Polyphasic Sleep
November 11, 2003 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Thirty minutes of sleep, every four hours. Master this and you've conquered the art of polyphasic, or "Uberman," sleep. [more inside]
posted by PrinceValium (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Be warned: it's notoriously difficult to achieve, and most attempts end quickly. You'll need to stay on a near-perfect schedule, reallocate your work and social obligations, and avoid oversleeping, which can be catastrophic to the experiment.

But the upshot is 21 hours of alertness a day. If da Vinci, Jefferson, and Buckminster Fuller can do it, why can't you? Anyone have any success with alternative sleep cycles?
posted by PrinceValium at 5:22 AM on November 11, 2003

Part of me would love to try something like this, but I'm guessing "polyphasic" is latin for "jobless."
posted by jalexei at 5:55 AM on November 11, 2003

I frequently stay up through the night (as my posting history may attest to), but I've also been developing this need lately to be wide awake in the morning. I never used to be a morning person (I actually used to hate morning people with their damned chipperness) -- that is, until I discovered coffee. I've been getting by with 2-hour naps in the middle of the day (around noon) and at late-evening (around 10pm).

It's not the best schedule, however, so I'll give this a shot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:00 AM on November 11, 2003

my cat sleeps 22 hours a day.
posted by Satapher at 6:03 AM on November 11, 2003

Very interesting. However, if given an extra 3 to 4 hours a day, I would probably just want to use them sleeping. Almost my favourite (non) activity.
posted by arha at 6:06 AM on November 11, 2003

Modafinil works pretty well for me. But then, I have a condition for which it can be legitimately prescribed, and I use it only occasionally for phase-shifting and jet-lag amelioration. For skipping one night's sleep it works remarkably well. I haven't tried more than that.
posted by alms at 6:07 AM on November 11, 2003

Anybody here work for an employer who will allow two 30-minute naps over the course of the day? Other than the TSA, of course.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:32 AM on November 11, 2003

"It is important to note that there are no studies as to the long-term physical or physiological impact of this sleep cycle. I really don't know if this cycle is causing long-term damage to myself or not, and if this concerns you, I wouldn't attempt the cycle."

Anyone seriously considering this should re-read that a few times.
posted by Outlawyr at 6:50 AM on November 11, 2003

this is not a new concept -- a friend of mine back in college, cramming for exams, tried to alter his sleep cycle (like, a 3-hour sleep, then a few 20-minute naps during the day, I guess the point was to avoid the REM phase or something)
well, I still remember the black circles (not half-circles or bags, literally 360-degrees black _circles_) around his eyes, that made him look like a Panda or something.

I wasn't tempted to follow his example

on the other hand, he got a job in investment banking after graduation, so I guess that sleep deprivation thing came in handy
posted by matteo at 7:12 AM on November 11, 2003

Didn't Kramer try this on Seinfeld?
posted by tr33hggr at 7:19 AM on November 11, 2003

I read some years ago that Mike Tyson functioned on a similar sleep schedule during the months of his training regimen before a fight.

(sarcasm dripping=on) Of course he's the most sane man alive. (/sarcasm)

I'm still waiting for the pill that allows one to just not sleep. You pop one pill a day and it's just like you slept for eight to ten full hours. I'm not talking about the stuff that's presently illegal cuz of the annoying side effects. This pill would have no side effects. It would not be illegal. You could buy it over the counter. You couldn't O.D. on it. It wouldn't make you too happy or too sad or too shaky or offer hallucinations. You just wouldn't have to sleep anymore. Twenty-four hours of full alert behavior without the urge to bite off an ear after a few rounds, or become an axe murderer, or mumble incoherently about dead family members, or scratch at invisible insects under your skin.

Basically, I want a new drug. One that does what it should.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:19 AM on November 11, 2003

So...the blogger's last journal entry seems to be from over a year ago (Aug. 01, 2002). "Finally adjusted, everything's great!" then...nothing. Almost like a cliched horror story:

"After I read that last diary entry, I went to investigate the noises from the next room. There, I was confronted by a nightmare vision of gibbering madness, the mere shell of a man who just kept whispering 'I'm not tired...I'm not tired...I'm not tired...'"
posted by LairBob at 7:23 AM on November 11, 2003

I assume you can't drink heavily on this sleep pattern. Getting up hungover after eight hours sleep is hard enough, I really can't imagine it after only thirty minutes.

