On average, most people get roughly 8 hours of sleep per night, which totals in about 1/3 of their lives, and that’s put even gently. But still, there are many things that have flown beneath the radar. Here, I’m going to talk about my 90 day polyphasic sleep experiment.
Different Sleep Cycles
- When you sleep once throughout the night without waking up other than going to the bathroom, then that’s monophasic sleep.
- Polyphasic sleep involves having several sleep cycles throughout the 24-hour period. In essence, you sleep fewer hours in one sleep cycle but you do it more frequently. This type of behavior can be found in many animal species and even in some past societies. Hunter-gatherers were said to be awake in some parts of the night to wear off predators. Homer wrote about Ancient Greeks talking of 2 sleeps – one and two. And many geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, and Nikola Tesla are said to have practiced something similar. And so have I.
Some Sleep Science
To understand polyphasic sleep fully, we’re going to have to delve into some science here, so put on your learning hat. But don’t worry, it’s only for a moment. So, let’s go…
There are 2 main types of sleep with characteristic brain wave patterns and activities.
- Non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM)sleep is anything that is not REM or rapid-eye-movement sleep. It consists of 3 separate stages.
- The first is NREM1 between drowsy wakefulness and sleep, in which your muscles are still quite active, you’re rolling around in bed and you may occasionally open your eyes.
- In NREM2 your muscle activity keeps decreasing and you start to slowly fade away into sleep.
- Stage 3 NREM3 (previously 3 and 4) is the deep or slow-wave sleep(SWS) characterized by delta brain waves of 0.5-4 Hz. In here, you are cut off from the conscious world around you and irresponsive to most sounds or other stimuli.
- Rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep is a phase characterized by random movement of the eyes, low muscle tone and the possibility of lucid dreaming. It allows us to learn complex tasks and motor skills. This is where the magic happens. One cycle of REM usually takes about 70-90 minutes depending on the length of overall NREM sleep and comprises 20-25% of total night’s volume.
How Does Polyphasic Sleep Work?
The theory behind polyphasic sleep is that you can condition your brain to cut off the lesser important stages of sleep. NREM1 seems to be just a transition state to the more useful stages of slow wave sleep. By doing this, you can gain a lot of waking time, which you would’ve otherwise spent in bed without even being rejuvenated from it.
Currently, we don’t know how to reduce the length of a healthy sleep block without causing a degree of sleep deprivation. NREM deep sleep still plays an essential role and you can’t jump into REM right away.
With that being said…
It’s true that, if you’re sleep deprived, you’ll enter into deep sleep faster – the less important stages of sleep get compressed. We are more effective at sleeping when we’re sleep deprived and tired.
Polyphasic sleeping and sleep deprivation will have a significant impact on your mental and physical performance.
Effects of Polyphasic Sleeping
You won’t be able to:
- Maximize your creative output because of being cognitively fatigued.
- Maximize your physical performance because of lack of recovery.
- Maximize your mood levels because of overshooting cortisol.
- Maximize the health benefits of normal sleep because of overtaxing the adrenals.
What you will get:
- More time spent awake and doing something productive.
- More lucid dreaming and weird dream-like states. (More on that soon)
- More quiet time for doing something alone, which can indirectly promote creativity and focus.
- More frequent sleep cycles to consolidate memory and rest your brain.
With regular sleep, you go to bed, pass out and wake up in the morning. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a dream or two and could even remember it later. With polyphasic sleep, you’re awake during the day when everyone is active already and you’re awake at night when the rest of the world is asleep. It puts you into this twilight zone and gives you a mystical experience of consciously experiencing the day and night cycles of the planet.
Different Polyphasic Sleep Schedules
There are also variations to polyphasic sleeping.
- Segmented sleep is biphasic, it consists of 2 sleeps both at night. You first sleep for 3,5-4 hours, stay awake for 2 hours and sleep for another 3,5-4 hours.
- Siesta sleep is also biphasic and it’s very common. It consists of 5-6 hours at night and a 30 to 90-minute nap in the afternoon.
- Triphasic sleep is where it actually gets polyphasic. You sleep 3 times a day for 1,5-2 hours with 6 hours in between naps.
- Everyman sleep is the most successful type of polyphasic sleep. Everyman 2 (E2) is with a core sleep of 4,5-6 hours and two 20 minute naps; Everyman 3 (E3) is with a core of 3-4 hours and three naps; Everyman 4 (E4) is with a core of 1,5-2 hours and 4 naps.
- Dual Core sleep incorporates a second core sleep. You sleep for 3,5 hours at night; 1,5 hours at dawn and have a nap at noon.
- Uberman sleep is where things go crazy. It’s the most commonly attempted but most failed polyphasic schedule. You get rid of core sleep entirely and have 6 or 8×20 minute naps a day. This is extremely difficult but it will also give you drastic gains in time because you’ll be sleeping a total of 2-3 hours a day.
- Dymaxion sleep is even more difficult than Uberman and very little people can actually do it. It was created by the famous American architect, theorist and inventor Buckminster Fuller. You sleep 4 times a day for 30 minutes. The time gains are the same as with Uberman but it may be more convenient.
