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I had made a note on my calendar to write a polyphasic sleep experiment update this morning, so here goes…
Today I’m beginning my 18th day on polyphasic sleep. I’ve been able to do a lot more testing and tweaking over the past week, and overall I’ve been very pleased with my progress.
Flexibility. I’ve found that polyphasic sleep is much more flexible than I initially expected. I no longer take naps at fixed times. Now I just allow my body to indicate when I need to nap, and this is working well for me. As I mentioned previously, I tend to experience the onset of the need to nap as a gentle pressure during the day and normal drowsiness during the late hours of the night. That hasn’t changed. As long as I get about 6-7 naps per day at semi-regular intervals, I’m fine. I often go 5-6 hours between naps during the day and 2-4 hours between naps during the night. I also vary the times from day to day. So perfect symmetry isn’t required.
Oversleeping Incident. On the 12th day of the experiment, I pushed myself too hard and missed one of the daytime naps plus had a long stretch of 7+ hours between naps during the day. At 10:30pm that day, I was getting up from a regular nap, and I felt very relaxed, like I was drifting through a sort of meditative state. Instead of getting up immediately, I remained on the couch for a bit and unintentionally drifted back to sleep (without having set an alarm). I didn’t wake up until 4am the next day, and it felt like I was in a deep, dreamless sleep. This was the longest sleep I’ve had since beginning the experiment. At first I couldn’t believe I’d slept for six hours straight. I woke up feeling normal, no better or worse than at any other time, and I was able to return to the polyphasic pattern after going back to a more proper nap schedule. At first I was a bit miffed by this oversleeping incident, but looking back I’m actually glad it happened, since it helped me map out one of the boundaries — that I shouldn’t skip naps. I might even try intentionally throwing in a long sleep period every few weeks, as I’ve read some historical polyphasic sleepers have done.
Caffeine. A couple times I’ve had a single cup of green tea after getting up from a nap but no other caffeine during this experiment. A cup of green tea has only a small amount of caffeine, but it does have enough to be noticed, about as much as 2-3 ounces of regular coffee. I found that when I drank a cup of green tea, I wasn’t able to hit REM sleep during the next nap — I couldn’t fall asleep at all. On Day 12 when I had the six-hour sleep, I had consumed a cup of green tea around 1pm that day, and afterwards I had a stretch of 7+ hours before my next nap. I was curious if the caffeine was the culprit or simply that I missed a nap, so I had another cup of green tea yesterday but stuck with my normal nap routine. I was unable to fall asleep for the nap that came a few hours after drinking the tea, but I just stayed in bed with my eyes closed anyway. I found that I was able to enjoy a normal night without drifting into a long sleep like I did the first time. So it appears that while caffeine may produce some temporary naptime insomnia, the biggest risk is that it can encourage me to skip naps, which can mess up the polyphasic sleep pattern and lead to oversleeping.
If you ever want to try polyphasic sleep for yourself and you currently consume caffeine, I strongly recommend that you first take a week or two to get yourself off all sources of caffeine. If you consume caffeine daily, I think it would be extremely hard to adjust to a polyphasic pattern. You’re likely to suffer from naptime insomnia and fail to experience sufficient REM sleep, which is crucial to making the adjustment. And even on a monophasic sleep pattern, caffeine is known to cause sleep problems. If you’re getting proper rest and eating a healthy diet, you shouldn’t need any caffeine to maintain a state of alertness. If you feel sleepy during the day, then take a siesta instead.
25 Minutes. So far I’ve tested countdown alarm times of 20, 22, 25, and 30 minutes for my naps, trying each one for about 8-10 cycles. I begin the countdown timer as soon as I lie down. 25 minutes seems to work the best so far. With shorter times the alarm sometimes cuts my sleep too short, and I don’t feel fully refreshed. With longer times I often feel groggy upon awakening if I sleep until the alarm goes off, probably because I’ve slipped beyond the REM phase. 25 minutes seems to be the sweet spot that gives me enough time to fall asleep, have a dream, and wake up naturally if possible, with the alarm serving as a safety net to prevent me sleeping past REM. I notice that even if the 25-minute alarm wakes me up (which is about 1/3 of the time now), I usually wake up feeling relaxed and refreshed and remembering a dream.
Alarm-Free Naps. Since I noticed I’m often waking up from naps naturally before my alarm goes off, I’ve tried taking a few naps without setting an alarm. All of them have worked fine so far with no oversleeping, and on average I will awaken remembering a dream about 15 minutes after lying down. I might be able to gradually wean myself off the alarm, at least during the daytime naps.
Lights On. Last night I tried taking my naps with a dim light instead of in total darkness, and that seemed to help. I woke up feeling more refreshed and less drowsy. I’m still experiencing some nighttime drowsiness, which somewhat limits what I can do during that time. It makes it hard to read for more than 20 minutes at a time during the night without putting myself to sleep, but I can still do other activities. Yesterday I was able to work effectively from 2am to 7am straight (mostly writing).
