.” In any event it’s silly to worry about unknown health risks if you’re still filling your life with known risks like sugar, alcohol, animal products, smoking, medications, excessive stress, overweight, lack of exercise, depression, listening to politicians, reading this blog, etc. :)

Boredom: Some people said they wouldn’t want to try polyphasic sleep because they’d be bored with all that extra time. I also saw this comment from a couple people who did try it. My opinion is that if you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring. You’ll fill up the extra time with more of who you are. Since I’m deeply into personal growth, to me the extra time means more opportunities to grow, which is very exciting to me. I am never, ever bored because I always have something to do or to ponder that I find deeply fascinating. If you feel your life is purposeless, then you’ll likely experience boredom now and then. But live with a purpose that inspires you, and boredom will disappear from your life, regardless of how much time you have. Boredom also stems from fear. If you’re living like a sheep instead of a lion, you’ll often be bored. But if you live like a lion, you’ll be hungry at times but never bored. People get bored because they’ve made their lives too small for their spirits. Boredom is a signal you’re succumbing to fear instead of embracing what you really want. Read The Courage to Live Consciously.

Napping Outside the Home: I can think of a number of places where you could nap outside the home when needed: parks, grassy areas at colleges, school libraries, your car, the beach, your hotel room, on the plane, your office couch or floor, in a stopped elevator, etc. Remember it’s only about 20 minutes of actual sleep time, so you don’t need 5-star accommodations. A yoga mat or a blanket can soften a hard surface to make it more comfortable to sleep on. I think with some creativity, it would almost always be possible to find a place to take a nap. You don’t need to hide the fact that you’re a polynapper either — it’s not like you’re doing something illegal. If you’re going to be in a situation where it may be challenging to get a nap, just let the people involved know about your polyphasic sleeping habits, and ask for ideas on where to sleep. No need to be shy about it. Simply adapt the best you can. 30-40 extra waking hours per week may be worth a little inconvenience now and then. Personally I’m beginning to think that monophasic sleep is a lot less convenient overall — it just takes way too much time. None so righteous as the newly converted, right? ;)

No Jetlag: A positive benefit of polyphasic sleep is that it seems unlikely you’ll have a problem with jetlag ever again. You may still experience physiological side effects from seeing sunlight at different times as you travel, but I can’t imagine they’d be as severe as what you’ll get from trying to shift a monophasic sleep schedule. I think a polyphasic sleep schedule would very easily adapt, so you shouldn’t need to change your basic sleep schedule. This could be of real benefit if you travel a lot between time zones. Plus because you’ll sleep less overall, your vacations will seem longer — you can do the tourist thing all day long and then enjoy the nightlife. Or you can creatively combine business travel with recreation because you’ll have so many extra hours in a day.

Energy: Let’s clear up a big misconception. You might assume that you’ll feel less energetic if you slept so much less. That’s true of general sleep deprivation but not of polyphasic sleep. With sleep deprivation you’re depriving yourself of crucial REM sleep, but with polyphasic sleep you’ve conditioned your body to experience abundant REM sleep in a highly efficient manner. Energy will drop like a rock during the initial adaptation period, but afterwards it seems common to experience even higher energy and alertness than ever before. Today I’ve been feeling incredible, better than I’d normally feel on a monophasic sleep schedule. I’m wide awake, refreshed, alert, and full of energy and enthusiasm. I can certainly get used to this peak state becoming the everyday norm. Now I feel it would be a big sacrifice to go back to monophasic sleep. How would you feel about slashing 30-40 hours/week out of your life and dropping your energy and alertness a bit? I realize you may have been conditioned to believe that more sleep = more energy. But it’s simply not true. Let it go.

Pushing Yourself: While it’s true that getting through the initial adaptation period requires a disciplined push through the territory of sleep deprivation, that’s where the pushing ends. Now that I’m coming out the other side of this adaptation period, there’s no more feeling of pushing. I just sleep on a different schedule, one that’s self-maintaining and actually very easy. There’s no sense of straining to stay awake or to stave off sleep. I’m simply not sleepy. It actually feels perfectly natural. Didn’t we all sleep polyphasically when we were babies? Do babies have to push themselves to follow that sleep schedule? No, of course not. Come to think of it, if you slept polyphasically, it would be much easier to care for a newborn baby, since you’d be awake at night anyway. Hmmm… perhaps I’ll have to have another kid to test this. :) Adapting to polyphasic sleep is like changing any habit, such as quitting coffee. It may involve some force and struggle for a few days to break the old pattern, but afterwards your new direction feels perfectly normal, and no ongoing force is required. Day 2 was the struggle. After that it was all downhill.

I don’t believe you. You must be making this up: Nope, not my style to make up something like this. This is for real.

Polyphasic Sleep Books/Resources: The only book I know of that covers polyphasic sleep is Why We Nap by Claudio Stampi. I haven’t read it, but I’ve seen references to it as I researched polyphasic sleep. Don’t ask me why the book is so expensive. You can also read about polyphasic sleep for free at Wikipedia. Follow the links at the bottom of that entry to see logs of others’ experiences. You can also join the Yahoo discussion group to find others who are trying it and sharing their experiences. Finally, do a Google search on polyphasic sleep.



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