An attack on polyphasic sleep
So, yesterday afternoon, in the midst of resisting the urge to pull my brain out through my nose to get out of the next month of abominable homework, I found this article, by a Ph.D. no less, which is essentially Every Bad Thing You Could Ever Say About Polyphasic Sleep.
It’s huge, and not badly written in terms of organizationally and whatnot, and most of the facts about REM times and sleep cycles are in line with other things I’ve read, and it sounds like this fellow generally knows his stuff … which is why it’s funny that, with the help of just a few (really) bad facts and a deliberate ignorance of most of the positive evidence, he manages to conclude that I and the many others like me either don’t exist or are lying to cover up the fact that we’re exhaused all the time (because, apparently, we’re addicted to our cultish followings. Heh. I should show him my traffic logs. ;)
Some of the bad facts are pretty funny, some are not. Here’s a short sample:
* There are no women doing polyphasic sleep. Which makes myself, my friend who first did Uberman with me, and my hero Heidi who’s gone more than a year-and-a-half on Uberman by now the most attractive, clean guys in HISTORY! Mind you, he doesn’t just state this silliness, but uses it as EVIDENCE for the fact that polyphasic sleep can’t work (because women’s “hormones” don’t allow it somehow). Yeah, ROFLcopter.
* Because most people don’t adapt, adapting is impossible. Yeah, I hear that a lot. And it’s true — adapting is impossible if you don’t stick to the schedule like glue for at least a few weeks. I think that’s true of adapting to just about anything that’s a major shift from how you’ve done it most of your life, eh? And sure, it can be hard. Ninety percent or more of the people who try, oversleep, and then when it doesn’t get easier, they give up. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are plenty of people out there who DID adapt and who are no longer sleep-deprived. Some of them even tried, failed, kept trying and then succeeded. “Impossible” would seem to contradict this, yes? And I’m not sure if it’s because we’re different people or writing at different times or what have you, but while Dr. Wozniak seems to be completely unable to find blogs of successful polyphasers (see below), I have no trouble finding several.
* Because polyphasers tend to need an alarm, it’s not a viable schedule. Interesting idea; I wonder what it says about the millions of monophasic people who need alarms? In any case, I forgot to set my alarm tonight and woke up after exactly three hours, wham. Anybody trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule would need an alarm for some months to stay on track; that by itself doesn’t mean you’re constantly sleep-deprived. In fact, the only times in my life that I didn’t need an alarm, I was polyphasic!
* I quit Uberman the first time “because it was incompatible with my schedule and goals”. Um, hello? My Everything2 writeup wasn’t Nobel material, but it wasn’t THAT unclear and I do resent having it so flagrantly misquoted, I have to admit. It says quite clearly that I quit because I was forced to take a 9-5 job that wouldn’t let me keep it. ….But even if I DID give up the schedule because I chose a lifestyle that was better suited to monophase or something else, what does that prove? That Uberman is picky about lifestyles; we knew that. Picky != impossible, and that fact about Uberman doesn’t say anything about other polyphasic schedules.
* The “only known healthy” sleep schedules are 6-8 hours monophasic or 5-7 hours biphasic with a 15-90 minute siesta. In the next sentence, he says that “those numbers differ substantially across the population and there is no single recommended dose of sleep for everyone”. He then goes on in the next paragraph to explain how those nap-times can be shifted and changed by making deliberate adjustments. So in other words, he knows what’s best (without having tried any of the alternatives, of course), but he doesn’t know exactly what it is. Part of me is resisting SO many “typical professor” jokes right now… ;)
* Everyman is “inherently unstable and can be maintained only with a never-ending degree of sleep deprivation”. Well gee, you’d think after all this time that I’d know what sleep dep felt like, wouldn’t you? Apparently I don’t, however. Apparently the fact that my performance is unimpacted by three (now almost four) months of Everyman is simply because I have the world’s most invisible sleep-dep. Maybe he includes “none” in his definition of “some degree”. …To be fair, though, I suspected this myself about non-equiphasic schedules, not because they were polyphasic but simply because they were non-equiphasic; I wasn’t sure the body could get used to long-short-short-short. I think I’ve taken a much more direct route towards testing that hypothesis than he has, and my answer is quite the opposite: It seems to work great!
