Polyphasic Sleeping: A Review After 3 Weeks

Since the start of my polyphasic sleeping self-experiment, I have kept a Word document on my laptop where I note down my feelings, thoughts and observations. As we are now heading into what I think is the third week (it may even be the fourth) it seems like as good a time as any to go over my findings.

The first few days were a blur. In fact the large majority of these two or three weeks have been a blur. It is the same routine day-in and day-out, so a Sunday ends up feeling almost exactly the same as a Tuesday. No lie-ins to be found here, not even at the weekend.

This had initially started out as a day-by-day analysis of feelings and observations but I soon had trouble remembering what event occurred on what day. As I said, the days were blurred into one and so pin-pointing exactly when something had happened, or when a feeling had taken me, was like reaching blindly in the shower for your shower gel, you may guess correctly, but the chances are you wont.

I remember the first few days were fine. I lived off the excitement and the buzz of this bizarre new task I had set myself. There were no real issues, and the going was good. I was very productive as well. In the first handful of days I was able to finish one book, get started on another, and wrote a really good article for Skin Deep. This was on top of doing my 9-5, and everything else that comes with living.

If you need to have a productive five days or so, then I would recommend this sleep pattern, as it does give you hours more free time than what you are used to, and for the first few days your body is not really fighting against the change of sleeping pattern.

As I progressed through the week the naps were became more like naps. Rather than just lying in bed, I was actually getting some sleep. The first few attempts did just consist of me laying in my sleeping bag with my eyes closed. I didn’t feel tired so my body refused to shut down. As the days went on though, I soon began nodding off during my 20 minutes. It still took a good five minutes or so to fall asleep, it was not as if my head hit the pillow and I was out, but I slept nevertheless. I remember the first time I was woken up by the alarm on my phone. The fact that I had to be awoken was a good sign. An even better sign was that soon, within my naps, I was starting to dream.

Dreaming only occurs in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, and this is also the part of sleep where your body regenerates and gets rested. The fact that I was dreaming meant that I was hitting REM during my 20 minute naps. This was essential if I wanted to continue with the polyphasic sleeping.

There was one day I remember, early on in the challenge, whereby I could not bring myself to wake up at 5am. I simply couldn’t do it. I was exhausted after having only six hours of sleep in 48. I ignored the alarm and had a lie in. I slept for three hours and awoke at around 8am.

It was after this set-back that I amended my sleeping schedule somewhat. 5am starts were painful to do, my eyes physically hurt when I opened them, and my eyelids were incredibly heavy. It was a battle just to stay awake. To combat this inability to continually wake up at 5am I added on another hour to the core sleep. I would follow this new 2am-6am core sleep schedule at least until the naps were giving me sufficient rest. Perhaps then I could revert back to the 2am-5am. With my new schedule of four core hours, and then three 20 minute naps, I continued.

During the days I feel fine, I am not slow in how I act or what I say, I do not feel lethargic and as I mentioned, I am very productive. I am reasonably active in terms of stimulating myself and keeping busy, though I am not that physically active. Outside of the walks to town, the walks to the seafront, and the weekly shop, I am not doing all that much physical exercise. It would be very interesting to see the effect a gym session, or a game of football, would have on my energy levels and need for sleep.

All in all I felt all right. My mind worked as it normally did, I was not falling asleep at random times, and nodding off at work. Apart from the struggle to open my eyes each morning I could not really complain.

Since I adjusted the core sleep and added that extra hour, things improved. The entire process became easier. I felt more rested, getting up wasn’t such a struggle, and I still had plenty of time to be productive. In the space of just four days I was able to write a Skin Deep article, read two books, watched a whole series of house of cards, had a haircut, finished a module on my journalism diploma, worked my 9-5 day job, and on Friday night I went out for a few drinks with a friend. I would say that is a fairly productive Monday to Friday.

I did not really experience the effect of alcohol and other drugs on the sleeping routine during the first few weeks. Outside of two pints when I saw a friend I had not drunk anything, and I had avoided drugs and energy drinks like the plague. My thinking was that once my body was in polyphasic mode, perhaps then I could begin to introduce these things. For the first few weeks I wasn’t willing to risk it.

The night of my drinks with a friend I was able to stay awake until two, and on Saturday morning I was awake before my alarm went off. By 5-30am I was dressed. That morning I finished the second book, read a magazine and continued with the routine.

That Saturday morning is particularly memorable because it was the first time I had a really deep and vivid dream in my nap. It is still probably the most successful one I have had, and despite waking up before the alarm, I felt rested and refreshed. The dream itself was wonderfully vivid and detailed, alien landscapes coalesced with well known locations in my own world and I got lost in the fictional reality my brain had created.

As my most recent girlfriend will tell you, for the last year or so I have been getting nightmares. They used to occur quite frequently, happening at least a few times a week. I used to wake up covered in sweat, and was prone to kicking and lashing out in bed. I don’t remember the focus or topic of all of the dreams, but I know they mostly revolved around death, and being killed and tortured. Which is always a very pleasant and welcome experience to have when you slumber. I know that this sleeping routine has only been alive for a few weeks, but – to tempt fate – I am yet to experience a nightmare. It seems both my waking life, and my dreaming state, have seen improvements.

