A Month of Polyphasic Sleep

Monophasic Sleep - Typical Night - Zeo Graph

A typical night’s sleep from BEFORE I started polyphasic sleeping. This graph is from the night of Feb 11. Each bar in the graph represents 5 minutes of sleep. Time awake is 0:00 because it only counts only times woken up DURING the night; not time awake before falling asleep or after waking up in the morning.

They say there’s a way to add more waking hours into each day.  It’s called “polyphasic sleep”.  I’ve always wanted more waking hours (who wouldn’t?) so I decided to try polyphasic sleep for a month.

The idea is that by having naps throughout the day (“polyphasic sleep”), rather than by sleeping just once at night (“monophasic sleep”), you can get by on dramatically less sleep overall.

This post describes my experience with polyphasic sleep.

How Polyphasic Sleeping Works

There are 3 broad phases of sleep – light sleep, REM sleep (dreaming sleep), and deep sleep (slow wave sleep). Most people seem to agree that light sleep is unnecessary, but that REM and deep sleep are important.

The theory behind polyphasic sleep is that when you sleep less total hours spread over a few naps, your body will adapt by reducing your percentage of light sleep and giving you the deep and REM sleep that you need.

There are a variety of polylphasic sleeping schedules. Here are a few of them:

Segmented: 2 sleeps – 3.5 hours each (7 hours total sleep)
Dual Core 1: 3 sleeps – 3.5 hrs, 1.5 hrs, 30 min (5.5 hours total sleep)
Everyman 3: 4 sleeps – 3.5 hrs, and three 20 min naps (4.5 hours total sleep)
Uberman: 6 sleeps – 20 min naps only (2 hours total sleep)

You can find more detail on the various schedules here.

Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress (the software that this blog is built on), did the Uberman schedule for a year and says that “It was probably the most productive year of my life.”

The Plan

My goal was to gradually transition to the “Everyman 3″ schedule – spending 2 weeks on segmented, then 2 weeks on Dual Core 1, and then starting Everyman 3.

Why didn’t I go for a more extreme schedule like Uberman? Because the more extreme the schedule, the more strict you have to be with nap times, apparently, and because I wasn’t convinced that Uberman was all that healthy.

How I Tracked My Sleep – Zeo

To track my sleep I used a Zeo. A Zeo costs just over $100 and is a band that you wear around your head while you’re sleeping. The band has a sensor at the front (on your forehead) that measures your brain waves and sends the data to the Zeo mobile app (in my case, an iPhone app) via Bluetooth.

The Zeo then gives you graphs and other info about your sleep. The sleep graphs that you see in this post came from my Zeo.

Is the Zeo accurate? Yes, I believe it is. Here’s some evidence I saw that it is accurate:

  • Once when I woke up for a few hours in the middle of the night and kept the Zeo band on my head, it knew that I was awake the whole time (and it knew correctly when I went back to sleep)
  • A couple times I woke up in the middle of a dream, and the Zeo correctly indicated that I was in the middle of REM sleep at those times.
  • When I’d wake up and look at the Zeo app on my phone, it would recognize that I had just woken up.

The two main negatives of Zeo in my experience are:

  • Zeo isn’t designed to track polyphasic sleeping (only monophasic) which makes it a bit frustrating.
  • No customer service (basically, after you buy a Zeo you’re on your own – don’t expect help with the product no matter what type of difficulties you have).

Monophasic Sleep

To start, I tracked myself for a week sleeping normally (monophasic). The graph at the top of this post is from a typical night from that week.

Based on Zeo data for that week, here are my average times:

Deep: 3:04 (38%)
REM: 2:54 (36%)
Light: 1:59 (25%)
Wake: 0:02 (0%)

Zeo provides a score for each night of sleep based. Points are added for time spent in deep and REM sleep, and for total sleep. Points are deducted for time spent awake and number of times woken. My Zeo scores during this monophasic week ranged from 101 to 124 – quite good considering that the average Zeo score for my age group is 78.

Although the high amounts of deep and REM got me high scores, the fact that light sleep was only 25% of my total sleep worried me – if I actually needed all of the deeep & REM sleep I’d been getting, then perhaps I’d only be able to reduce my total sleep time by 25% when I started sleeping polyphasically.

Segmented (biphasic) Sleep

Segmented Sleep - Typical Night - Zeo Graph

The night of Feb 23: This was a typical night of sleep during the two weeks that I slept Segmented. The black space in the middle of the graph is the time that I was awake in the middle of the night (the Zeo was off my head).

