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Hacking Your Sleep Patterns to Get More From Your Day

Sleep is damn vital.  Deep REM sleep helps your brain consolidate information it has amassed during the waking day, and acts as a sort of “mental defrag.”  Sleep is also usually the biggest factor in recovering from workouts, and is where a lot of beneficial hormonal processes occur, including growth hormone release.

And most guys simply aren’t getting enough of it.  Typical hours required for monophasic sleep are anywhere from 7-10 depending on the individual.  How many are you getting?  If you’re like me, probably not enough.

Lately I’ve been stretched pretty thin for time, between the day job, going to the gym, maintaining an active social life, working on this website, and taking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Not to mention running errands, taking care of the house, and prepping meals.  I cook a lot of quick n’ dirty bachelor meals, but there still just weren’t enough hours in the day.  I’d end up cutting into sleep time, and get 5-6 hours a night on average.

So whats the solution here?  Cut something out to sleep the extra two hours a day?

Psh, fuck that.  I want my cake and I wanna eat it too, dammit! (and I wanna look good eating it)

Enter biphasic and polyphasic sleep.

A lot of people don’t even realize they have options when it comes to sleep schedules.  I first read about polyphasic sleep in Neil Straus’ book The Game, but didn’t think much of it other than a weird experiment for fun.  Years late I came across Steve Pavlina’s blogs on the subject, and became quite curious.  Here’s the cliffs notes on everything I learned:

Monophasic sleep schedule

Traditional sleep cycles are monophasic, meaning we sleep in one solid block each night, comprised of several smaller REM cycles.  Before we go any further, perhaps a brief explanation of how sleep, more specifically REM sleep works.

A sleep cycle typically takes around 90 minutes.  There are 5 stages of sleep, with REM being the deepest.  In these 90 minute sleep cycles we spend about an hour slowly going deeper into REM sleep, with the remaining 20-30 minutes actually in REM sleep.  Research has shown that REM sleep specifically is what we want to maximize recovery.

This process repeats every 90 minutes, and if you were left to sleep without alarm clocks you’d almost always wake up on a 90 minute interval- 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, 9 hours, or even 10.5 hours.

Biphasic sleep schedule

So biphasic sleep then, means we simply break our sleep into two blocks of sleep each day, hence the name.  With biphasic sleep you take one larger sleep block of 4.5-6 hours and then one 60-90 minute nap sometime during the day.  The exact timing of the nap doesn’t matter, just as long as it’s roughly 8-10 hours after waking.  Just nap when you feel you need it.

Most guys can usually get by with a total of around 6 hours a night, and some can go even less.  I tried biphasic sleep a few months ago and was getting by on around 5 hours of sleep a day total (I had to stop because my then-job prevented me from making my naps on time).

The reason you can get by with less total sleep is because you’ll be more tired going into the nap, so your body compensates by going into REM sleep faster and gets you more of the good stuff you need to function.


Polyphasic sleep schedule

Polyphasic sleep takes this a step further, and cuts out the main chunk of sleep: every 4 hours you sleep for only 20-30 minutes.  Do the math and this adds up to 2-3 hours per “day,” if you can even call it a day at this point.  Same principle as with biphasic- your body gets adjusted to going straight to REM sleep, which is only 20-30 minutes of the whole sleep cycle.

So, in theory, once your body adapts you still get 6 full REM sessions over the course of a day

The downside to polyphasic sleep is you really need to hit your naps on time or else you’ll be dragging ass until you catch up the naptime.  That means every 3.5-4.5 hours you need to find a spot to lie down and nap for 20 minutes.  It shouldn’t be too hard, even if I’m just running to my car, but damn that can get annoying.  Luckily my day job has a comfy couch in the snack room and is flexible about this sort of lifestyle stuff.

So which sleep schedule to choose?

There are obvious benefits and disadvantages to both biphasic sleep and polyphasic sleep.  Biphasic sleep is easier to adapt to since it more closely resembles monophasic sleep.  Biphasic sleep is probably better than polyphasic for physical recovery from weight training.  If you’re serious about adding a bunch of muscle or losing a bunch of fat I’d stick to monophasic or biphasic sleep, since we don’t really know the effects of polyphasic sleep on hormone levels and muscle recovery and growth.

