Sleeping like a mortal

After 3 weeks of doing polyphasic sleeping, the experiment is at an end.

It was great to have all that extra time, but I found that it was too difficult to maintain. Perhaps I never “turned the corner” from the adjustment phase, and thus my naps might not have been the all-REM that they needed to be. Whatever the reason, it was just too hard to maintain the schedule. Most of my waking periods were good, even great. But then every once in a while I’d have a time when I was awake that I could hardly keep my eyes open, and the sleep was just dragging me down.

Maybe the worst side-effect of polyphasic sleeping, for me, was being cold. My hypothesis is that my body was trying to go to sleep, so it’d lower its temperature. Whatever the reason, especially at night, I felt extremely cold. I’d sit with a space heater blasting on me and still not feel warm. (that cannot be a good sign!)

It was also socially very hard to maintain the schedule. I had many events over the weekend, none of which I wanted to miss, and couldn’t seem to fit a nap in in the right place. So I missed two naps in a row yesterday and decided to call it quits. I slept a regular night last night (8 hours) and feel perfectly normal today. I didn’t even get tired just before my nap times, as was happening before.

I also realized that the sleep schedule and its side-effects were keeping me from doing things that I really enjoy. This morning, I was able to cuddle in bed with my son for the first time in three weeks. When on polyphasic sleeping, I wouldn’t have dared to lie down in a bed like that because I would surely have fallen asleep. I also felt like I had to be “on” all the time, that there was no rest. Any sort of relaxing time would probably have led to me falling asleep — but I like to relax. And I missed my morning routine. And especially missed green tea.

I wouldn’t rule out trying it again if the need arose. But for now I’m back to my early riser schedule, which seems to suit me just fine.

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Polyphasic sleeping

It seemed inevitable that I would one day try to go polyphasic with my sleeping. After some good-natured badgering from a friend who is on the system, I’m now sleeping only 20 minutes every 4 hours, around the clock. I’ve been on the new paradigm since April 9. For the most part, it has been a good experience, so far.

It’s ironic that I change to this kind of sleeping at about the same time as Steve Pavlina switches back to monophasic sleeping. He had some good reasons for leaving polyphasic sleeping, some of which I also note as downsides, below.

For those not familiar with polyphasic sleeping, the theory is that the body/brain only really need a certain amount of sleep (perhaps mostly REM) and that the body will compensate for lack of sleep by making any sleep you get the proper kind of sleep. And 2 hours (or so) of sleep is apparently enough. So with a schedule of 20 minutes 6 times a day, I get about 2 hours of REM sleep.
Links for more information are at the bottom of this post.

I sleep at around 5:30AM, 9:30AM, 1:30PM, 5:30PM, 9:30PM, 1:30AM. I set my alarm for around 25 minutes. And most of the time I just go right to sleep, have some nice dreams, and get up easily. Most of the time…

Polyphasic sleeping is like treading a very narrow bridge across a deep and swift river. Your goal is to cross the bridge, and if you fall off, you have to swim back upstream and start crossing the bridge again. The path is narrow because this is the bare minimum of sleep you need. If you have one mishap with a nap (any caffeine, kids running around yelling, etc.) then things are going to get screwed up, you fall off, and have to start over again. But it is possible to get across, and when you do, you feel great.


  • Obviously the big reason to do polyphasic sleeping is to have more time. You get 5 or more extra hours per day. Remember, though, you need to do something worthwhile with those hours.
  • Refreshing naps. You feel good and refreshed from each nap. My feeling of alertness is as good or better than monophasic sleeping.
  • More vivid dreams, that you remember. I’ve never really remembered my dreams, now I have a dream six times a day and remember most of them.
  • Excellent, jaw-dropping, thing to talk about at cocktail parties.
  • You feel really great when the system is working.