After a week on monphasic sleep, I slept for two weeks on the segmented schedule. Here are my average times in each sleep stage for the two weeks:

Deep: 2:23 (38%)
REM: 2:14 (36%)
Light: 1:49 (28%)
Wake: n/a

As you can see my percentage of light sleep rose from 25% on monophasic to 28% on segmented – the opposite of what should have happened!

There weren’t any noticable trends throughout the 2 weeks that I slept segmented. Although there were certainly variations from one night to the next, no stage of sleep consistently increased or decreased over these 2 weeks. In other words, there was no sign that my body was adapting to this type of sleep.

During these two weeks I felt a bit tired during the day, and quite tired during the 2-3 hours that I’d be awake in the middle of the night. Although I wasn’t adapted to segmented sleep after 2 weeks, I decided to move on to Dual Core 1…

Dual Core 1 Sleep

Dual Core 1 Sleep - Typical Night - Zeo Graph

The night of March 7 and day of March 8 – three sleeps during 24 hours of Dual Core 1.

For Dual Core 1, I slept in 3 blocks each day – 3 hours, 2 hours, and 1 hour. Total sleep time was usually around 5 and a half hours rather than 6, due to the time it took me to fall asleep on each block.

Average sleep times for each 24 hours on Dual Core 1:

Deep: 2:06 (38%)
REM: 1:49 (33%)
Light: 1:40 (30%)
Wake: n/a

Again, my percentage of light sleep increased a bit compared to segmented & monophasic – not what should have happened. The only trend during these 2 weeks was that I managed to reduce the time it took me to fall asleep (I’m not sure if that was due to the “fall asleep faster” techniques that I tried, or due to the fact that my body was getting more & more desperate for sleep).

Everyman 3 Sleep

Sadly, I didn’t get this far. After the 2 weeks of Dual Core 1, I decided not to stick with polyphasic sleeping. My body didn’t adapt to the segmented or Dual Core 1 schedules, and I was racking up a sleep debt that was making me more and more tired as time went on.

The tiredness was starting to affect my ability to work (my work requires my brain to be alert). On top of that, I caught a cold – possibly due to my sleep debt – and was pretty sure I’d have a hard time shaking it without the normal amount of REM & deep sleep that I need.

So after the 4 weeks of trying to ease myself into polyphasic sleep, I quit.

I wish polyphasic sleeping had worked for me. It certainly would have been nice to have more waking hours in the day without any loss in alertness. It clearly works for some people, and maybe if I’d been able to persist longer I would have eventually adapted.

Want To Try Polyphasic Sleep?

Although polyphasic sleep didn’t work out for me, it does seem to work for some people. If you want to try polyphasic sleep I have two suggestions:

1 – Get a Zeo (mobile version; the others don’t work for tracking polyphasic sleep)
2 – Check out PolyphasicSociety.com - it’s the most comprehensive source of info that I found, and their forums are a great place to get advice.

…and thus ends my first year of doing something new each month.

Comments

      • Mark says

        I realize this is a major necropost, but for the information of future people who read this: The likely reason why Justin had such an unusually large amount of REM & SWS (Slow Wave Sleep, also called Deep Sleep) during monophasic sleep.

        When Justin was sleeping monophasically, Justin had about 3 hours of REM, and about 3 hours of SWS. This is about double of the average for most people (the average being about 1.5 hours of each type, usually plus minus a half hour). So Justin had an unusually high amount of REM & SWS.

        Now on to the likely reason why. High amounts of exercise will tend to increase SWS required, as SWS tends to be used for muscle repair. In addition, it can increase REM requirements (I think this part is for training the nervous system, since exercise also trains it, such as motor memory). Since Justin was on crossfit during this time, which is a physically intensive workout program, Justin needed much more SWS & REM than the average. In addition, the reason why, when sleeping monophasically, Justin had only about 25% LS (Light Sleep), instead of the average person’s ~50% LS, was due to the increased amounts of REM & SWS needed replacing some of the light sleep.

        According to a comment from puredoxyk (I think I read it originally in a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) she did), who is the originator of the Uberman and Everyman 3 sleep schedules, whenever she does intense muscle tearing activities, she often needs to go onto an E1 schedule (6h core + 20m nap) for 1-2 days to recover. So E1 is probably the only total sleep time reducing polyphasic schedule that could work with crossfit, and still get you the total SWS & REM Sleep needed, although even then, it would be a tight fit.

        TLDR: More exercise –> More SWS (Deep sleep) & REM required. Justin was doing crossfit, thus why Justin had and needed more REM & SWS than the average person.

        • Quentin says

          Hi,
          I have a question to all polyphasic sleepers out here.

          I’m 23, and I’ve been doing the Everyman method for 20 days now.

