My tryst with polyphasic sleeping

Polyphasic Sleep Day 370

A little over a year ago began a journey that became a masked attempt at self-discovery through the desire to tame one of the most eluding human activities: sleep. I may not have achieved my goal yet but what I have achieved is a lot more awake time and more importantly, a deeper understanding of something we spend almost a third of our life doing.

Me napping at noon in Abingdon

When I began polyphasic sleeping though, my sole objective was to achieve more awake time. I was one of those I-cannot-deal-with-less-than-8-hours-of-sleep person. With an impending viva a few months away and a lot of lab work, I had to force myself to find this extra time that I needed. Throughout this year long journey, I have overcome many challenges and I’ll highlight a few in this post.

The initial adjustment to polyphasic sleeping has been one of the biggest challenges that I have faced. But a strong desire to discipline my sleeping habits went a long way in helping me settle into the polyphasic schedule. I began thinking that I will be able to achieve the dymaxion schedule but quickly understood how inflexible it can get. Since then, I have managed myself on an everyman schedule. In this schedule, I get 3 naps a day and sleep 4-5 hours on most days.

While trying to adjust to a polyphasic sleep schedule I developed some sort of sleep deprivation which proved to be a big hurdle. I say ‘some sort’ because it was nothing like the sleep deprivation that one develops after staying awake straight for 36 hours. I found that the only way I could to overcome it was by having a continuous desire to do something. But that means there was a constant need to find something that I was motivated enough to keep doing. It proved to be a challenge in itself. But funnily enough, my desire to find an eternal source of motivation led me to a solution not so far away. Let me explain.

I was quite skeptical of achieving this feat and never thought it would be a good idea to share the experiment with friends. But inadvertently it became a topic of conversation more often than not. I soon realised the power of what Alex kept saying about making public pledges. Quite simply, once people knew what I was doing this, I had more will power to keep doing it. Another source of motivation that came from discussing polyphasic sleep was the realisation that sleep is a problem for almost everyone. Everyone seemed to have a very unique perspective on sleep and it hardly ever worked to their advantage. Polyphasic sleeping was my way of making my perspective on sleep work to my advantage.

Three weeks into the schedule and I had started reaping the fruits of my labour. Adding to my motivation tank what followed was my first lucid dream which I remember till date and since then I’ve had a few of these. Another motivator was that polyphasic sleep kept me in a positive mind frame and pleasantly so.

Enough about challenges and motivation for now though. Let’s see what are things that I have learnt:

Practical skills

  • I can take a nap anywhere in any position.
  • Many times I can wake up after a nap without an alarm in about 20 minutes.
  • My productivity cycle on most days was driven by my nap schedule and not the other way around. It was very important that I did not let naps take over my life.

Life skills

  • Decide, plan and act. Polyphasic sleep has become one of the best examples I can quote when asked about something I decided to do, researched on, planned and then executed the plan successfully. And all of this while winning battles everyday of the journey sometimes related to polyphasic sleeping and mostly not.
  • Socialising. When in conversations I try not to talk about myself but with polyphasic sleep I’ve discovered a whole new way of discussing myself without sounding narcissistic.
  • Multi-tasking. I’ve always been a multi-tasking person but with the power of polyphasic sleeping I’ve become much more efficient at multi-tasking.
  • Meditation. I achieved a meditation like state after my naps. I could go to sleep for a nap with many thoughts whirling in my head and still wake up with a blank mind. It was like during the nap someone had rubbed the blackboard in my head clean. Just think about this for a minute: a power to clear your head. How cool is that!
Nap during TEDx Warwick lunch break

I mentioned that it became a masked attempt at self-discovery. Let me explain how. When I started this experiment, I was going through a particularly hard phase in my life. I had a lot of things I had to deal with, unfortunately, all at once. With the life skills I mentioned above, I was able to do it much more easily. I could wipe a thought out of my mind when I wanted to. I could do multiple things and be happy about my efficiency. I could socialise in a new way which helped me make lots of new friends. And most importantly, it made me a more confident person everyday of this experiment because of the success that the experiment was proving to be. All this gave me the power to have a stable mind during one of the most trying conditions that I have faced in life. I was able to discover many new things I did not know I was capable of. Even though I was swamped with work, I was able to find time to reflect and it proved to be a very good coping mechanism.

Of course, this experiment hasn’t been without ups and downs. There have been many days when I have not been able to get a single nap because of an inflexible schedule but I’ve managed to get back to the schedule within one or two days. In the polyphasic community, people often mention that it messes up their social life. Not least because the nap times seem inflexible and people need to reschedule their lives around naps. Frankly, I’ve not had that problem. After the initial adjustment, my nap times have been flexible and only rarely do I find my concentration at very low levels because of a missed nap.