As a result I don't think this could ever be for me.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:31 AM on November 11, 2003

Doesn't the lack of R.E.M. activity drive one insane? Or am I getting my knowledge of this from old Star Trek TNG episodes?

Sleeping is the third most wonderful thing on this planet, after sex and eating. Why would I want to do less of it?
posted by archimago at 7:34 AM on November 11, 2003

many people have difficulties with their dreams in a normal sleep schedule - if that is the case, Uberman is simply not for you

Since I regularly have terrible nightmares and disturbing, vivid dreams, this likely isn't for me. And yes, as other people have pointed out, it doesn't work with the typical 9-5 work schedule. And I'd be afraid of the long-term effects.
posted by orange swan at 7:51 AM on November 11, 2003

Yeah, this reminds me of the people who want a pill that will supply all their nutritional needs so they don't have to bother eating. "As for living, our servants will do that for us!"
posted by languagehat at 7:56 AM on November 11, 2003

Wow, archimago, I couldn't disagree more; sleep is a disruptive waste of time, and I'd happily give it up permanently if it were practical to do so. I hate the whole experience: from the way my brain starts to wind down late at night, whether I'm done with what I'm working on or not, to the way I lay there unconscious and useless for hours on end, to the stiff, creaky, foggy-headed awakening accompanied by the shrill bleeping of an alarm clock. Uggh. As far as the supposed pleasure of sleep - well, I'm unconscious the whole time, so how am I supposed to enjoy it? I suppose it could be considered a pleasure in relative terms simply because the alternative is so uncomfortable...
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:15 AM on November 11, 2003

Mars, your vision of sleep is twisted and disturbing.
posted by aramaic at 8:30 AM on November 11, 2003

Why do we sleep?
posted by the fire you left me at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2003

I personally like down time. I'm productive enough in the 17 hours of day I am awake between my 4 jobs. Yeah, I would get a lot more done if I didn't need to sleep, but I'm just not wired to be alert, active and productive 24/7.

Mars, I personally don't need an alarm clock. I wake up the same time every day, even weekends when i don't need to be up that early for work, and I get up when I wake up. Yeah, I'm a bit groggy in the morning, but a shower clears that up for me. Perhaps your sleep needs to be more patterned so that it's not such a shock to your system in the morning? Sleep is when the body heals itself most productively. I joke with my partner about having a sleep window. I need to be in bed by a certain time or I lose my window because my body is so accustomed to the schedule. If I miss my window, I end up staring at the ceiling all night. Also, I find that when i fall out of my schedule (like an eventful weekend) and don't sleep as much as I am used to, I get sick and my allergies go nuts.
posted by archimago at 8:39 AM on November 11, 2003

Just like sex and eating, if sleep feels bad you're probably doing it wrong.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:40 AM on November 11, 2003

No joke!

I'm still waiting for the pill that allows one to just not sleep.

I'm waiting for the pill that allows you to do nothing but sleep.
posted by furiousthought at 8:57 AM on November 11, 2003

Though their server is presently down, this is another journal of a polyphasic sleep attempt. It is something that I consider near the end of every semester but have been smart enough to not try it because I cannot afford the lead-in time.

There's nothing really new here, but I summarize my research on polyphasic sleeping and think out loud about my own sleep schedule. [self link]. I do think that it can work with a 9-5 schedule, but the 9-5 would have to be pretty rigid and you would have to have at least 30 minutes for lunch in the middle of the day or run your two federally [US] mandated 15 min breaks into a single time block You would also have to have access to a sleeping area at work or live close to the office. If so, sleep 30 min just before work, 30 at lunch, and 30 min shortly after work. It seems like you have approximately an hour-long window of nap opportunity on either side of the four hour schedule which give you a little wiggle room to fit the sleep cycle around work. Of course, having even a remotely flexible work environment would help a great deal.

