Polyphasic Sleeping Diary

December 1, 2009

in Polyphasic Sleeping

I learnt about polyphasic sleeping from a friend who is a devotee of Steve Pavlina, a personal growth guru. Steve Pavlina spent five months living on a polyphasic schedule and reported no problems except those that come of living in a monophasic society. As a student I don’t really live on a “normal” 9-5 schedule anyway, so I figured I’d give it a go. It’s always good to have an extra seven hours in the day.

I am on the Christmas holidays and so my sleeping patterns are pretty messed up right now. Currently I am sleeping from 4am until 1pm, consistently getting nine hours of sleep. The aim of the twenty minute naps is to cut out the unnecessary bits of sleep and get right down to the beneficial bit, REM sleep. Twenty minute naps spaced four hours apart give you two hours of REM sleep, what you’d get if you were sleeping nine hours a day monophasicly.

There are obvious differences between me and Steve Pavlina. Steve’s a vegan, I am an enthusiastic omnivore. He gets up immediately every day at 5am, I sleep until I wake up (hey, student…). He has a ridiculously well-organised and scheduled life, I… well, I don’t. So who knows if I’ll even make it past the first 24 hours? We can but try.

Day 1:
00:45: I have taken my first nap. I can’t say I slept at all, it being another four hours ’til I would normally have gone to bed, and it being unfortunately timed for midnight on New Year’s Day. One wonders if this is how the Gazans feel right now. But anyway, I am trying to get my body into the swing of things. The test comes at 4.
04:25: Well, I woke up immediately but now feel like shite. My heart rate has gone up in a kinda shaky way (like after a nightmare) so it looks like I did actually enter some kind of sleep. On ’til 8 then.
08:36: Woke up and turned off the alarm without a problem, or at least I think I did. I feel terrible, as befits someone who hasn’t functionally slept for 20 hours, but the fact is that I have gone without sleep for 41 hours in the past and thus this shouldn’t be a problem. Clearly it is being treated as such by my body because of the naps. Clearly I must press on and ignore it. :)
12:35: I don’t remember turning off this alarm at all. I just remember coming to and the alarm had already been reset. I am also battling tiredness, I feel like I have had virtually no sleep at all. I am reaching the point where my body would normally pack me off to bed and stay there for a good nine hours. At what point will it give up?
13:19: I now feel reasonably fine. Apparently the feeling like death follows for about twenty minutes after a nap and then I just feel tired. Wonder how long that would continue?
16:30: Another nap, another coming to, look at the clock and wondering what on earth is going on. I appear to be turning it off without any conscious thought whatsoever. I seem to feel a bit better now though. Actually I have no “Omg, I want to go back to bed right now” feelings. I feel a bit fatigues, but possibly even a little refreshed?
17:16: I have definitely been operating at below par, but for all that have still managed to achieve quite a bit. Having just finished Getting Things Done, I thought I would create a large list of action items. I had 84 action items when I started polyphasic, approximately 20 hours ago – I am now have 69. The need to fill the space between naps seems to engender real productivity, although I have been unable to undertake the proper creative stuff. I had 1660 unsorted emails in my in box: I now have 396. That kind of activity.
21:00: I was interrupted by my mum three minutes in, so began again from the beginning. Again, I switched off the alarm without really being aware of anything. I don’t I’ve ever managed such an unbroken period of prompt rising in my life.
23:50: I feel completely wide awake right now. I’m due to sleep in ten minutes. I wonder how I will fare.

Day 2:
12:30: Didn’t sleep amazingly this time around. Possibly this is because it is the midnight nap? Feeling some tiredness, some confusion. Groggy is probably the word. I am tempted to say that this is because I wasn’t feeling that tired when I took the nap and I probably only got about half the sleep-time I need. It might be worth lengthening the nap out to 1am instead, as midnight always have been my most productive period. Something to bear in mind.
11:37: I have a vague memory I made it awake at 4am (the alarm has been switched off, after all) but clearly I didn’t occupy myself with anything because I woke up at nine am. And I didn’t learn that lesson either because I fell asleep again and it is now half eleven. I hope my body won’t assume that we’re back on monophasic.
12:30pm: Gosh, I heard the alarm this time. Which would suggest that brief sleep has been more unhelpful than I could imagine. Ach.
12:56: Feeling much better now I’ve got some food in me. I’m yawning quite widely but this is really reflected in how tired I am.
4:25: Heard the alarm this time, heart once again beating fast. I think I have reset my internal clock by a day or something.

