How one person "cheated sleep"


Polyphasic sleep is a method of training your body to requiring much less sleep by taking multiple short naps throughout the day instead of one long sleeping time at night. Over at Quartz, science-trained journalist Akshat Rathi reports on his year-long experiment attempting to "cheat sleep."

From Quartz:

Sleep expert Claudio Stampi explained in his 1992 book Why We Nap: Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep that humans shouldn’t find it hard to adjust to a polyphasic schedule.

Many animals are known to be polyphasic sleepers, and our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have been too. But we don’t even need to go so far back in time to find examples of polyphasic humans.

As Roger Ekirch notes in At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime, a segmented sleep pattern was common as recently as the 18th century.

Back then people often slept for four hours, then woke up for an hour or two before going back to bed for another four hours. In the period they were awake at night, people smoked, had sex, and even visited neighbors. It was the advent of night-time lighting that allowed us to squeeze in more awake time doing things and made people adapt to what is today’s monophasic sleep.

"I once tried to cheat sleep, and for a year I succeeded"

Notable Replies

  1. Yeah, the problem with polyphasic sleep schedules is that they're not sustainable. Society doesn't really accommodate nonstandard waking hours, so you'd have to have very understanding employers/significant others/friends/family/etc. if you wanted to try this kind of thing. I knew a guy in college who attempted the polyphasic Uberman, and he couldn't maintain it without skipping a lot of classes. It did not end well.

  2. Running my own polyphasic sleep experiment right now, it's called "My baby is almost 3 months old." It's actually not too bad, given that I work for a pretty progressive employer who let me have a month off and then work half days remotely for 2 more. As long as you have 10+ hours to pack it all in, and none of the pressures of modern life, no problems getting back to sleep, a properly tuned metabolism, neighbors that will cooperate with the hours you need relative quiet...I mean, what is so hard?

  3. Thanks to a long period (10+ years) of being chronically short on sleep, mostly due to inconsiderate family members, stories like this make me cringe. My circadian "rhythms" now resemble experimental jazz, and I have to follow a fairly strict routine to get enough sleep. At least I live alone now, which makes it easier to keep a schedule.

    Once in a while I'll fall into a traditional polyphasic schedule for a few weeks, going to bed early, waking up in the middle of the night, and then falling asleep again after an hour or two. Usually I just read a book. It's all right until I need to run errands on the way home from work, or go to the cinema, or do anything else that shifts that very early bed-time.

    I am tired (pun intended) of people treating sleep as the enemy. It's essential to one's physical health. Anyone who brags about being in great physical shape on little sleep either is a liar or has a lot more waking down time than they think.

  4. I may be mistaken but it seems to me that this trope (finding a way to stay 'energetic' on less sleep a day) is mostly discussed in the US.
    I wonder how much of it is because of a culture that glorifies workaholics and make it so that many people need to work two jobs to make ends meet.

  5. This type of 'sleep hacking' is very fashionable amongst young white males who think they can conquer millions of years of evolution - just in order to squeeze a few more 'productive' hours out of the day.

    Probably the best account of polyphasic sleep is Steve Pavlina's long and detailed account of his experiments with Uberman scehdules. Ultimately he gave up because he couldn't carry on a regular social life.

    Apart from the social aspects, I find it quite arrogant, pointless and frankly, a little ignorant to suggest that polyphasic sleep is any kind of alternative to a traditional consolidated sleep schedule (or maybe a bi-phasic schedule if you can manage it.)

    Astronauts, round-the-world sailors/aviators, polar explorers - yes, they all have good reasons to mess with their sleep schedules, but anybody else risks the fate of Icarus and getting their wings burnt.

    Sleep science only started in the 1950's, but what we've found out in that time is that disrupted sleep schedules will, for certain, if practiced for long enough, produce a whole host of detrimental health conditions. Some of them minor. Some of them chronic, including cancer (Google "night-shift work cancer" if you dont believe me.

    Couple this with the risks of slow cognitive decline (due to build up of toxic proteins in the brain), and even an increased risk of Alzheimers, messing with your sleep is not something to taken lightly.

    Or maybe you should look at this another way.

    The US military has been trying to create the sleepless soldier ever since WWII. With hundreds of $millions spent in advanced research, they have made virtually zero progress:

    So, if you think you can hack your sleep better than the US military can, good luck.

    Otherwise I suggest forgetting about these arrogant fantasies about the insignificance and unimportance of sleep.

    Do some research and you'll find that instead of being a burden, sleep makes you smarter, better looking, fitter, and is the third pillar of health (along with nutrition and exercise).

    Sleep is God. Go worship.....


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