Reintroducing the Sleep Experiment: 5 Weeks @ 5 Hours a Night

David | Sep 9, 2012 min read

About five weeks ago I posted about the sleep experiment I was undertaking. I haven’t been as diligent as I would like in recording results via blog, so I’m going to do some catching up here and make the effort more frequently.

Yesterday I caught up on the progress of Handy Andy Pandy—this dude’s an inspiration for me. I also reread my [first post]({% post_url 2012-07-21-a-writers-experiment-with-sleep %}) and realized it didn’t actually share details on what I’m doing very well. I’m betting I was still pretty foggy from my new sleep schedule.

Let’s start with some basics. What is Polyphasic Sleep? Basically it’s when you take lots of little naps instead of sleeping for a solid 8-hour chunk. It’s not normal. It’s also relatively unstudied from a scientific perspective.

Why am I doing this? My main reason is to have more productive hours in my day, specifically for writing. I sold my first novel (it comes out in February) and I’m working hard on my next. The first took two years to write, and while that’s pretty good for my first earnest attempt, I want to produce at least one novel a year. But more hours in the day isn’t the only thing. Other reported side effects of PS include more consistent energy, better clarity/focus, and weird dreams. All those appeal to me as a horror/dark fantasy writer. Bring on the crazy shit!

The most common form of PS is called the Uberman schedule, but there are a few others. Uberman requires you to take six 20-minute naps a day (or, as Andy’s doing, as many 20-minute naps as you like with some rules). I’d love to get there, but being a husband, a father, a full-time corporate employee, and a writer makes it difficult to just call a halt to my day for a nap.

So I’m doing The Everyman sleep schedule, which roughly consists of sleeping two to five hours a night with two to five 20-minute naps throughout the day. I can fit two naps in my day, and for the past five weeks I’ve been pretty successful at it. I sleep about five hours a night and nap at the two major transition points in my day—just before and just after the day job.

I’m concerned (okay, maybe obsessive) about whether I’m getting the right kind of sleep. So when I started this experiment in July I picked up a Zeo. The Zeo is a little thing you strap on your forehead at night. Using an iPhone app, it monitors brainwaves during the night and records whether you’re awake, in light sleep, in REM sleep, or in deep sleep. Over the past five weeks I’ve seen a considerable reduction in light sleep, but my REM and deep sleep are both consistent with the other Zeo users in my age group. Yeah - so I get some bragging rights there. I sleep less than six hours a day.

I use another iPhone app called Pzizz Energizer for naps. This sweet little app lets you set a duration (20 minutes for me) then plays random sequences of relaxing sounds with an optional voice-guided meditation. I don’t actually fall asleep during my naps, but I do get into a very serene meditative state. In the past week, my naps have taken on a very strange quality, and when I caught up on Andy’s posts yesterday, I was thrilled to see he experiences something similar (see Andy’s Day 4 and Day 6). I find myself dreaming, but fully aware of the world around me. There’s no control, and my dreams aren’t as vivid as Andy’s seem to be, but what I’m experiencing is still pretty cool. I lie down and after about five minutes I slip into a waking dream. Time becomes fuzzy and images emerge from the darkness, like watching a movie through smoked glass.

That’s pretty much where I’m at right now. Sleep five hours a night, nap for 20 minutes twice a day, and enjoying more hours for my life. BTW - last night I drank two beers and a bottle of wine over about six hours (not typical by any means), and I slept from 12:32 AM to 5:15 AM according to my Zeo.

  • Total sleep - 4:41
  • REM - 1:13
  • Deep Sleep - 1:38
  • Light Sleep - 1:50
  • No disruptions
  • I feel like a champ this morning!

What’s next? Well, I was talking to my wife the other day, kicking around ideas for my blog, and she said I should post more on my little sleep experiment. She thinks people would be really interested to know how I only sleep four hours a night without going crazy. I politely corrected her—I sleep five hours a night and I was already crazy. But her little slip-up made me think: why not four hours? So…

Goals for September / October:

  • Shorten major sleep to four hours and take three 20-minute naps a day, bringing total sleep in one day to five hours.
  • Sleep with my sleep-number mattress pumped to 100. Occasionally sleep on the floor like Andy to test effectiveness. I want to be able to sleep anywhere.
  • Shower immediately on waking from core sleep and skip the coffee. This should have been an obvious thing early on as I need to cut the caffeine down as much as possible.
  • Actually fall asleep during naps.

So now I think I might actually be able to do the Uberman schedule. Every blog I’ve read by someone shooting for the Uberman schedule jumps right to it. Probably the best way of getting there, but I don’t think it’s the only way. I think I can do it using the boiling frog approach. It’ll take me a lot longer, but in the context of my life I think gradually changing my sleep schedule will be both easier to implement and easier to stick to when I get there.

I don’t see any reason to post daily like most Polyphasic sleepers since I’m doing this gradually. Instead, I’ll post progress every Sunday morning. Till next week!

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