Polyphasic Sleeping Overview

Polyphasic sleeping is tool that allows me to have the time to work on all the many projects and hobbies I pursue.  I spend a lot of time explaining this to people as it is pretty different from what people are accustomed to.  The definition of Polyphasic sleep as per Wikipedia is "the practice of sleeping multiple times in a 24-hour period".  Rather than to explain the basics of Polyphasic sleep, please take a few minutes and read the following articles, you may find it very fascinating.  After you finish the articles come back and see how my sleeping schedule works and how it allows me time to work on very interesting hobbies.

http://polynap.grelly.com/ (Created a great sleep track I use, its 26 minutes of white noise followed by an alarm)

Ok, done reading that?  Good, now on to my schedule, if you read the articles above you will reconize my sleep pattern as the "Everyman" sleep schedule:

Sleep from 12:30am - 3:30am (Core Sleep)
20 Minute nap at 7:00am
20 Minute nap at Noon
20 Minute nap at 7:00pm

Total I get around 4 hours of sleep per day, I started this schedule in September 2007 and have more or less followed it since (I say pretty much, because I am not that strict in my schedule, I do miss naps, move naps, etc.  However I have been practicing Polyphasic sleep the whole time).  Since I get asked so many questions about Polyphasic sleep in general, below is kind of a question and answer of the common questions people ask me.

Frequently Asked Questions I Get

Aren't you tired all the time?
No, you would expect only ever getting 4 hours a sleep day after day after day would make you incredibly tired, but that is not the case.  Before I started Polyphasic sleep I was trying to get by on about 5-6 hours of sleep a day and failing horribly, I required massive amount of caffeine to stay awake and moving and I would just crash about once a month a sleep for an entire day.  Now since I am Polyphasic I don't require any caffeine to maintain my schedule and I am able to stay alert throughout the day and night.

Can you miss a nap, what happens if you do?
Unfortunatly I miss naps all the time, I have meetings I can't miss, we have company over and I forget or just don't have time, etc, life gets in the way sometimes.  When I miss a nap it feels a lot like if you were to try and stay up a few hours past your normal bedtime, you get tired, but you can still function.  Typically when I miss a nap, I get very tired around when I was supposed to take my nap, but then in a bit I start feeling alert again and function just fine without it, however at night before my core sleep I really pay for it, I will start getting really tired and can't keep my eyes open to save my life.  My general rule is for each nap I miss in the day I have to extend my core sleep by 90 minutes.  If I don't miss any naps my core sleep is 3 hours, if I miss one nap my core sleep is 4.5 hours, if I miss two naps my core sleep is 6 hours, etc.

Where do you take your naps?
You would be amazed the places you can find to nap.  My normal day my morning and evening nap is taken in our spare bedroom, my noon nap I have to take at work, so in the summer I just go out to my truck and take my nap, but its too cold in the winter to do that so I found an unused room at my workplace where I go and take my nap.

What about noise and lights during your nap?
For noise, I have a sleep track that is on my cell phone I listen too, it has 26 minutes of white noise followed by an alarm clock that wakes me up.  So for the noise the white noise track does a great job at blocking all of that out.  For light, I have never had trouble sleeping with lights on or in the daylight, etc, so I don't do anything about the light.  I do know that other Polyphasic sleepers sometimes carry eye masks that they wear while taking a nap.

To get a copy of the sleep track I use you can download it for free from http://polynap.grelly.com/?page_id=7, I use the 26 minute version that is on there.

Isn't this really bad for your health?
I get this question a lot, so I will try and summerize my thoughts on the topic.  Is this as healthy as sleeping as long as your body wants and waking up naturally with no alarm clock?  I would say no.  However how many people are able to sleep like that?  Most people live by their alarm clocks and can barely drag themselves out of bed in the morning for work, I would have to say that is unhealthy as well

There are many studies telling us that you need enough sleep to be healthy, and they are correct to a degree I believe.  A typical person sleeping at night goes through a sleep cycle every 90 minutes, that is every 90 minutes they go from a very light sleep, down through the sleep stages of NREM sleep to a heavy REM sleep.  If you ever take notice that when you wake up and need to use the bathroom or something it will almost always be at a 90 minute interval from when you fell asleep, this is when you are in one of the lighter stages of sleep in your 90 minute cycle.

