Polyphasic Sleep: A Look at Sleeping Patterns

sleep-stagesSleep is fundamentally a social phenomena in that when (and how long) you sleep is often determined by the social norms, personal responsibilities, and the people in your life. The more freedom you have in this regard, the more freedom you have to experiment with different sleeping patterns.

This is definitely the case for me. After graduating high school, and moving out of my parent’s house to go to college, I gained the freedom to sleep whenever. I very often pulled all-nighters in high school, but the criticism from my parents was always a disincentive. I remember frequent (as in non-stop) reminders from my mom that such sleeping patterns are “not normal”.

I viewed sleep as an adversary in the quest for productivity. Getting less sleep was a victory. I certainly don’t feel that way these days. I believe that there are more hours in a day than a body can handle in terms of exceptional productivity, and sleep should be used to get sufficient rest to be able to achieve the mental state required for such productivity.

That said, I have often read about and tried sleeping patterns that involve sleeping 2 or more times a day for short periods of time. This is referred to as polyphasic sleep. For it, the guiding medical idea (which seems to be widely accepted) is that the most “restful” stage of sleep is REM, which constitutes only a small fraction of the sleep cycle. The motivation of polyphasic sleep patterns is that you can train your body to achieve REM through short naps.

On average, it takes about 90 minutes to hit the first REM cycle and that only last for about 10 minutes. The idea of polyphasic sleep is that you can reduce that 90 down to single digits. I believe that it works, as I have experienced it myself, however I believe (and a lot of literature seems to agree) that you need to be (severely) sleep deprived in order to achieve this. Therefore, it is indeed possible to follow The Uberman pattern, but it seems that the mental clarity achievable in the waking state under that pattern is just not up to the same level as under the more traditional sleeping pattern.

Steve Pavlina experimented with the Uberman lifestyle for 6 months, but quit. His experience is not convincing to me, despite his mostly positive commentary.

I think the main lesson Steve and other takes away is that napping is a powerful way to re-energize yourself and to achieve the kind of mental state that leads to long periods of productive activity.

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