  • You’ll be very, very tired sometimes. If I get off the schedule, or have any caffeine it takes me over a day to get back in synch. And the nighttime hours of that day are spend being painfully tired.
  • Social awkwardness. You really have to nap within an hour of naptime, If you’re out, or at work, etc. it’s hard to do that. It creates strange situations, but I have usually been able to work something out. (sleep in the car, postpone a nap up to an hour, etc.)
  • You feel awful when the system is not working.


  • Having no long sleep period makes each moment run into the moment before it. There are no defining moments to mark time by. If I continue with the paradigm, I’m going to try to work something in that I do at the same time each day so that I can use that as a reference point. (the naps don’t work because there are too many of them.) The words “Yesterday” or “tomorrow” really don’t mean anything to me without a long sleep period. When I’m doing polyphasic sleeping, it’s hard to know when to use those terms. During my two oversleeps (where I accidentally slept the whole night through), the words made complete sense the next day.
  • My daily routine is nonexistant. I try to do each of the things I like to do somewhere in each day, but the Magic of Every Day has gone away. Making a scheduled time for these things (exercise, meditation, guitar), will be important. But right now, there are times that I’m too tired to do some of those, so can’t necessarily do them when I want to.
  • Caffeine screws everything up. I really miss green tea. Sometimes I think I can have some at the beginning of a waking period, or if I’m tired and need to stay up through a nap. But every time I’ve done this (twice) it as completely derailed me, and I’ve overslept.

Informative Links

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Sleep hacking justified!

As I’ve written before, I have been getting up at 5:00AM for over 6 months now. It has been working very well for me. I get more done during the day, I’m more alert all day, and have no trouble sleeping either at night or during the occasional nap.

I have been a little concerned about what it might be doing to me to reduce my sleeping hours to 6 or 7 per day. But the article Sleep Deprivation: The Great American Myth in LiveScience says it’s ok, and may even be a good thing, “From a six-year study of more than a million adults: People who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep.”

And for my friend who is on a polyphasic sleeping schedule (which Steve Pavlina has also converted to), the news is just as good, “The Cancer Prevention Study II even showed that people with serious insomnia or who only get 3.5 hours of sleep per night, live longer than people who get more than 7.5 hours.” (Perhaps I’ll try it someday when my life settles down a bit.)

The article also has tips on how to get the best rest. Interestingly, these are many of the same recommendations that Steve Pavlina had in his How to become an early riser article.

  • Do not take sleeping pills. This includes over-the-counter pills and melatonin. [Nor do I use caffeine to wake myself up]
  • Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. [This is the second most important, and also increases your productivity because you get more “good” hours in your day.]
  • Get up at the same time every morning, even after a bad night’s sleep. The next night, you’ll be sleepy at bedtime. [This is the most important tip. 5:00AM for me!]
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, get out of bed and return only when you are sleepy. [This never happens to me, since I’m sleepy when I go to sleep. The worst that will happen is that I might wake up early, in which case I’ll get out of bed and be thankful for the extra time.]
  • Avoid worrying, watching TV, reading scary books, and doing other things in bed besides sleeping and sex. If you worry, read thrillers or watch TV, do that in a chair that’s not in the bedroom.
  • Do not drink or eat anything caffeinated within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol. It’s relaxing at first but can lead to insomnia when it clears your system. [It’s interesting that I stopped drinking alcohol around the time I started my new sleep regimen. So the artificial sleepiness from alcohol hasn’t affected me.]
  • Spend time outdoors. People exposed to daylight or bright light therapy sleep better.

(And it’s so interesting to see memes propagate around the internet, BoingBoing picked up Steve’s original sleep article today)

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Sleep update

Since sleep hacking is a popular topic, here are some updates:
I have been waking up at 5AM for many months now. The last few weeks have introduced some challenges to that schedule. I have found that when I alter the routine, I don’t feel right. I tried sleeping late by an hour, and it threw me off balance for the rest of the day. I went to bed before I was tired, and slept horribly. For me, having a rhythm is apparently very important. That is, getting up at the same time every day seems to do the trick for me. One of the neat things is that I’m more productive, and have more energy, throughout the day with this schedule than I was when I was sleeping 2 hours more. Go figure!