Also, what Mars said.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:57 AM on November 11, 2003

I don't think I could do this, it often literally takes a couple of hours before I fall asleep. My brain just won't shut up (not the voices in my head, my brain). It's worse if I've been doing something intellectually stimulating before I go to bed. Surprisingly, at least to me, since I picked up a guitar and started practicing it every night I sleep somewhat better. The worst thing for me to do is program before bed. I used to stay up a couple days at a time hacking away on neat yet useless code. When I get like that I can't stop, not for sleep or food.
posted by substrate at 9:24 AM on November 11, 2003

For those of you that think you want to sleep less: if there were a drug to take, or a simple behavior mod that worked, then it would become the competitive norm.

If there were 20 - 22 hours of wakefulness per day, do you think your employers are gonna call 8 hours/day "full time" anymore?
posted by yesster at 9:27 AM on November 11, 2003

I've found that the best system is breaking your eight hours of sleep per day into two four hour blocks. For me, it's usually 4-8 am and then 3-7 pm (but it could just as easily be, say, 6-10). You get complete rem cycles; you get two eight hour blocks of time for work/classes/homework/whatever, and you can switch back and forth between two naps and a full eight hours of sleep with just a day's notice.

Of course, it probably helps I'm a coffee addict and am in college.
posted by thecaddy at 9:48 AM on November 11, 2003 [1 favorite]

My six-month-old does this.
posted by soren at 10:10 AM on November 11, 2003

Here you go Zach.

At least their working on it. Or were until someone asked where all the money's going.
posted by Jeremy at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2003

With cycles of 30 minutes of sleep followed by 3.5 hours of awake time, that would barely leave you enough time to watch the LOTR TT Extended Edition between naps.
posted by uftheory at 12:56 PM on November 11, 2003

uftheory: best comment ever.
posted by Xkot at 1:10 PM on November 11, 2003

Sleep is one of my favorite activities too. Mars' point of view above is really alien to me.

I am a lucid dreamer and I also like to purposefully slip in and out of sleep during the course of it, seeing how much I can maintain myself near that boundary between the two which seems to be where the most vivid dreams occur.

I also sleep better in bright lights and with a white noise in the background. Darkness and silence creeps me out too much.

These days, I sleep twice, each for about 4 hours. Once in the early evening (maybe 5-7/8) and once in the early morning (maybe 5-9). Everyone has the impression that I never sleep since I am essentially up all day and up all night.
posted by vacapinta at 1:18 PM on November 11, 2003

I'm still waiting for the pill that allows one to just not sleep.


I'm waiting for the pill that allows you to do nothing but sleep.


Warning, flippant answer may contain side effects...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:06 PM on November 11, 2003

after watching that scariest star trek episode EVER, i wouldn't suggest messing with one's sleep cycle too much.
posted by lotsofno at 4:00 PM on November 11, 2003

Thanks to a combination of Ramadan (no food during day = no work during day) and a heavy workload, I've been on 5-6 hours a day this past 2 weeks. From 6am to 11am. People look at me funny. Wierdos.

I saw this when it first came out on K5, but I can't see how you can fit sports around it - surely the body needs some rest too? Looks fine if you're in a job like programming though :)

Hint: Best way to fall straight asleep is get a good jog/exercise that makes you pant before. Ahh.. Endorphins..
posted by Mossy at 7:24 PM on November 11, 2003

Has anyone read Beggars in Spain?
posted by wilberforce at 11:01 PM on November 11, 2003

I do just about exactly what thecaddy and vacapinta have mentioned - two shorter sleeping blocks. I didn't plan this, it just evolved naturally after moving to Greece, where there is a "siesta" period in the day. At first I found it impossible to nap in the daytime, now I find it nearly impossible not to. I usually sleep for three hours in the afternoon (3 to 6 p.m., or 4 to 7 p.m.) and then, usually, four hours in the early morning (from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., say).

This doesn't add more hours to my day, but as vacapinta notes, the ability to be active both late night and early morning is pretty nice. I feel great all the time, and am addicted to watching the sunrise.
posted by taz at 11:23 PM on November 11, 2003

provigil is a pill that allows for 48 hours of constant, unfatigued wakefullness.
posted by einer at 10:37 AM on November 13, 2003

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