Biphasic also fits the modern bachelor lifestyle rather well. You could party till the clubs close, sleep from 3:00 am – 7:30 am, do what you need to do for 8 hours, and then take a late afternoon nap to recharge and do it all again.  Not to mention most guys get an extra 2-3 hours out of their day which is more than enough to give your hectic schedule some wiggle room.  Sounds almost too good to be true, right?

The downsides being that the nap is pretty critical, and for me getting the main sleep block timing consistent was huge.  The timing of the nap didn’t matter too much, but some days I would try to skip it our only do a 60 minute nap and on those days I’d just be groggy and disoriented.  But you really want to try and keep things at the same time whenever possible to give your body a rhythm to fall into.

Polyphasic sleep has some interesting qualities to it though that make me intrigued.  For starters, you only sleep 3 hours a day total, giving you 21 hours to do other stuff.  Badass.  I also like the notion of living without true days in the traditional sense.  I’m curious to see time as one long chain of events rather than separated into distinct days, and if this way of living will give me any additional perspective on life.

So I think I’m going to give polyphasic sleep a trial run.  A lot of people have asked me “why would you want to do something like that?”  To which I reply “Why not?”  It could work really well of give some interesting perspective on life and getting shit done.

An example day in the life

The biggest downside seems to be the naps- a lot of people gripe that you have to break your day into 3.5 hour segments around them, and if you miss a nap you get groggy.  I’ve read you can push a nap back a few hours if absolutely necessary, but you will need to make it up with an extra nap or two somewhere along the line.

That said, I really like the idea of napping and hitting the reset button every 3.5 hours, so to speak. You get to break your day into 6 blocks, and can devote entire blocks to certain activities.  For instance I could devote 2 blocks in the middle of the day to my day job.  But when I get home from work I immediately take a nap, and 20 minutes late I wake up to a fresh start.  I could make it a ‘social block’ where I go out and hang out, or I could use the time to bust out an article for the site here.

Regarding food, I already eat 6 meals a day so it would be easy to just have breakfast every time I wake up and eat for whatever I’m about to do.  If I’m going to sit and work on the website I’ll just have protein and veggies/nuts.  If I’m going to the gym I’ll have a bigger carby meal like teriyaki chicken with rice, or a protein + carb pre-workout shake.

That’s another seeming downside to a polyphasic sleep schedule is working out.  I’ll be closely monitoring my strength levels and ability to recover as this thing goes on and keep you guys informed.

There’s also the whole idea of being out of sync with the rest of the world around me.  This is definitely eerie, but I’ll probably spend most of this time working wont he website anyways so at least I have something to keep my occupied.

And, if it turns out polyphasic is too zany (or it affects my workouts too much) I’ll just switch back to biphasic, which I know works great if you can schedule around your naps a bit.

The bottom line on sleep schedules

Sleep is a highly individualized thing.  Some people need 5 hours monophasic, some need 10.  I can’t tell you what sleep schedule will work best for you and your physiology.  Likewise, all three suit differently lifestyles and personalities so you just gotta give them a shot yourself.

That’s ultimately why I’m attempting polyphasic sleep; I’m curious and what better way to know, right?  Reading only gets you so far.

Anyways, here’s a short list of the things I’ve done since the rest of the world went to sleep tonight:

  1. Write this article
  2. clean my room
  3. cook delicious eggs and sausage
  4. pay some bills
  5. play some video games, awwww yee!
Not bad, considering I wouldn’t have been able to do any of those things  if I was monophasic.  I also got to go out to a concert up in SanFran last night that I would have normally had to skip to write my article for the night.  Booya.  Now that’s some lifestyle design right there!
I’ll be updating pretty frequently, as I suspect this is something people will want to know about.  Check back soon for more on polyphasic sleep!
Have you ever tried biphasic or polyphasic sleep?  What was your experience with it?
[EDIT] Here’s my first update 1 week in!