The Polyphasic Sleep Cycle. My Life Will Never Be the Same.

Monophasic sleep – sleep that occurs in one unbroken stretch, i.e., the usual 7-8 hours most people get every night.

Polyphasic sleep – sleep that is broken down into sections and accumulated throughout the day, i.e., 3 hours at night, a morning nap of 1.5 hours, and a 20 minute afternoon nap. Or, the Ubersleep cycle.

For some sort of background, I have been an insomniac all my life, since I was a child. As a result, any sort of sleep system that allows the user to get by on less than the prescribed 7-8 hours of sleep per night intrigues the heck out of me. After all, having gotten by on ~5 hours of sleep per night most of my adult life, one gets to feeling rather unjustly deprived.

Lately, in the recent year, I’ve been averaging even less (~4 hours) and it has begun to show up in my performance – I get random bouts of extreme sleepiness throughout the day, and round about my “bedtime” (9pm, the time that, if I were to actually fall asleep, I would end up getting a full 8 hours), a crushing feeling of exhaustion (I’ve fallen soundly asleep at this computer numerous times, only to be awoken by Sairalyn telling me to go to bed, at which point I am completely awake and furiously resume typing run-on sentences like this one).

Throughout the years of sleeplessness I’d self-determined that so long as one was allowed “catch-up sleep” (which I’d get on the weekends, when I could sleep in longer), one could sustain themselves nearly indefinitely on sleep deprivation during the week. I devised a crude averaging system whereby I made sure to average at least 6 hours/night (or a total of 42 hours of sleep for the week).

Along comes a system that proposes to be the briefest and most efficient sleep system ever, claiming to leave the user feeling better and more energetic – polyphasic sleep. Rob Cherry sent me a link to one derivation of it – the Uberman sleep cycle – and I have to admit, it was the first time in a long time my feelings and sympathies wanted so desperately to overcome my intellect.

I mean, a system that lets you sleep 2-3 hours a day, and you end up a totally unself-conscious, primal, raw-fueled ultra-genius? Sounds like a godsend to me.

What are the potential downsides? Well, you could fall asleep and die behind the wheel or something like that, if the allegations are untrue. Individuals who are chronically sleep-deprived tend to have suppressed immune systems, inability or dampened ability to metabolize glucose, and general lack of growth hormone production. Not to mention the impairment of concentration and recall that occurs with general sleeplessness.

Dr. Claudio Stampi, who’s been featured on PBS and NPR and works with clients whose professions and/or livelihoods depend on a generally sleepless schedule (such as astronauts and solo sea sailors) advocates a sleep microcycle not unlike the Uberman schedule – 6 20-30 minute naps spaced evenly throughout a 24 hour period. Dr. Stampi (aka “Dr. Sleep”) documented an average Joe (actually, his name was Francesco) going through this sleep protocol and recorded his performances on various cognitive test given throughout the experiment. The entire 2 month long project was shown on the PBS show “Scientific American: Frontiers”. The end result? Francesco passed all tests with flying colors and apparently suffered no ill effects.

Does this mean that Rob’s stumbled upon a new dawn of super-productivity for mankind? Probably not, as the discipline required to adapt to such a spartan routine eludes most. But I know I’ll be giving it a try in the next couple of weeks…

…after all, I’ll be up anyway.

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