Biphasic Sleep

March 28th, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

Recently I decided to test biphasic sleep, which means sleeping in two distinct cycles every 24-hour period. This topic has been discussed on our forums at length, so if you want to learn more about it, read the massive biphasic sleep thread. If you just read the first post in that thread, it will give you a pretty good overview.

This certainly won’t be my first sleep experiment. I’ve previously written about becoming an early riser, and I did polyphasic sleep for 5-1/2 months in 2005-2006.

Polyphasic sleep was an amazing — but immensely strange — experience. This involved sleeping 20 minutes at a time, every 4 hours, around the clock, so that’s only 2 hours of sleep out of every 24 hours. The first week involved some hellish sleep deprivation, but it became much easier once I adapted.

What I disliked about polyphasic sleep was the rigidity of it. Naps had to be taken on a fairly rigid schedule, so activities had to be slotted into 3 hour and 40 minute periods of wakefulness. I could shift the naps around a little from time to time, but missing even one nap could mean feeling worn out for several more cycles. Another factor I disliked was the strange disconnection I felt with other human beings who had to hibernate every night while I was awake. Looking back, I’m a bit amazed that I kept it up for so long, but after the first month, it had become a habit, so even though it was challenging, I was somewhat used to it by then.

My Biphasic Sleep Trial

Biphasic sleep has many variations. The version I’m trying will probably look something like this:

12:30-5:00 am – core sleep (4.5 hours)

6:00-7:30 pm – nap (1.5 hours)

I feel good about the core sleep period. I might try reducing the amount of time later, but I’ll stick with 4.5 hours at least during the adaptation. I normally get up at 5am every day, so I think it gives me an advantage to keep the same wake up time with biphasic sleep. And it doesn’t seem that difficult in principle to stay up a couple hours later than usual.

I’m not sure about the best time to schedule the nap, however. I chose this time partly based on what I learned from other successful biphasic sleepers and partly based on what fits well into my schedule. I’m willing to shift it earlier or later based on how I feel though. I suspect it may take some experimentation to learn what works best for me.

Based on the logs of biphasic sleep trials, it appears that adapting to biphasic sleep is very mild compared to adapting to polyphasic sleep. One person described it as feeling like having jetlag for a week. I think I can handle that. I’ve kept my schedule fairly light this week in terms of scheduled obligations, so it’s a good week to make the attempt.

Why Biphasic Sleep?

My motivation is pretty simple. I want to see if I can have the best of both worlds — to remain an early riser while also being able to stay up later at night.

If I have to choose one or the other, I’d prefer to remain an early riser. I LOVE getting up before dawn every morning. I enjoy going to the gym when it’s not so crowded and driving home afterwards while it’s still dark. I like having my breakfast smoothie while the sun is rising. It feels great to get an early start to my day.

If I sleep in past sunrise, I feel lazy and unproductive, and my motivation drops. If I roll out of bed at 7am, I feel like I’m starting my day way behind.

But I also live in Las Vegas, and people who come to town usually want to hang out later than 10pm each night. There are many interesting social opportunities that would require staying up past my bedtime.

In the past I would sometimes switch to being a night owl for a bit, and then I’d adapt back to being an early riser afterwards. I don’t like doing that so much though. Sometimes I’d decline late night social opportunities because I didn’t want to throw off my sleep schedule. I know that I feel much better when I get up early, and I don’t want to be sleep deprived the next day.

There are also some things I’d like to do that aren’t practical for an early riser, such as going out dancing. Rachelle and I had a wonderful time dancing in New Orleans earlier this year, and we’d love to do more of that… maybe take some lessons and learn different styles too. But the Vegas clubs don’t open till 10pm, so in order to make this happen, I have to throw off my sleep schedule.

So I would love it if I had a sleep schedule that allowed me to enjoy being an early riser while also allowing me to stay up late at night — and without messing up the routine and/or leaving me feeling sleep deprived.

