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.”
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).
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
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%)
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
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%)
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.