My Experience With Polyphasic Sleep
The longest I’ve done polyphasic sleep is about 90 days and, to be honest, during that time, I felt that it was one of those life-transforming practices like meditation or intermittent fasting that you just have to try out.
I didn’t go Uberman but I tried to compose my own version of Everyman.
- My core sleep lasted from 10:30 PM to 3:00 AM, which is roughly 4 hours.
- Then I would get up, work on my blog, videos or writings and stay awake for about 4 hours until 7AM.
- After that I would have a 25 minute powernap and get back up. I would continue doing my things until 11:30 or 12 AM and have another 25 min nap.
This would be my last sleep cycle before I go to bed at night again – so, 1 core sleep and 2 naps. Sometimes, I would either have a third nap somewhere around 10AM or 2PM or increase my sleep time by an additional 45 minutes during the first nap at 7AM. In total, I would sleep 5 hours in one 24-hour period.
How Did Polyphasic Sleep Affect My Performance?
Surprisingly, it didn’t suffer almost at all. Maybe the first 3 to 5 days were slightly off beat but in general, I was able to jump out of bed right away at 3AM and be fully alert. My physical strength and muscle didn’t decrease either.
I did notice a slight ‘draggyness’ during the day or lack of explosiveness in my workouts. As far as creativity goes then it didn’t suffer that much either. The small fatigue can make you more creative in some aspects but it will also limit your brain power in others. You would feel like there’s something missing…
And there was…
The greatest disadvantage I experienced at that time was the need for more recovery time. I would still continue to work out and made progress but whenever I had a harder training session it was more difficult to maintain wakefulness. My body was just so exhausted that it quite literally started to fight back. I would start to doze off in front of my computer and sleep in during naps.
Why I Stopped Polyphasic Sleeping
That’s the biggest reason I stopped as well – not being able to recover properly from workouts. If I would be an average sedentary person who exercises maybe 3 times per week then I’d be perfectly fine with polyphasic sleep.
But because I want to maximize my physical and mental performance I’ve chosen to stop for the time being. It builds up – sleep deprivation, you know. I loved it because it in a peculiar way makes you more productive but my body simply needed a break for greater rest, which is awesome, because it means that it will supercompensate for it in the future.
Another reason I stopped was that I felt a slight dip in my mood as well. I would still be enthusiastic and excited but I lacked that extra edge. It felt like a perpetual state of dragging fatigue, which is why I needed a break from it.
But, nevertheless, I think it’s an amazing performance enhancing tool you can use every now and then. I’m not going to lie – you get sh*t done. You have at least 2-3 hours of extra time you can spend being more productive or doing anything else you want.
How to Do Polyphasic Sleep
With that being covered, here are some of the things I did to adjust to polyphasic sleep.
- First, choose a sleep schedule or adjust your own. Create your core sleep and how many naps you’ll have. I would advise you start off with Everyman or my version of it before going for Uberman.
- Allow at least 3 hours between your naps. You have to stick to the schedule judiciously and not sleep whenever you get tired. Make some adjustments to your plan but don’t deviate from it too often.
- Use an alarm clock to wake you up. You’re going to want to sleep in but you mustn’t do it. Otherwise, your body would start following random sleep patterns and you can get shift worker syndrome. Hell…use two alarm clocks because you have to get up. I used a soundtrack on YouTube that played binaural beats for 25 minutes and had an alarm in the end.
- Stay active to stay awake. Do something productive or creative. If you don’t have anything to work on, then polyphasic sleep is just not for you. It’s only worth the effort if you have a bigger project, a business or something like that and you need those extra few hours. Moving around, cold showers and slight exercise can also shy off fatigue. Don’t read or sit down because you’ll pass out without even noticing it. Use a standing desk and don’t drink stimulants either. You have to be able to get up in between naps and stay awake without drinking coffee or energy drinks. This can mess up your health even more.
- Stick to it. It took me roughly a week to get used to this so you have to stay consistent. You can’t just sleep in or have random naps. If you snooze your alarm, then your body will try to compensate for all its deprivation and you may spend sleeping for up to 12 hours, depending on how tired you are. You have to get up.
Final Thoughts on Polyphasic Sleep
Like I said, I actually love polyphasic sleep not just because of the increased productivity but because it also made me slightly sharper. It was exactly what I needed in that period of my life, which I’m definitely going to go back to in the future.
Polyphasic sleeping teaches you a very useful skill – you learn how to sleep faster. I mean…you learn how to nap and do it more effectively. You can sleep 10 to 12 hours but still feel exhausted in the morning because you’re not actually recovering. With powernaps, you’re forced to stop your analytical mind and just fall sleep. And you learn how to sleep anywhere at any time – you could just throw yourself on the couch, sleep in the library or roll up underneath the table for 30 minutes and get back at it.
Ultimately, we’re just beginning to understand the function of sleep and I think that we definitely don’t need 7 to 8 hours to be optimally healthy or perform at our best. You have to focus on improving the quality of your sleep and condition your brain to do it faster.
Make sure to stick around this blog for similar future experiments, including optimizing your physiology, augmenting your mindset and enhancing your life. You can get my free e-book called Body Mind Agoge, which reveals some of the most fundamental performance enhancing tools I know.