* Everybody who needs an alarm to wake up is “seriously sleep deprived”. No really, he says that outright. I feel bad for my parents — apparently they’ve never been well-rested in their entire lives. Of course, while I’m sure it’s a better sign if you don’t need an alarm at all (like I didn’t when I had Uberman down pat?), this guy is completely ignoring the known fact that people will sleep extra if they can, just like they’ll have a second helping of pie if you let them. The existence of a second piece of pie on your plate is hardly an indicator that you’re starving!
* While polyphasic schedules are all impossible to maintain without constant sleep-dep, biphasic schedules are actually preferable to monophasic ones. I’m not in disagreement about biphasic schedules being good and workable for many people, but how we go from “biphasic works” to “polyphasic doesn’t” is a little fuzzy. Okay, a lot fuzzy. He makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims about how no amount of short naps will “do the work of night-time sleep”, and then skips back to saying that a daytime nap on a biphasic schedule can do exactly that. The science is there in this paper, but it’s applied in a way Jackson Pollock would be proud of.
The “Conclusions” are the best part, mostly because the paper goes through all the trouble of invoking so much science and then pulls these obviously-biased statements completely out of the air. My favorites are #2, “Whoever claims to be on a perpetual polyphasic schedule must either be suffering from a sleep disorder, or be a liar, a mutant, or a person with a mulishly stubborn iron-will that lets him plod through the daily torture of sleep deprivation,” and #3, “All the hype surrounding polyphasic sleep can be delegated to the same lunatic basket as miracle diets, scientology (?!), homeopathy (??), water magnetizers, creation science, electrolytic detoxifiers, or Sylvia Browne.” How very intellectual of you to conclude those things, sir. Surely I should be able to immediately sense the deductive validity of your arguments!
Mind you, Conclusion #1 is simply that polyphasic sleep can’t work without constant sleep-dep, which he did everything but prove, and conclusions #4 and #5 aren’t even conclusions, but an invite to contact him if you disagree (I haven’t decided yet; I think I want to do more of my own research first) and an advocation for free-running sleep (which is the only schedule I’ve ever run across that would be more impossible than polyphasic to incorporate into any known modern lifestyle). As to Scientology (which is an insane for-profit fake religion) and homeopathy (which gets some results due, at least, to the placebo effect — is that what he thinks polyphasic sleep does?), I dunno, man. This guy seems smart, but he’s obviously on the weird side.
Such a strange article. It’s rare to see someone take (mostly) good facts and wring such a backwards conclusion out of them. And of course, all of the testimonal evidence from hundreds of successful polyphasers means absolutely nothing, though he quotes heavily from the blogs of failed attempts at polyphasic sleeping. In his view, it “can’t work”, so it doesn’t, period, and anybody who happens to be sleeping 5 or less hours a day and feeling great because of it is just delusional. Heh, remember when you were a kid and you used to roll your eyes at adults who said things like that? “This can’t happen, so it isn’t happening!!”. Still funny after all these years. ;)
…And I don’t want to analyze the whole article here, but needless to say it’s a fascinating read for anybody interested in “the other view” of polyphasic sleep. This is quite a find; I’m pretty excited and can’t wait to read it over again (after some Dramamine). Perhaps there’s also a lesson here, about how “the numbers” aren’t worth much on their own, or paired with bad assumptions. My dad used to tell me, “If you go into a scientific endeavor knowing what you want to prove, you’ll almost certainly be able to prove it”. Of course, proving that anything is “impossible” is pretty much always a bad bet in my book — it pits you against probability, and what are the chances that you could win? (Get it? Hee.)