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I’ve lasted 3 weeks now on the polyphasic sleep experiment. It’s been quite an amazing experience, and unless some unforeseen roadblocks occur in the weeks ahead, I’ve decided to stick with it.
Things I Haven’t Tried. I’ve received several questions about things I haven’t tried, like napping at my desk or eating different foods than I normally do. What you see is what you get. If I haven’t blogged about it along the way, I haven’t tried it. While I originally began this experiment out of curiosity, I’m not running a private sleep lab. I try new ideas when I think it will improve the results, not for the sake of doing formal research on polyphasic sleep.
Diet Changes. For the past several days, I’ve found myself becoming more attracted to eating healthier foods. I’ve been a vegan since 1997, so I never touch anything that comes from an animal, but lately I’ve been pushing it further along by reducing cooked or processed foods. About 70% of my diet now consists of raw fruit, veggies, and nuts, and I eat a wide variety of these. In the morning I’ll usually make a tall glass of fresh juice (my favorite is carrot-apple-celery-beet-ginger-lime). I’m also eating a lot of salads, raw soups, smoothies & shakes, and various creative concoctions. If I continue eating this way, my energy is likely to improve even more. I’ve experimented with a 100% raw diet for 30+ days a few times before, and it became clear from the massive energy surge that raw food was the best type of diet I’d ever tried. But consistently eating raw is a challenge if you don’t want to eat very boring meals all day long like fruit and salads. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to make interesting raw meals, but fortunately there are more and more great recipes available. I’m finding that the extra time I’ve gained from polyphasic sleep is allowing me to experiment more. I don’t know if I’ll eventually go 100% raw, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where I end up.
Workout/Injury Recovery = Normal. My muscle soreness from working out earlier this week seems to be dissipating normally. It doesn’t appear that my muscles are recovering any faster or slower than usual, but I’ll have a better idea as I do more workouts in the weeks ahead. A few days ago, I accidentally cut my arm, and that cut appears to be healing normally as well. So apparently my body is conducting repairs as usual, even though I’ve dropped those stages of sleep that some people say are necessary for healing. It doesn’t appear I’m going to drop dead from the inability to recover from minor injuries. There is a downside I’ve noticed, however. When my muscles are sore, that soreness is with me all day and night simply because I’m awake to experience it. So there’s no escaping from the soreness for hours at a time by sleeping through the night. This isn’t a big deal to me though since I’m not triggering the soreness in most of my normal desk-work activities.
Polyphasic Sleep and Diet. I’ve been wondering if there’s a connection between polyphasic sleep and eating a healthier diet. It’s been said that Leonardo da Vinci slept polyphasically for part of his life. And supposedly Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin were frequent nappers, although I don’t think any of those three followed a pure polyphasic approach. Da Vinci, Edison, Einstein, and Franklin were all vegetarians. Is that a coincidence, or is there a connection? As I mentioned in a previous log update, someone pointed me to an article noting that herbivores naturally sleep a lot less than omnivores or carnivores. So it’s possible that my vegan (herbivore) diet pre-disposed me to polyphasic sleep and possibly made it much easier for me to become an early riser even before that. It might be much more difficult (if not impossible) for someone to successfully adapt to polyphasic sleep if s/he consumes too many animal products; my guess is that you’d often wake up from the naps feeling an overwhelming need to go back to sleep. This makes sense from a digestion standpoint, as animal products require far more time and energy to digest than plant foods (especially raw plant foods). This is also consistent from what I’ve read in the logs of other polyphasic sleepers. People who successfully adapted invariably reported changing their diets to eat lighter, healthier foods. I don’t recall seeing reports of dietary improvements from those who couldn’t make the adaptation. So if you’re considering trying polyphasic sleep, you might also want to lighten your diet significantly by eating more raw fruits and veggies. I think there’s good reason to believe that eating healthier foods will increase your chance of success.
Nonverbal Thinking. When I talk about feeling alert or energetic today, it’s not precisely the same feeling of being alert and energetic I used to have when sleeping monophasically. The alertness and energy are there, but there’s something else too. The best way to describe it is to say that my mind feels a lot less noisy. It has become exceedingly calm, like a still lake. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost the chatterbox in the back of my mind. Now there’s a feeling of mental stillness, like the background mental noise has been turned off.