          The schedule is as follow :

          2am-6am Core
          11:00 – 11:20 Nap 1
          16:00 – 16:20 Nap 2
          21:00 – 21:20 Nap 3

          I followed it extremely strictly, by the minute.

          The first two weeks went well with few hard adaptation days at day 3 and 4. I fell sick at the end of Week 2, getting back to normal by extending my Core to 6 hours on two consecutive nights.
          Now i’m having a really hard time not falling asleep between naps, and waking up after core and naps has definitely become Hardcore !

          I’m afraid my body is getting close to exhaustion.
          Should I adapt my schedule in anyway ? Is this a second normal adaptation time ?

          Thank you for your advices,

          Best regards,

          Quentin.

          • John says

            Quentin,
            If you’ve got any questions on polyphasic sleep, a good place to discuss them is on the polyphasic subreddit at http://www.reddit.com/r/polyphasic

            In regards to the schedule difficulty? Have you had any lifestyle changes that require more sleep, like exercise? You may also just need to move the naps to a times when you’re sleepy.

  1. Fabien says

    Hey :)

    Sleep hygien is as important as polyphasic sleep to get a good sleep. For example, having about 2h of darkness (or pure red) before bed and during the night is much better.

  2. Shankar says

    Hello Justin!

    I am one guy from the polysoc website and I am very happy that you liked our website and forum. It is indeed a very special place to us.

    Also, I wanted to make a note on your experience with polyphasic sleeping. I would like to point out, that you quite a rare case. The normal amount of SWS is less than 90 min per day for most people. So you getting more than 2h of deep sleep and more than 3 hours of REM is indeed quite rare, as it, I guess, puts you in a better sleep position than 95% of all people.

    What I wanted to say, every person’s need for sleep is different and your sleep architecture is very efficient (just 25% of light sleep on a monophasic night, that’s honestly kind of amazing. Most people get more than 60%). So, the only thing you could get out of polyphasic sleeping is the fact that you sleep many times a day, which could give you a power boost. But not from the fact, that you reduce your light sleep. Getting it less than 20% would require some serious effort in dieting and sports.

    If you would stick to a schedule for a longer time, there might be a possibility, that you’ll get similiar number in comparison with mono, but I doubt that’d be a good Idea.

    In the end, the number one reason one should try polyphasic sleeping is to improve their health by setting up better sleep envrionment (and in the process one might reduce sleep time as well). But if you have such great numbers to begin with, it doesn’t make that much sense. Most people can profit from it, but you are not one of them. I don’t know wether that is a good or a bad thing, I’ll let you decide :)

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Justin says

      Hi Shankar,

      Thanks for your input. My theory is that people with bigger brains need more SWS & REM. Just kidding :) Wish I could get by on less. I definitely found the Polyphasic Society website to be a big help.

      • Shankar says

        Just a glance at your zeo graph from mono would be enough to tell you, that a possibility of segmenting your sleep is out of the picture.
        Sadly, I have a bedside zeo and am not able to put a picture here, if I could, you would see how my sleep architecture on mono differs from yours.

        For example, I get around 80 min of SWS in my first 3 hours with smth like 60-70 min of REM. Then there is a period of just blank light sleep. For about 2-3 hours there is nothing, not even a bit of REM, of light sleep. Then the next three hours are intense REm and a little bit of SWS making me average around 100 min of SWS and around 2,5h-3h of REM per 24 hours.

        And I also have to add, whenever I get more than 3-3,5h of REM, I don’t feel really good. So, on a polyphasic schedule I would get around 2,5h of REM and that would seem optimal for me. Of course, if the mental load increases, so does REM and maybe even SWS, I am not sure yet.
        I’ll continue reading your blog, if you don’t mind, maybe I’ll find out the underlying issue with why you have such a sleep architecture, can’t promise anything though.

        • Justin says

          I’d guess that the amount of SWS & REM you get results in some high ZEO scores also. I find it interesting comparing sleep charts… a couple people in my family tried my ZEO & it was interesting to see the differences.

          Yes of course you’re welcome to continue reading the blog, although this is the only post about sleep; I don’t think you’ll find anything else that’s really related.

  3. Del says

    Hi Justin,

    Your sleep pattern is amazing. I, as everyone else can have 60% of light sleep every night. How did you make your sleep so efficient? Is this a natural thing for you?

    • Justin says

      Hi Del,

      Thanks. The charts above are just what happened naturally. Sometimes I wear an eye mask to block out light, but don’t remember if I did when recording the charts above. When sleeping polyphasically I tried various techniques to fall asleep faster (none with consistent success) but don’t think they affected the time when I was actually sleeping.

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