6am starts on a Sunday morning are not pleasant experiences. By the time my hosuemates begin to stir I have already been awake for five hours. A few Sundays ago I had the pleasure of a very vivid dream. Twice I thought that I had woken up and was continuing with my day, only to find out that I was still asleep.

What I found strange about these naps is the fact that you do feel refreshed afterwards. Despite the fact you only really receive around 15 minutes of sleep, you do not get the feeling of lethargy when you awaken. It is not as if the alarm on my phone goes off and I struggle across the room, yawning, and barely awake. It was quite the opposite feeling in fact, I felt very awake, and energised.

An unforeseen outcome of all this free time is my desire to fill it, and myself, with food. Being awake longer, I would assume that you burn more calories, and so in order to maintain this level of energy and this body weight, I may have to start investing in more food. Gone are the days of not having breakfast, and that may just be the start of my increased food intake.

As I said previously, I think the next stage of this sleeping routine is to introduce some physical exercise. This should be intense physical exercise, not just walking or having sex, but playing 90 minutes of football or attending the gym. A return to the gym has been something that I have been craving for some time now, and if I am able to incorporate it into this new sleeping pattern then everyone is a winner. Perhaps exercise may even improve my sleeping. The fact my body will have been awake for 19 hours a day, and have been very active, may mean that the naps are more worthwhile.

After a few weeks I had achieved a rhythm. I knew when I needed to nap, how long I could delay it, and when I could fit naps in around social events. In the first few weeks I was not a perfect polyphaser, having a lie in a few times, gaining an extra few hours of sleep through the week. I don’t think this is particularly harmful to the system, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

I read that the biggest problem that people had with this method of sleeping, is not that they cannot adapt to it, but they are not able to fill the extra time that they have created. They become bored easily and soon return to their old ways of sleeping. The problem is not filling the time with me, as I have plenty to be getting on with. Unfortunately the large majority of my time filler involves reading, or staring at a laptop screen. Both of which bring on that tired, sleepy feeling much more quickly. 19 hours waking time, with easily 12 hours at a laptop cannot be good for you. I try to break up this time with reading and other activities, but blogging, my job, studying and online interaction all take place in front of a screen. Again, this is where the gym could help. In the next month or two, that will be the target, to join the gym and incorporate that into this way of life.

At some point during this experiment, the powers that be decided that it was about time to make repairs to the road outside my house. Now these repairs weren’t just line painting, or resurfacing, these repairs come in the form of full sewage pipe replacement. For the last 10 days or so a constructive and mechanical audio onslaught has taken residence outside my bedroom window, and attacks me for the large majority of the day. Napping has become difficult as I now have to factor in when the work outside will be at its least destructive and noisy. A number of times my scheduled naps have degenerated into nothing more than lying in bed for 20 minutes.

Seeing as these dreams are fairly vivid, and I am going to be having a lot of them in the coming weeks/months/years, another area I wouldn’t mind looking into would be lucid dreaming. If I could figure that out and incorporate that into proceedings then it would be quite an achievement.

The napping itself is a strange sensation, because I am aware that I need to fall asleep quickly, and I am aware of when I am falling asleep. As I tip from waking to sleeping a feeling washes over me. My heart rate slows, my breathing becomes calmer, and I can feel my eyes rolling back into my head beneath my eyelids. I begin to see a wide variety of random images and visions, and then I am dreaming. I cannot yet control what I dream of, or what occurs in my dream, but I am aware that I am asleep.

The last weekend was a write off, despite valiantly attempting to stick to it, including sleeping in the front seat of a Ford KA in a Tesco car park, I was unable to follow my nap routine. I am getting back into things now, and it shouldn’t take more than a few days. I think the rule is that on weekends away when you are active and socialising, spending time drinking, smoking and out of the house, it is best to fit in naps when you can, or simply postpone the polyphasic sleep until you are able to return to the routine.

For the time being I am going to continue this method of sleeping. I will have to make a few adjustments again because I am starting an internship soon, so that coupled with blogging, studying and my other job, will restrict when and where I am able to nap. Something will be figured out though, even if it becomes two 30 minute naps throughout the day, rather than three 20 minute ones.

The great thing about polyphasic sleeping is that not only does it give you more time, but it is also flexible. You do not have to rigidly stick to what schedules you have read on the internet, you can invent your own and follow that. I am happy to continue with this method of sleeping for now, it may just be for a few more weeks or months, or it may become a permanent fixture.

The desire to achieve and unrelenting ambition are two of the qualities present in Frank Underwood, one of the most Machiavellian characters ever to grace the TV screens. He and I don’t share an awful lot in common but I can relate to him when he says: “I’ve always loathed the necessity of sleep. Like death, it puts even the most powerful men on their backs”. I don’t suppose he gets much sleep either.


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This article was originally published on Cultured Vultures on 29/8/14

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