Day 3:
3:05am: Past few naps have passed relatively uneventfully, though unusually – I appear to have taken up lucid dreaming. Coming out of it is like coming out from underwater, a sensation of moving from one state to another without any change in my body, no tiredness or drowsiness. I am also now hearing the alarm.
4:26: Thinking slowed right now. Heard the alarm, feel desperately like I want to go back to sleep for much longer. Hopefully I won’t give in this time.
5:03: My body feels… odd. My muscles feel tired, yet unexercised. This I suppose is not odd given I haven’t monphasically slept for three days and I haven’t properly got out of bed for four, but I am posed with something of a dilemma about how to relieve this feeling. If I take some form of exercise the fatigue in my bones will increase, if I continue to sit in bed my muscles will begin to moan even loudly.
10:41: Feeling pretty awake. Still dogged by residual tiredness, but according to other polyphasic accounts this is temporary. Have now not slept monophasically for 24 hours and feel fine. I think this is possible.
6:32: Am feeling pretty happy, to be honest, quite clear-headed. If it continues like this I will be a very happy bunny. It’s interesting, my experiences are actually very similar to Steve Pavlina’s. One wonders whether this transition period is largely identical for everyone, we just describe it differently. Steve Pavlina, for example, writes of “mental calm”, I write of clear-headedness, and everything2.com refers to “being as high as fuck”. It’s all the same.
11:20: First nap taken away from home, and it went well. I slept curled up on a sofa and got a reasonable amount of sleep, though I think it took me rather longer to drop off. This would suggest that visiting friends, as long as they have sofas will not be problematic.

Day 4:
2:32: I appear to have fallen asleep for an hour. I may have to consider adding an extra nap in the night for a while, because I keep crashing and burning.
2:06: Made it though the night, but with difficulty. Did not feel any better for the 4am nap and was falling asleep as I sat, so added another 5am nap in a effort to see if things would improve. However, they did not and getting to 8am was a real struggle (I ended up watching a film) and I overslept ’til nine. My memory of what happens next is hazy but I think I drifted in and out until half twelve, whereupon I forced myself to take a proper nap at one. This seems to have got me back on track, though the tiredness which dogged me at the beginning has returned and my body is now aching from the little exercise I did yesterday. Moreover I feel the cold a lot more, which appears to be another stage of the adjustment. It does however, make me much more reluctant to get out of bed and thus reinforces this oversleeping. I think I will have to force myself to walk around a bit after every night nap as otherwise I feel almost compelled to close my eyes the fatigue is so strong. I always knew that oversleeping was going to be an issue in light of the fact that I eat more and meat at that and so digestion can be a problem, but last night it hit me harder than any other night and I was caught unaware. But I am impressed by the fact that I made it through until daybreak before I finally succumbed to oversleeping, perhaps a few weeks ago I might have given up immediately upon feeling so terrible after the 5am nap. Perhaps telling everyone what I am doing forcing me to remain resolute – or perhaps the appeal of having so much extra time in which to live allows me to keep going.

Day 5:

04:29: Day has gone well, I sat in my chair until four to stop myself being prompted to sleep longer than necessary, and this seem to have paid off. I feel fine, though with a slight headache.
11:58: Once again appear to have fallen asleep from 8-11. I say appear because I literally have no memory whatsoever of the end of this period. I put myself down for my nap and the next thing I remember is opening my door to check the post.
12:42: I possible suspect that my morning troubles are due to not getting appropriate sleep during the day – when I started the experiment I used to encourage myself to go into REM sleep and I think by the fact I started having lucid dreams succeeded in this. But I spent the last nap thinking about what I wanted to do when I got up. Lev sent me an article today on how polyphasic sleeping is impossible and people just don’t realise how much they’re sleeping – on the other hand Steve Pavlina definitely managed it for five months and I see no reason why I can’t then. However, although I think most of the article is bollocks written by someone with an agenda, they may be right that people are underestimating how much sleep they are getting. Reviewing this diary it seems I have overslept on four of the five nights I have been doing this, and the one I didn’t I felt shit. I didn’t realise this until I read back over this diary, and I imagine that someone not keeping one wouldn’t manage an accurate memory at all. What I will say though it that those I still feel slightly tired, I have consistently felt less tired then when on a monophasic schedule, with the exception of some early morning battles when I would have gone to sleep. Given that even including the oversleeping I am managing an average hours a night there is no way that I could have maintained the coherency and function that I currently have if I were getting by on five hours a night – I got six while at Innsbruck and developed the most filthy temper. Now, I appear to have some kind of suppressed energy that keeps making me stretch my legs. Maybe I should take more exercise. That may well be a good thing to do to keep the blood flowing.

