I’ve had some further developments regarding my polyphasic sleep experiment, so I figured an update would be in order.
Lucid Dreaming. On Monday night I had another lucid dream during a nap I took just after midnight. This one wasn’t as vivid or as long as the first, but I consider it a significant development because it’s very rare for me to have lucid dreams two nights in a row. I didn’t have any lucid dreams last night though. If my lucid dreaming becomes more frequent on polyphasic sleep, that would be a really nice benefit.
Dim Light at Night. I’ve been sleeping with a dim light on at night the past few days to see what effect it has. Taking a nap in total darkness just felt a bit strange. I’ve found that this extra light helps me a lot with reducing nighttime drowsiness. My nighttime naps seem more refreshing with a little bit of light in the room, and it’s easier to get up as soon as I awaken. The light could also be a contributing factor in the recent lucid dreams.
Productive Work Times. Since I’m living on something of a continuous schedule, I’ve been experimenting with different work times. Lately I’ve found that I really enjoy using 2am-10am for my main workday period. I like using this time period for several reasons. First, the house is quiet until about 6:30a when the rest of the family starts getting up, and by that time I’m deeply engaged in my work and have already gotten a lot done. Secondly, I seem to feel very physically relaxed during this time, which makes it easy to focus on mental work like writing or crafting a speech. Thirdly, I don’t feel the need to eat meals during this whole period, so I can work almost continuously without meal breaks, aside from having one nap and maybe grabbing a banana or enjoying a fruit smoothie around dawn. Fourthly, it feels great having a full day’s work completed by 10am, so anything else I get done that day is a bonus — in a way it makes every day feel like a weekend. Fifthly, there are no phone calls during the bulk of this period and no one expects a response to their email during these times, so I can focus on high priority projects without interruption. And lastly, it’s the perfect time for doing private, solo work in my home office if I need to concentrate as long as possible without interruption.
Overcoming Drowsiness. I’ve made a lot of progress overcoming nighttime drowsiness. One of the keys was to keep myself more active, such as by beginning my workday at 2am. Working during the daytime as I used to and then using the nighttime for less intensive personal things like reading or watching movies didn’t work well for me. Nighttime activities that are too passive tend to put me to sleep. When I do something more engaging, I either don’t feel drowsy, or I don’t notice it.
Round-the-Clock Activity Level. When I began this experiment, I assumed I’d need to be somewhat conservative in my energy usage to keep from burning myself out. Well, that may have been a good idea during the adaptation period, but it turned out to be an erroneous assumption post-adaptation. I’ve been finding that more activity is better than less. I don’t need a lot of mental or physical downtime aside from the naps. If I decide to be really lazy during a particular cycle, it doesn’t give me any more energy for the next cycle, and at night it just makes me drowsy. It’s best for me just to treat every hour of the day as if it’s daytime and to maintain a reasonable pacing of activity. I find that if I’m mentally and/or physically active during a cycle, then the naps are even more restorative — I sleep better and awaken feeling more refreshed. That’s similar to monophasic sleep, where you may sleep wonderfully after a very active day but experience insomnia if you’ve been lazy the whole day. So instead of burning me out, I find that increasing my activity levels has only made me feel more rested and energized. This wasn’t something I expected, but I’m beginning to see the logic of it. It basically comes down to this: work hard, play hard, sleep soundly, repeat. With monophasic sleep I didn’t feel like I could maintain high activity levels at all hours of the day — certain hours I’d feel more active and energetic, while other times I felt I was winding down. Polyphasic sleep has a very different rhythm to it, and I don’t feel I’ve fully adjusted to that yet.
Working Out. I’ve been ramping up my exercise by replacing yoga and long walks with some aerobics and calisthenics. I’m currently sore from the calisthenics I did yesterday morning, especially in my chest and abs. For now I’ll stick with a mixture of aerobic exercise and calisthenics like push-ups and sit-ups. If my body seems to recover from these workouts just fine, I’ll progress to weight training and see how it handles that. I’m very curious to see how the pattern of soreness and recovery plays out with polyphasic sleep. Will my body be as efficient at conducting repairs? Time will tell. I’ve been considering getting a gym membership at a local 24-hour gym, since that way I’m free to exercise at night if I want, and the gym certainly won’t be crowded at off hours. I have a free 10-day pass for one gym, so it won’t cost me anything to try this (other than being waylaid by an overeager salesperson). I have fitness equipment at home, but given how much time I’m spending awake at home now, I wouldn’t mind exercising outside the home for a change.