So if a little sleep hacking works, what about a lot of it?

Steve Pavlina, who introduced me to the “how to be an early riser” thing, has been tinkering with his sleep and is now trying Polyphasic sleep. And a friend of mine is also trying it, or has he calls it, Sleeping Like Leonardo & Buckminster Fuller.

I can imagine having an extra 30 waking hours a week would be fantastic, but the system seems too extreme to me. I mean, sleeping only a few hours each day in naps spread over the whole day? It seems unnatural! No, it is unnatural. But maybe it works. I’ll let these two guys try it and see how they fare before I try it.

An Early Riser, me?

I’d always been a night person before, usually going to bed at 10:00PM or later and preferring to sleep as late as possible (6:45AM or so), and much later on the weekends. What I realized, though, after some introspection was that the late evening wasn’t really the time when I was at my best. Sure, sometimes I could really get the groove on and get some excellent work done. But a lot of my nocturnal activities were not worthwhile. For example, blogs are interesting and I hope you’ll read mine from time to time, but when I’d look back at an evening of blog reading, I’d feel like I wasted the time.

I have two kids and a busy household, so I had a hard time finding time to do things for my personal development. I exercised only haphazardly and rarely even picked up the guitar I’d been trying to learn how to play for years. So I had some incentive to find a way to work these things into my life.

I read Steve Pavlina’s, “How to Become an Early Riser” and, quite profoundly, it changed my life. (Also see his additional post on the subject, How to Become an Early Riser, Part II)

After reading Steve’s article, I decided I wanted to get up at 5:00AM. It seemed impossible, but it was worth a try. The two key things that made the change possible for me were:
1. Set a fixed time to wake up, but vary the time I go to bed. That time should be when I’m tired enough to go to sleep in less than 15 minutes
2. Get up at the same time every day (I’ll talk about “Every Day” in a subsequent post.)

The fixed time to get up helped a lot. It meant no negotiations. I get up at 5AM, no matter what. I don’t have to think about what day it is, or what the day will be like, or what the night before was like. As soon as the alarm goes off, I get up. Immediately! It’s important to have the discipline to just get up and not hit snooze or bargain with yourself. Sure, my mind tried to do that in the beginning, but after only a few days of ignoring that voice that said “just a little more sleep”, now there isn’t even a pause when the alarm goes off. Often I wake up about 5 minutes before the alarm goes off (which I’m sure my wife, who sleeps later, prefers). If the alarm does go off and I’m groggy, I do some deep breathing and that wakes me up quickly. (I’ll talk about breath exercises in a subsequent post.)

And what time to I go to bed? “It depends.” Really, it’s different every day. I go to bed when I’m tired. Not so tired that I’m falling over, but tired enough that whatever I might be doing won’t be worthwhile. Now that I’ve been doing this for many months, I can just tell when I’m tired enough to go to sleep.

Sometimes that’s 9:00PM, sometimes that’s 11:30 PM. It has been as late as 1:30AM, and as early as 8:00PM. Generally, though, I go to bed between 9:30 and 10:30 each night. So that means that I’m getting around 7 hours of sleep on an average night, when I used to be an 8 hour plus, person. And it also means that since I go to bed (on average) at the same time I used to, that I’ve added almost 2 hours to my waking day. I use that time for some of the worthwhile things I’d previously never been able to get to.

My morning schedule goes something like:
5:05-5:25: Exercise: The Peaceful Warrior Workout and other exercises
5:25-5:55: Meditate, zazen style
5:55-6:00 make tea, green
6:00-6:40 practice guitar, classical

The schedule is not really this rigid: sometimes I’ll meditate for longer and shorten my guitar practice, or I’ll exercise longer and adjust the other things accordingly. The key, for me, is that I do each of them every day. I’ll write about the activities in subsequent posts.

Has it been worthwhile for me to turn my sleeping schedule upside-down like this? For me, very much so. An extra hour and forty minutes every day, filled with worthwhile things has made big changes in my life. Maybe it would for you too?