Polyphasic Sleep

Several months ago, I read about polyphasic sleep on Steve Pavlina’s blog. Polyphasic sleep means sleeping for multiple short periods during the day rather than one long period at night. The particular sleep schedule Steve was writing about was called the Uberman schedule, which involves sleeping only for 20-minute naps every four hours, for a total of roughly two hours per day.

I was immediately fascinated by the concept, and started reading up on the subject. There are bits and pieces of information all over the internet; good starting points are Wikipedia, Everything2, Kuro5hin, Steve Pavlina’s blog, and last but not least puredoxyk’s blog (who also coined the terms Uberman and Everyman, and wrote a book on the subject, Ubersleep).

The only real known way of switching to Uberman is through controlled sleep deprivation, by simply switching to the new schedule. Initially, you’re unlikely to fall asleep during the naps, and when you do, you won’t get enough sleep to feel rested. Because the naps are so short, you won’t get through all the different sleep stages you need. Unsurprisingly, waking up from the naps and staying awake can get really challenging after a few days.

But after a while of this (usually after 4-7 days, it seems), your brain somehow adapts to this, finding a way to get adequate sleep in those 20-minute naps. When that happens, you’ll wake rested and you won’t feel tired. After adapting to this for long enough, you will feel rested and energetic after every nap!

There is little known about why this works. Lots of people speculate — a commonly heard theory is “your brain will skip other sleep stages and go straight to REM sleep, which is the only stage you really need”. I have my doubts about that theory, but the fact is: we don’t know. We also don’t know what the long-term effects of sleeping like this might be.

One thing is for sure though; the adaptation period is hard. Lots of people fail. I’ve been reading a lot of Uberman experiences, and I’m guessing about 80% to 90% of people who try fail to adapt. Invariably, the people who fail to adapt oversleep on some naps, often by many hours. Oversleeping temporarily relieves sleep deprivation, taking away the pressure on your brain to adapt, setting the adaptation back quite a lot. Making absolutely sure you do not oversleep seems to be key to adapting to Uberman.

Finally, why would you want to adopt a sleep schedule like this? A lot of people are motivated by the extra time (21-22 waking hours per day!), but for me curiosity is the main drive. I think Uberman is fascinating; it has this “Why does this work? This should not work!” feel about it which only makes me want to try it more. Furthermore, successful adopters report increased energy, altered time perception, new perspectives, reduced stress, and different “mental states”. All in all, a very interesting experience from which I’d hope to learn quite a few things as well.

Are there downsides? Yes, plenty. For starters, Uberman is quite inflexible, especially in the beginning. You need to fit all those naps into your daily schedule. During the first week (or two), you’re largely a zombie. You’ll be out of sync with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world might think you’re crazy. The risk of failing to adapt is very real (and continuing in spite of oversleeping can be a road to trouble). And of course, no one knows what the long-term effects are.

If it wasn’t clear already, I’m going to try adapting to Uberman. Because that’s what the world needs, another blogger trying Uberman ;)

Wish me luck!

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