Nap Quality. I’ve found that the most important factor in determining my energy levels is the quality of the naps. When I fall asleep quickly, have a dream, and awaken before my alarm goes off, I know I’m going to feel great through the next cycle, even if I slept less than 15 minutes. But if I don’t sleep quite as restfully, then I won’t feel as optimal during the next cycle. Even when it’s bad though, it’s still pretty good. I’m usually still fully functional even when a nap doesn’t go perfectly. The main difference is that I may start to feel the pressure to nap again a bit earlier in the cycle after a poor nap, perhaps after just 2-3 hours.
Flexibility. Napping whenever I feel like napping instead of at fixed times is working well for me. Sometimes I go 6 hours between naps, other times just 2-3 hours. So if I have a poor nap, I may nap again 2 hours later. But if I have a great nap, I may take advantage of the optimal alertness levels and stretch that cycle out to 6+ hours before napping again. But overall I’m averaging about 6-7 naps per day, with the actual time spent asleep being about 15-20 minutes per nap. So we’re talking 90-140 minutes of sleep per day on average. I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand.
Personal Adjustment. I’m still very much weirded out by this whole experiment. I’m gradually getting used to it, but I still have frequent episodes of saying to myself, “What the hell am I doing? This is insane. This shouldn’t even be possible.” This is an enormously big change to manage. I have two kids, and this feels like an even bigger life-altering change than having a new baby. I knew it would be a big change before I started the experiment, but I’ll tell you that it’s a much bigger change than you could possibly realize. In that respect it is like having a baby — thinking about having a baby and reading books about it doesn’t remotely prepare you for the reality of actually doing it. Being awake and alert around the clock was far more disruptive to my equilibrium than I imagined it would be. No area of my life has been untouched by it.
Marriage & Family. Polyphasic sleep has had an exceptionally big impact on my marriage & family life. For one, I don’t spend as much of my waking time (percentage-wise) with my wife and kids as I used to. I suddenly have long stretches of alone time, and sometimes it feels like I’m spending way too much time alone. My wife and I both work from home, and it’s odd not to see her or talk to her for so many hours at a stretch even though she’s technically home. If I hear her make a noise in the middle of the night (like a cough, a sneeze, or flushing the toilet), I will sometimes pop into the bedroom to say hi to her and try to engage her in conversation. I’m happy to chat with her at 1am, but of course she just wants to go back to sleep and isn’t feeling too conversational just 3 hours after going to bed. From my perspective it feels like the whole family is hibernating at night. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a second nighttime wife and maybe a nocturnal kid or two. It’s weird spending 8 hours alone every day in a house full of sleeping people. It’s like they’ve all been drugged or something. Why do they need to sleep so much anyway?
Shifting my work hours to the 2am – 10am period looks like it’s going to help a lot with this adjustment. It allows me to use this time period for productive work instead of trying to socialize with zombies or putting myself to sleep doing too many mundane personal activities. Working at night is helping me achieve a better balance. During the day I’m enjoying spending more time with my 2-year old son, Kyle, while my wife works her normal workday. Kyle’s language skills are improving a lot as he’s learning new words every week now.
Schedule Experimentation. Now that I feel I’ve got a good core work period established, I’m going to experiment with various ways to schedule other routine daily activities like exercise, leisure stuff, reading/education, meditation, communication, family time, etc. I have such an abundance of extra time now that it’s clear I’m going to need to add a lot more to my daily routine. I don’t want to fill that time with just more of the same. I don’t particularly want to spend 5 hours each day reading, for example.
The Road Ahead. Living polyphasically is really, really weird. It could very well take me several more weeks before I feel I have a solid handle on it. I feel as if I’m undergoing a massive rewrite of my personal operating system from the ground up. I suggest you don’t consider any of my observations during this adaptation period to be indicative of how things would be after six months on polyphasic sleep. I’m really just a baby at this, having to re-learn the basics of living. My long-term outlook is very positive though. While there’s been a massive upheaval, I think that it’s leading me to a much richer life. I will probably add several new threads to my life that I previously didn’t have the time and energy to accommodate.