Polyphasic Mutants

February 2nd, 2006 by Steve Pavlina

Today a visitor referred me to a lengthy article about polyphasic sleep.  You might find it interesting if you’ve been curious to learn more about the topic.

The article basically attempts to dismiss the possibility of polyphasic sleep for human beings by referencing a number of resources, especially noting the large number of bloggers who’ve tried to adapt to it.

This is my favorite quote from the article:

Whoever claims to be on a perpetual polyphasic schedule must be either suffering from a sleep disorder, or be a liar, a mutant, or a person with a mulishly stubborn iron-will that lets him plod through the daily torture of sleep deprivation.

Given the choice I think I’ll go with the mutant label.  I’ve been hearing that one since childhood (mostly from my sister).

Ultimately the article concludes that polyphasic sleep belongs in the “same lunatic basket as miracle diets, scientology, homeopathy, water magnetizers, creation “˜science,’ electrolytic detoxifiers, or Silvia Browne.”  Hmmm… I did try Scientology for two months just for the experience, but I quickly left when they showed me the assimilation chamber and asked me to purchase a set of Borg implants.  And as for the lunatic basket, well, I live in Vegas, so that’s a given.  I suppose you do have to be something of a lunatic to even want to attempt polyphasic sleep.

Despite some evidence that polyphasic sleep is impossible for humans, I’m moderately skeptical of the general assumption that my results in any endeavor must naturally be the same ones predicted by some study that was done on an infinitesimal fraction of the human population… as if the results of studies on so-called “normal” people are therefore predictive of my results as an individual.

I don’t automatically dismiss such studies out of hand, but I take them with a grain of salt and see how they mesh with my own experience and knowledge.  Most of the time they’re in agreement.  I’m happy to accept that if I swallow poison, I’ll get sick or die because others who’ve tried it have suffered such a fate.  I don’t see a good reason why my results should be different, and the risk/reward ratio just isn’t there to justify the attempt.  However, whenever I have sufficient doubt, and the risk/reward ratio for a personal test is reasonable, then I prefer to test for myself.  Polyphasic sleep was one of those situations.  After reading the results of others’ experiments (both positive and negative), I didn’t know whether or not I could do it, but I felt it was worth the risk to find out.

I can’t really be sure why I was able to adapt to polyphasic sleep – it seems clear from reading others’ logs that my experience was very atypical.  In my day 60 update, I made some reasonable guesses as to why, but it could very well be for physiological reasons like genetics.  Or perhaps I’m just a mutant.  Going into the experiment, I already had a lot of factors that are pretty far from the norm, such as being vegan, caffeine-free, and having already established the habit of getting up at 5am each morning.  6-6.5 hours sleep per night was typical for me before I tried sleeping polyphasically.

I’ve done over three months on polyphasic sleep so far and still going (I stopped counting after 100 days).  I’ve already blogged about the experience at length, but it’s nice to know there will always be people to tell me that what I’ve already done is physiologically impossible.  I really enjoy the balance of daytime/nighttime activities.  In about an hour I’ll be attending my second improv comedy workshop.  I probably wouldn’t have had time for these workshops if I was still sleeping monophasically, and it’s a nice balance to the more serious work I do.  If I stick with it, I may even be performing in a live show at some point.  When I saw the last show from this group, it seemed humanly impossible to me that the performers could come up with such funny stuff so spontaneously and deliver it so brilliantly, but that’s exactly what they do.  And most of them aren’t even professional comedians.  It’s amazing what we can do if we simply put our doubts on hold and try something new.  It probably wouldn’t be hard to prove that succeeding at improv comedy is impossible for “normal” people, yet some people can actually do it.  Mutants!

Not long ago I noticed I was finally achieving more consistency in waking up before my alarm goes off, which I now set for 20 minutes from the time I lie down.  I usually wake up naturally after 15-18 minutes and almost always remember a dream, but I still rely on the alarm as a crutch.  Earlier in this experiment, I would usually set the alarm for 25 minutes, but I now find that 20 minutes leaves me more consistently refreshed and alert.  If I sleep those few extra minutes, I’m more likely to wake up groggy.  Perhaps it’s because I’m passing out of REM during that time and sinking into deeper sleep stages.  I’m probably averaging something like 100 minutes of sleep per 24-hour period now.  This is the pattern I seemed to have naturally (or unnaturally) settled into, and at least so far, it feels sustainable.  I’ve no health problems to report, and I certainly don’t feel sleep deprived.  I’ve been getting quite a lot done lately.

Probably the biggest challenge going forward is that I live in a monophasic world.  Working at home fits well with my sleep schedule, and at night I have the run of the house to myself except three of the bedrooms.  But if this situation should ever change, then I might face greater challenges with finding a place and time to nap around the clock.  For example, suppose I start doing personal development seminars.  Will I be able to break away and take naps as needed in every conceivable situation?  I’d hate to lose all those extra hours, so I’d be reticent to take on lifestyle changes that would compel me to go back to monophasic.  Polyphasic sleep is a mixed blessing.  For me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but I can certainly understand why it’s impossible for many people to even make the attempt.  A lot of people have emailed me to say they’d love to try it, but their schedule simply can’t accommodate it.  Completely understandable.

Anyway, you’ll have to judge for yourself as to whether the small number of people like me who’ve reported success with polyphasic sleep are lunatics, liars, mutants, or true ubermen. 


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