Personal Adjustment. I’m gradually getting used to being a polyphasic sleeper. I’m definitely noticing that time seems to pass more slowly than it used to. This month of November is creeping along at a snail’s pace. I feel as if time has somehow been stretched. The distance between Monday and Friday feels greater, but the weekends seem longer too. I’m still slightly discombobulated by this whole thing, so I’ve yet to adopt any formal routine for using my extra time. My regular routine has been shredded, and now I do things like eating and showering at irregular times. Whenever I shower, for instance, it feels like I’m taking multiple showers on the same day, regardless of how much time has elapsed between them. I no longer have the sense that certain things should be done at certain times. My time usage has become a lot more chaotic, and I run my days more by feel than by structure. I’m OK with that for now, as I’m still experiencing significant change and adjustment as I keep tweaking and testing, so I think it would be premature to lock myself into a new pattern until I have a more solid grasp on this way of living. I’m still getting quite a bit of work done, and some people have complained that they can’t keep up with my writing output lately.
Blurriness of Days. It’s harder for me to think of time in terms of individual days now. Time feels like a continuous flow. Halloween was a week ago, but on some level it feels like it was just an earlier part of today. Sometimes I don’t even know what “today” is — it makes little difference to me whether it’s 3am on a Monday or 4pm on a Tuesday. I perceive the passing of days as the pattern of sunrises and sunsets and watching other people wake up, follow their daily patterns, and then return to hibernation. It feels like playing a single-player role-playing game where your perpetually active character moves through a world of NPCs (non-player characters) who follow predictable routines. I think if these zeitgebers were removed from my environment, I’d stop thinking about time in terms of days altogether. This is definitely an adjustment to be made.
Cost-Effectiveness. I’ve noticed that polyphasic sleep seems a lot more cost-effective than monophasic sleep. For example, most of my biggest expenses like the mortgage and insurance premiums are based on a monthly billing cycle that isn’t coupled to how many hours of waking time I experience during that month. So if I’m conscious for an extra 150 hours each month, then on average I’m paying less for each of my waking hours. Some costs like food and electricity increase by being awake longer, but overall it’s costing me less money to maintain the same standard of living per each waking hour I enjoy. Imagine what it would feel like if your monthly expenses were reduced by about 25%. That’s sort of how it feels. From my perspective it appears as if the rest of the world is suffering a sleep tax — you still have to pay for certain expenses to cover the time you’re sleeping, but you have to use your waking hours to do it.
Lucid Dreaming. A few hours ago, I had my first lucid dream since this experiment began. I was having a normal dream during a regular nap, and something about the dream made me suspect I was dreaming. I soon became certain I was dreaming and awoke within the dream to full lucidity. This time I opted to experiment with telekinesis, which is something I hadn’t tried much in my lucid dreaming experiments over the past decade (unless you count flying). In my dream world I happened to be inside a house, so I mentally picked an object (a large candle) and tried to move it through the air with my thoughts. It worked very easily, and I played around with mentally moving a bunch of different objects around the room for about 5-10 minutes before I woke up naturally. I noticed that my dream telekinesis seemed to be exerting a force on each object in the direction I willed it to move, like a strong wind. If I wanted to reverse an object’s momentum, I first had to slow it down before I could get it moving in the opposite direction. I couldn’t cause instantaneous zig-zagging velocity changes. I also had to exert a mild mental push against gravity if I wanted to keep an object moving in a straight horizontal line; otherwise it would sink vertically. These dream physics are similar to what I experience when flying in lucid dreams — I feel like I’m exerting a mental force, but I still have to deal with momentum and gravity as in the real world. I also found some dream characters and tried to mentally move them around and move their limbs — that only worked to the degree that they didn’t resist. It felt a lot like physically shoving a person in the real world. Overall dream telekinesis felt very natural. It makes me wonder whether this is something we could manifest in our shared physical world if enough people focused their thoughts to make it so. It’s funny that I was just writing about this very topic yesterday, and only hours later I manifested it for myself. If you’ve never experienced lucid dreaming, be aware that it feels just as real as normal consciousness, sometimes even more real.
No More Problem Symptoms. All the previously reported problem symptoms like temperature sensitivity and the experience of mild cold-like symptoms have vanished. I already mentioned this previously, but I just wanted to make it clear that I still feel perfectly normal with no unusual physical side effects. These problems were apparently just artifacts of the adjustment period.
Lack of Stress. Lately I’ve been experiencing a complete lack of stress, feeling very mentally and physically relaxed. I find it very easy to sit down and do productive work between naps. I don’t know that this is a result of polyphasic sleep because I’ve had a very light schedule during the adjustment period, i.e. no pre-scheduled time commitments. This week things will begin ramping up to previous activity levels, but overall this whole month looks pretty light in terms of fixed time commitments. Tonight I have my first Toastmasters meeting since this experiment began.
The Road Ahead. I’m going to continue with polyphasic sleep for now. I’ve passed the difficult physical adjustment, but I’ve yet to complete the personal adjustment. Although the initial physical adjustment was a challenge, I think the greater long-term challenge is integrating the requisite paradigm shift. The whole concept of being awake almost continuously still feels alien to me, especially since I’m surrounded by monophasic sleepers. I sometimes feel like I’ve shifted out of phase with the rest of the world, especially during the night. However, I’ve also been a bit isolated during the adjustment period by intentionally keeping my schedule empty to give me time to adapt. I think it will help me a lot to return to a busier, more normal schedule once again. I’m really looking forward to going to Toastmasters tonight. This experiment would certainly provide ample content for a compelling speech!
I plan to post another polyphasic sleep update in about a week unless something major happens between now and then. I’m still getting a lot of email about this.