It has been an eye-opening journey one that started out with a single objective but soon gave me a fantastic tool for self-discovery. I’ve been through a hard phase in my life and I feel that I have emerged out of it successfully. I think there is still a lot more I can do with this tool and I, for one, am not willing to give it up any time soon.

Photo credits: My snoopy housemate Alex Flint ;)

About Akshat Rathi

Science and Technology Journalist
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15 Responses to My tryst with polyphasic sleeping

  1. Deeksha says:

    A good piece that aptly describes the challenges and benefits of something that at least all we all students try to master…however just one bit that appears elitist to me is your absolutist statement of how everyone has a perspective on it but hardly do anything to their advantage with it.!may be too dramatic and broad sweeping a claim!

    • akshatrathi294 says:

      It might be the case that people do not find sleep to be a problem but non-polyphasic sleepers have certainly not used sleep to their advantage.

  2. Deeksha says:

    Do you mean to say that nothing other than polyphasic sleeping can be used to use sleep to one’s advantage…it cannot be a panacea to deriving maximum benefits from one’s sleep patterns?

    • akshatrathi294 says:

      I am not saying it’s panacea. I am aware of a technique called yoganidra which can help drastically reduce sleep. But Yoganidra is a technique that needs to be perfected over a long time (6 months to a year) and needs to be practised regularly. I’ve known people who do yoganidra sleep only 3 hours a day but they spend atleast 2-3 more hours a day meditating. It might be a good thing for them because they achieve meditation on the expense of sleep but for us non yogics, I think this is the only method I know of to use sleep to one’s advantage.

      As always, I would be delighted if you have another method in mind. Do enlighten me. :)

  3. psi*psi says:

    I’ve always wanted to try this, but most of what I’ve seen is the 20 minute nap 6 times a day. This sounds like a much more reasonable schedule. Maybe I’ll give it a shot! How long did it take you to adjust at first?

    • akshatrathi294 says:

      It took me about three weeks. And they weren’t horrible weeks. Just less productive.

      I would suggest that you try it. It’s totally worth the effort. Any help you need, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  4. vishawjyoti says:

    I sleep a lot, and I need almost 8 hrs of sleep. In winters I sleep at a stretch of 8 hrs, but in winters if I have a 20-25 min nap after meal I am satisfied with six to seven hour sleep. So is it that nap is always better than stretched sleeping hrs? I have even discovered that if we sleep more we feel more lethargic whole day, but if we get up early and head start soon we are active whole day. Sometimes when I feel like sleeping to much, is the time when I am getting bored to much, but once I start taking new activity or work I am as fine. So I could understand that how after your tiny naps you were so motivated to be awake. But I would like to know 5 hrs I understand but 4 hrs on the average for whole day, isn’t is not tiring? Well again to answer my own query, I have heard people who never sleep, never through out their lives. But can a normal person reduce his sleep to nil will be something very challenging. One of my friend tried t o do so but he felt so weak and deprived in some days that he had to leave. Anyways good that you mastered you sleep for me it is indomitable task. I love sleeping. :)

    • vishawjyoti says:

      P.S I meant summers here: “…. but in winters if I have a 20-25 min nap after meal I am satisfied with six to seven hour sleep”

    • akshatrathi294 says:

      It’s not tiring because the day is dispersed with naps and they are relaxing and energising. Your experiment with your sleep in the winters is a clear indicator of the power of naps. What you do is also called biphasic or siesta sleeping. I know many in my family who have been doing it all their life, taking a short nap in the afternoon. You are right a 20-25 minute nap in the day can compensate for an hour worth of sleep at night, ideally.

      If you feel like giving this a try, I”ll be glad to help. :)

  5. ane says:

    is it necessary to have an equal lenght of time beeing awake in between the naps (like 4 or 5 hours between every nap)? or could i also try it like that:
    11pm-2am
    5am-5:30 am
    1:30pm-2:00pm
    9:00-9:30pm

    • akshatrathi294 says:

      I don’t think it would be easy to stick to the schedule you have put down. Especially the 2 pm to 9.30 pm time might make it hard for you to settle into the schedule. Every 4 hours I felt sleepy automatically. I could extend that by an hour but that is about it.

  6. ane says:

    and another question: do you think that driving a car is less save doing the everyman shedule compared to doing “normal sleep shedule”?

  7. Pingback: Finding sources of motivation | Contemplation

  8. katelyn20 says:

    Hi, I’m wanting to use the polyphasic cycle to be able to stay awake longer and be more mental focused in school and I’m planning on using winter break to transition but I’m still in high school and I have to leave for school at 6 30am and I don’t get home until 2 30pm; that’s over 8 hours of no breaks longenough to sleep because lunch is barely 20 minutes with transition being 6 minutes. Any advice?

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