I have a love/hate relationships with sleep – I always have. I used to stay up for 40 hours at a time in a vain attempt to get more out of life. An 18-hour sleep-coma invariably followed and so I can’t say I was having much success. Needless to say, polyphasic sleep sounded interesting.
I stumbled upon Steve Pavlina’s blog back in early 2010 and was instantly intrigued. Was it possible to have a polyphasic sleep schedule where one only needed to sleep 2 hours a day? Was it healthy? Would I be able to go back to a normal sleep schedule? I decided needed a few more answers before I tried something so potentially harmful to my body. Unfortunately, there’s really not much research on the long-term effects of a polyphasic sleep schedule. I decided to take the plunge anyway – for science.
I ended up being successful at the Uberman schedule and absolutely loved it. I was awake when the world was not and started to gain a new perspective on time. My life was no longer structured around a daily task list. I began to think about my ToDo list in terms of small, easy-to-do tasks that I could complete before my next nap. Suddenly, I was getting much more done and yet I still seemed to have significantly more free time. I only did the Uberman sleep schedule for a little over the month after my adjustment period of two weeks, but it feels like it was 3 or 4 months.
I tried to do an Uberman schedule a few months later with a friend and it was absolute hell. Perpetual exhaustion, extreme irritability, lack of focus, zombie-like trances – it was just horrible. If I had this experience the first-time I tried polyphasic sleeping I would have immediately written it off as faux-science that is a surefire way to an early grave.
What was the difference? Preparation, determination, and having the right reasons.
Without further ado, here is the list of guaranteed ways to have a horrible time when trying to switch to a polyphasic sleep schedule.
If you keep smoking and drinking loads of caffeine every day you’re going to have a bad time. Altering your biorhythms is not an easy process – if you’ve experienced jetlag before you’ve experience a small taste of what it’s like – make it easier on yourself by not dependending on external chemicals.
If you really want to fail, make sure you start your sleeping schedule the day before your best friend’s bachelor party in Vegas or the week before a final exam.
If you’re already falling behind in your work load you won’t be able to make it through the adjustment period. Adjusting to a new sleep schedule takes at least 2 weeks – during which you’re extremely unproductive.
Innuendos aside, starting something as demanding as a new sleep schedule is a personal thing and should be treated as such. The buddy system may work great at the gym, but a polyphasic sleeping schedule is a different beast because it’s a lifestyle change. You can’t rely on an external support system – do it for yourself.
This one might be controversial but I think most people who have gone through a polyphasic sleep schedule will agree. Meat takes a long time to digest and reduces the quality of naps. Most people report cravings for fruit juices and salads – don’t ignore your body!
Missing a nap by more than 5 minutes during the adjustment period is the easiest way to fail quickly. Your body is going to be telling you this a lot of confusing things because of the stress it’s going through. One minute you’ll feel like throwing up because you’re so tired and the next you’ll be pondering going for a run. Once you’ve adjusted to the schedule you can move your naps around by a few hours without much problem – but during the adjustment phase it’s a very, very bad idea.
After the adjustment period this is perfectly fine. Go for a hard workout during the adjustment period, however, and you’ll wake up 14 hours later to a blaring alarm.
Sleeping in a car takes some getting used to. Sleeping in a small car on a hot day without a blanket, pillow, or blinders is near impossible. Unless you want to punish yourself needlessly plan out a comfortable and quiet place to take your naps.
Here’s how the reports for the first week of a polyphasic schedule adjustment typically go:
Days 8-14 continue to improve. If you quit during the first week it was a complete waste. Most people don’t make it past Day 3.
When done right, I think polyphasic sleeping is a great experience. By removing yourself from a pattern you’ve had your entire life – 16 hours of wakefulness and 8 hours of sleep – you acquire a new appreciation of time and what you can do with it. Unfortunately, it’s a very difficult lifestyle to maintain for any length of time because of the need for a strict regiment.
Have you tried polyphasic sleeping before? Did you have a good experience?