Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Hack Your Sleep: Polyphasic Sleep for Fun & Profit

How to Hack Your Sleep: Polyphasic Sleep for Fun and Profit

Sounds a little like a business self-help book, doesn't it? In a way, it is - except it's more of a strategy.

Polyphasic sleep comes in a variety of intensities - there's the hardcore polyphasic sleeper, who sleeps for 20 minutes every four hours or so; but, there are lighter degrees of polyphasic sleeping.

Before we begin, I need to give a word of warning. Transitioning to polyphasic sleep can be difficult for a variety of reasons. One of the least considered is the social difficulty of running on an entirely different schedule from everybody else you know. You won't be getting much in the way of cuddles if you're only taking a 20 minute nap every four hours.

That being said, polyphasic sleep can dramatically increase your productivity by freeing up as many as 40+ hours per week that would normally be spent sleeping. Is this safe? Yes, so far as we all know. Polyphasic sleepers are perfectly healthy, functioning people; but, I can't speak for the truly longterm problems, if there are any.

How does polyphasic sleep work? It's based on optimizing your brain to immediately shift into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is what has been found to be the most restorative portion of the sleep cycle. On any given night you only spend 1 - 2 hours in REM. Polyphasic sleep works by training your body to enter REM sleep in short spurts, spreading it into 20 minute segments throughout the day instead of in one big lump at night.

Monophasic sleepers are what most people have grown up as, particularly in cultures that do not promote napping (aka, la siesta!) - this means 8 hours of core sleep and only 2 hours of REM every night, or 5 more or less wasted hours. The siesta gives a portion of restorative sleep in the afternoon allowing for less required sleep at night. Give an hour, take an hour, basically.

This man takes his siesta very seriously.
To step up the polyphasic sleep schedule, I recommend going 'cold turkey' and sticking to a pattern for months.

Two twenty-minute naps during the day and be sure to schedule them to take into consideration the time it takes to fall asleep! These two twenty-minute naps reduce your core sleep time at night to four and a half hours, giving 5.2 total hours of sleep time -- without sacrificing restorative REM sleep!

Or try three 20 minute naps per day and 3 hours of core sleep at night, yielding 4 total hours. That's a total of 20 hours per day for work and play - while still feeling rested!

For example, you could take your core sleep from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM at this stage and take your naps around 8:30/9:00 AM; 12:30 PM and 3:00/4:00 PM - or whatever scheduling works best for you.

Or try stepping it up to four 20 minute naps and 1 and a half hours of core sleep, giving a total of 2.8 hours. An example of this schedule: Core sleep from midnight to 1:30 AM; 20 minute naps at 7AM, 11:30AM, 1PM and 6PM.

Or the epic polyphasic sleep model, which is simply six 20 minute naps at four hour intervals throughout the day, yielding a total time of 2 hours of pure REM sleep.

So, what's the catch? The more naps (and thus less total sleep time) you take, the more rigorously you have to guard the scheduled times. At the 'few naps per day' levels you can be off a couple hours and still be OK, whereas at the six nap level you generally need it within half an hour. If you fail here you'll mess up your schedule and probably be tired for days.

The other 'catch' is that you do have to train your body to do this - the first few days, especially of the six nap mode, might be hell; however, it is doable and, if you can make it through the first few days, your body will adjust and you'll start feeling peachy.

Enjoy your new levels of productivity!


  1. That's exactly what I was looking for! Thanks!

  2. sounds extreme, wouldn't fit in my daily routine xD

    please follow me too!

  3. interesting. Have you actual done this??

  4. Glad to help, Beardcore! Anomanomisanom, yes! Did you have any specific questions about it?

  5. You know I tried this once doing the two naps per day method and gotta say that it does work. If not for having a full time job I'd go further

  6. For all the times I've seen this I've never actually tried it myself. I think I should do that sometime soon. Nice blog man. Following and supporting!

  7. I love life hacks, but I'm too lazy to convert to this one.

  8. I've heard of this, but yeah, it's be hard to work a job and social life around the naps. It's also hard to time 20 minutes from the time I actually fall asleep until the time I get up. :/

  9. Cool blog, I tried something similar to this before and it does seem to work, but it's not easy to stick to.

    Thanks for following me, I'm following you now and will check back often.

  10. Thank you all for the support! I might have to write a follow-up blog post about the transition process - aka those first few hellish days - as well as managing other stuff with it. Unfortunately, it'll have to wait as I'm departing on the road shortly!

  11. I would love to be on the 1:30 + naps sleep scedule. I don't think I can get my wife to do it with me.

  12. I've tried this, but had a hard time. Following. Feel free to delete this.

  13. interesting, but kind of a scary idea.