Biphasic sleep looks like a promising candidate for a solution, so I’m excited to try it out and see how it goes. Taking a nap in the early evening doesn’t seem like too big a sacrifice, and I may have some flexibility in when I take it. I could even do a full-day workshop during the day and then nap afterwards. Also, I can probably skip the nap if it’s too inconvenient and just sleep monophasically the next night. And I always have the option of going off schedule and dealing with the consequences later.

Another benefit to biphasic sleep is that you can get by with a bit less sleep, and some people report feeling a lot better on biphasic sleep than on monophasic. I’m not overly concerned with the extra waking time, but I am curious to see if I feel more energetic than usual on biphasic sleep. If it feels good, I’ll be more inclined to stick with it.

Biphasic sleep is another tool I want to add to my personal growth toolbox. There may be some times in my life when it works well and other times when it’s not needed. I feel like I’m currently in one of those times where it could be very useful.

Self-Discipline vs. Spontaneity

It can be tricky to achieve a healthy balance between self-discipline and spontaneity. If you’re too disciplined, you can become overly rigid and miss some wonderful growth opportunities. But if you’re too spontaneous, then your life may become messy and unfocused, struggling to get ahead. Disciplined, focused efforts can create some wonderful long-term payoffs, such as multiple streams of passive income that render a time-sucking job completely unnecessary. It takes a careful balance between these two factors to create a life of freedom and fulfillment.

If my biphasic sleep schedule works and I like it, then I can enjoy the best of both worlds — maintaining a regular, disciplined sleep schedule while also being able to enjoy the spontaneity of staying out late with friends, going dancing, etc. I know that for some people, staying up just past midnight isn’t late, and I’ve had my share of nights out that didn’t end till after dawn, but it wouldn’t make me happy to do that on a regular basis. I did enough of that to last a lifetime during my teens and 20s. In my 30s I fell in love with self-discipline.

Self-discipline pays off with the opportunity to be more spontaneous. It’s much easier for me to be spontaneous when you have full control of your schedule and don’t need a job. So if you like spontaneity, you’d better fall in love with self-discipline, or you’ll probably end up stuck working hard to fulfill someone else’s desire for more spontaneity.

Being spontaneous also makes it easier to be disciplined. If all you see before you is work, work, and more work, that isn’t very motivating. But if you make an effort to have fun, take unplanned trips, and live by the seat of your pants on occasion, you’ll burn off a lot of stress, and your motivation will increase. Happiness is a lot more motivating than tension.

Already Underway

I started doing biphasic sleep yesterday, so I’m presently on Day 2. Yesterday I took a nap in the afternoon and then went to bed at 12:30am as planned. I got up at 5am and felt a bit more groggy than usual, but it wasn’t too bad. I went about my usual morning routine and didn’t have any problems. It’s almost 1pm now, and I’m still feeling pretty good.

To make the adaptation easier, I’m sticking with a mostly raw diet (and all vegan of course, as I’ve been doing for 14+ years), heavy on the fresh juice, and caffeine-free. I made 2 quarts of juice this morning (carrot-apple-celery-romaine-dandelion-ginger-lime), so that will be about 50% of my calories for the day from juice. The benefit of juice is that it takes very little energy to digest, so it’s less of a drain on the body. I know from experience with polyphasic sleep and various dietary experiments that when I eat mostly fresh fruits and veggies and fresh juices, I don’t need as much sleep, and I feel more energetic during the day. My heart rate is also lower when I exercise. So I want to give myself every advantage to minimize the feeling of sleep deprivation. I still want to get a lot done this week, so I’d rather not be a zombie if I can avoid it.

I’m not planning to blog each day of this as I go along, but I may post an update now and then if I have something interesting to share.

I’m not committing to sleeping biphasically for any particular number of days just yet. My first goal is to make it through the adaptation period and see what it feels like once my body is used to it. Once I see what it’s like, I’ll decide if I want to stick with it for a while. If I don’t like it, I won’t continue with it.

Wish me luck!


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