Polyphasic sleep… naptime is back, baby!


Okay, so anybody who knows me knows that I’m a fan of Sleep.  Anybody who knows me also knows that while I am Sleep’s biggest fan, I never get any.

Enter Polyphasic Sleep! (Cue horns and cymbals…)
So basically polyphasic sleep is an organized system of what I already do: napping in order to break up regular sleep rhythms into smaller periods, which then (potentially) results in longer periods of awakedness.  Sweet!
By regularizing the periods of sleep, the theory is that we can stay awake longer.  I’ve been testing this theory (inadvertently) for decades, and it’s really interesting to read about what military testing and NASA have uncovered about the efficacy of this method.
Basically, government agencies say that it doesn’t work.
It goes against the body’s natural circadian rhythms and, while it can be induced, there is a significant degradation in performance.  Studies show that we can operate on an induced polyphasic schedule and maintain a minimal performance for a time before our bodies start to manifest the signs of severe sleep deprivation.
Uberman Polyphasic Sleep Pie Chart
The very extreme “Uberman” polyphasic sleep chart.
Whoa, well, that’s really great and all, but I know that I’ve been practicing the fine art of polyphasic sleep for ages.  I find it very useful for those bursts of productivity where you absolutely, positively, indubitably must get that project done by such-and-such date.
Afterwards, sure, there’s a crash, but it’s not as bad as you’d think… a full nights’ sleep and it’s back to business as usual.  This method has served me well and, combined with judicious use of caffeine, can result in about a solid week of pretty high levels of performance and focus, followed by a full night of sleep, maybe the following day to ‘rest’ by doing unfocused tasks (what I like to call “leisure activities” or “hobbies”), and that ‘resets’ the clock.  I’ve personally gone through two months of this cycle, back-to-back, before noticing some emotional breakdown and other signs of extended fatigue.
The other thing I noticed is that this only works for focused tasks and projects.  In my experience, the time lost in task-switching is exponentially increased during these periods.  This results in a decreased ability to multi-task “out of project” (though not necessarily within a project, if the tasks are related and can find a tie to other tasks), so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to close out, say, two or three separate projects at a time unless you take into consideration those potential gaps and keep them to a minimum.
I don’t think it’s something that can be kept up to the extreme degrees that many of the proponents claim, for extended periods, but I do think it’s very doable in bursts and can be very effective in adding those ‘extra hours’ to the day that everyone wishes they had.  I am, however, going to take a methodical approach to this and staging my own study.  I mean, it’s not like it’ll require a huge lifestyle change, lol! 🙂

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