Day 6:

4:34am: Have just taken the the 4am nap and I feel pretty good, really. Normally I am already fighting the gremlins by this point. I had to face my first nap times problems. Knowing I would be out at seven with friends til well past eight, I took my nap at six and then took a proplus. This seems to have worked quite well, I didn’t feel particularly tired and still got my midnight nap ok. I got up from the 4am nap at 4:20 – I had an itch and a desire to get up. I don’t think I could have got very meaningful sleep if I was aware enough to be bugged by itches, but I am still typing easily. I am however, starting to droop already. It would be nice to not oversleep today, but even if I do I am confident the oversleeping will still be shorter than previous sleeps. I think I am starting to really get into the pattern of this.

11:07am: Woke up from the 8am nap absolutely fine. Still felt quite tired though so I allowed myself to take a two hour nap after about ten minutes. I feel since I am now almost there I may as well make it a little more pleasant on myself.

Day 7:

I let myself sleep from 4am:1pm today. I rather missed the sensation of relaxing in bed. I hope this doesn’t fuck up the rest of the polyphasic. It seems to me that unless I actively occupy myself with tasks I need to do then I will be tempted to just snuggle down and forget about. This isn’t related to tiredness, because I had almost conquered that – just boredom…

Day 8:

06:13: I have a feeling that today is the day that I make it through the entire twenty four hours polyphasically. It’s 6am and I do not feel exhausted or tired at all, except for a little residual sleepiness presumably left over from monophasic. The only question is boredom, and I think I shall read…
13:22: Well, I made it. Not overslept once and while I felt crap from 8:30-12, the midday nap cured that and I now feel much better. I guess I can now call myself polyphasic. Hurrah!

Sent to a friend: “You wanted to know about missing naps. Well, because my mother misled me over how long we would be round a friend’s today I had to unintentionally delay my 4pm by an hour and a half, and I tell you exactly what happens – you start getting really exhausted until you finally take the nap, and you still feel like complete shite for the entire next cycle. It has been a painful lesson. Missing naps = Bad Idea.”

Day 11:

Took a nap yesterday in the passenger seat of my mum’s car on the way back to Manchester, with the seat down. Conked out and slept normally. Took the 8pm normally. Then proceeded to get quite drunk that night, got into bed at 2am and slept until 8:30, when I was woken up by my mum prodding me to see if I was alive. I woke up easily and non-sleepily as usual, went to check my email and generally felt pretty good. If I was asleep for six and a half hours then I would have got the same amount of REM sleep than if I had taken my 12, 4 and 8am naps, so this probably accounts for it. Might be worth taking this into consideration in future.

Day 12:

Today, I wanted to snuggle down in my duvet and not worry about getting up for the alarm. So I set the alarm for 8:30 and fell asleep at 4. I then proceeded to wake up at 11. I’d apparently turned off the alarm without waking. I think granting a few hours sleep instead of the naps is now kinda impractical unless you ignore all alarms completely and just let yourself sleep as long as you need to. There’s a account on the Internet about Thomas Jefferson who was apparently polyphasic, about how every six weeks he would sleep for twenty four hours. Whether this could actually be attributed to Jefferson or not, it seems likely that this was how someone slept, and this may explain the tendency to, once down, stay down.

Incidentally, I now feel dreadful for having slept for seven hours straight. Monophasic sleeping does not seem to agree with me. :) I think I am going to have special sleeping days or something because I like sleeping monophasically but I don’t like feeling shitty afterwards.

Day 13:

Today I ended up missing a nap altogether. I went to a protest from 6pm that I only got back from at midnight. Although I tried the trick of taking the nap early, three hours is seemingly too close to the previous nap, and I got up after fifteen minutes of thinking. I took a proplus at eight instead, and this seemed to get me through til midnight, though the nap left me feeling not as refreshed as it usually does. I overslept the 8pm by three hours, maybe that was the effect.

A disadvantage of polyphasic sleeping – my beloved husband came to stay and instead of sleeping with him as I usually I spent most of the night sitting by him while he slept. Had I not ended up sleeping long periods the previous two days I might have just slept monophasically, but I thought it a bad idea. A price to pay for so much extra time.

Day 14:

A few people have been asking me whether I am really polyphasic given this diary regularly records times I’ve slept for several hours. My answer to this is that I’m simply a bad polyphasic sleeper, just as I was a bad monophasic sleeper, and indeed most people are. How often do they get nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? One’s sleeping pattern is an underlying default which is regularly ignored by everyone because life gets in the way. The fact is that although I am oversleeping, sometimes this is voluntary, or because I was forced to delay or miss a nap and my body really doesn’t like that. Even taking into this into account I have averaged 4 hours of sleep a night for 14 days and been stupidly, ridiculously functional. Friends who have met me during this period can attest to this. This would suggest that my underlying sleep pattern is indeed now polyphasic, whether I am sleeping more than two hours a day or not.

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