Now to relate your 90 minute sleep cycle to Polyphasic sleep, in your 90 minute sleep cycle your REM portion of that is about 20 minutes, so if you are in bed for 8 hours (Lets assume it takes you a half an hour to fall asleep) you will notice you have 5 sleep cycles during your night, now look at my polyphasic schedule.  I get two sleep cycles during my core sleep at night and then I take three naps during the day.  During each nap my body picks the sleep stage it needs the most and I fall directly into that type of sleep, so in essence I am also getting 5 cycles of sleep per day, I am just skipping the transitioning time between the sleep stages.

Ok, I know I am being long winded on this answer, but I want to make sure I am clear on the mechanics of sleep to be able to answer the question about health.  I would conclude that as long as I am getting all of my naps, I am getting the same quality of sleep per day that the typical person does as I am getting the same number of sleep cycles.

One last thought on this subject.  We cannot say with certainty that Polyphasic is either good or bad, there just isn't enough research out there about this subject.  My opinion comes from how I feel, I believe the body is good at letting you know what is working and what isn't.  Since being on Polyphasic I feel better than I ever have before, I have more energy than I ever had before I started this, and if my body wasn't getting enough sleep, I am sure I would find out by either always feeling tired or I would be getting sick all the time.  However the truth is, the only time I am so tired I can barely keep awake is when I am not doing my schedule well and am missing naps, etc.  Also I rarely get sick and when I do I get over it very quickly.

How long does it take you to fall asleep?
On average I would say it takes under 5 minutes, its not unusual to fall asleep in 2 minutes if I am sleeping somewhere I am comfortable at.

What do other people think?
I get two basic responses when I explain my schedule to people

1) Oh, that's horrible, you are going to die before you are 30, you have to get a good nights sleep!
2) Oh man, that's the coolest thing I have ever heard of, I totally want to try that sometime!

Do people think its weird when you leave to take a nap, what about at work?
Interestingly enough, people don't normally notice when you leave for about 26 minutes, if you don't make a big deal about it, other people normally don't notice or care either.

Do you have to use an alarm clock?
Yes, I use my cell phone as my alarm, my life is mostly run by alarms, I have three separate alarms set on my phone at any given time.

Well I could never do it because I don't fall asleep quickly right?
After I explain Polyphasic sleep to people, almost without fail people tell me that sounds great but they could never do it because it takes them too long to fall asleep, this is faulty logic.  When you first start on Polyphasic sleep you go through a transition period that lasts about a week where you go through extreme sleep deprivation, if you are able to make it through that week without giving up your body will learn that if it wants sleep it better get it when you give it the chance.  People who used to need 30 minutes or more to fall asleep at the end of their transition week can fall asleep in just a few minutes.

How difficult is it to live a Polyphasic lifestyle?
I won't say its easy, it is a day to day struggle to get my naps in, you quickly learn that society is not setup to handle us Polyphasic sleepers.  You need to keep very close in your mind the reason you are sleeping this way.  People who do it because they think its cool, or because they want to get all this work done don't last very long.  When you are getting up at 3:30am in the morning you need a really good reason to tell yourself why you are up otherwise its easy to rationalize just going back to bed.  Willpower alone is not enough to do this, you need a lot of willpower and a good rational reason, also you need fun stuff to do.

That being said, I enjoy getting up as early as I do, rather than stumbling into the office I have already accomplished a monophasic persons (Someone that sleeps all at once, a normal schedule) half day worth of "work".

What do you do with your time?
It doesn't matter how much time I have in a day, I still have more things to do than time in the day, my typical day is something along these lines:

  • Wake up at 3:30am
  • Make my first breakfast
  • Check email over breakfast
  • Spend a few minutes working on one of my hobbies (Feeding fish, planting stuff in aquaponics, make a ham radio contact, etc)
  • Work on programming for one of my consulting gigs
  • Take morning nap
  • Drive to fitness place and work out.
  • Shower and head to work.
My evening is spent much the same as anyone elses, making dinner, hanging out with Meagan, and watching movies, etc.  The biggest difference is I am able to stay up at night with her and still get up early in the morning.