It took me a while to get used to this sensation and to figure out what was actually going on. I thought something was wrong at first, as if my mind had been turned off. I wondered if maybe I was getting too little sleep and couldn’t think straight. But that didn’t seem right because I felt totally wide awake and alert without any drowsiness. I used to mentally verbalize my thoughts by thinking in words, but now my mind isn’t doing that anymore. Apparently I’m now thinking without subvocalizing each thought, which is a lot faster because my mind can jump from one thought to the next without turning them into sentences or phrases. This is especially noticeable when I’m writing. I used to subvocalize each sentence in my mind before typing it, but now the words just flow off my fingers as if they’re flowing forth from a silent void — I no longer “hear” each sentence in my mind as I type it.
I’m still getting used to this sensation, but I believe it to be a positive change. Now when I sit down to work, I feel as if I’m working with deeper focus, clarity, and speed of thought than ever before. I wonder if these were benefits Da Vinci experienced from polyphasic sleep as well.
I should add that I’m not thinking visually or kinesthetically either. My thinking seems to be decoupled from my internal sensory perceptions, so I’m able to perceive a flow of thoughts that I’m not hearing, seeing, or feeling. It’s as if I’m thinking more subconsciously, below the level of sensory awareness. I am even starting to see this effect when I make decisions too. I’m making decisions very quickly now without consciously analyzing them — the right decision just seems to come into my awareness. It’s like having a heightened sense of intuition. Time will tell how accurate these decisions are, but for now I’m willing to take some risk with them. For me the biggest risk has always been the risk of missing out on an opportunity for growth. I’d rather take action and learn something than stand still and learn nothing.
Intelligence Upgrade? I’m beginning to notice that challenging mental work seems easier for me, especially writing. You may have noticed that my blogging output has increased since beginning this experiment. But I’m not putting any more time into it than I used to. The words are simply flowing faster and more easily.
Today I did some database programming work, which is something I’d normally find very mentally challenging, especially crafting queries. I hadn’t done any original database work in about a year, so it certainly wasn’t fresh in my mind. But I found that I was able to complete the work very easily, almost effortlessly. And all my queries worked perfectly the first time with no need for debugging, which is pretty rare for me.
It’s still too early to know for certain, but it feels as if I received an intelligence upgrade somewhere along the way. My default thought processes feel noticeably different. The state I would now refer to as feeling mentally “normal” isn’t the same state I would have labeled “normal” when I slept monophasically. Obviously this is all very subjective, so take these statements however you wish.
What would cause this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a side effect of getting more REM sleep (both in quantity and frequency) while dropping the other sleep stages. Or perhaps being fully conscious for more hours each day gradually conditions the brain to assign more neurons to certain processes and fewer neurons to others. I have had the distinct sensation that my brain is slowly rewiring itself to function differently.
A Warning. I just want to warn anyone else considering polyphasic sleep that you do so at your own risk. As I’ve related via this blog, I’ve been encountering a number of unanticipated side effects, and while most seem very positive so far, there’s no telling what the long-term effects will be. As the legal disclaimer on this site states, you’re 100% responsible for what you do with your life. This is a personal experiment I’m running on myself, not a professional sleep seminar. I have no idea what effect polyphasic sleep might have on your individual physiology, but I’m blogging about these experiences in the hopes that others may find them enlightening or useful or even just entertaining. I’ve been receiving various email questions from people who mistakenly believe I have the answers to their individual sleep problems, and I’m unable and/or unqualified to answer most of them. So if you have questions or feedback for me about sleep, please limit them to the scope of this experiment or to my previous blog posts about sleep. Try not to paint me into the role of Dr. Sleep just because I’ve undertaken this particular experiment. Think of me more like an overzealous explorer than a patient professor. 😉
I don’t think the biggest risk of polyphasic sleep is that you’ll fail to adapt to it. I think the biggest risk is what might happen if you actually succeed.