I get a lot of questions asking if I think someone is too old, too busy, too much of an exercise nut, etc. to try polyphasic sleeping. The other day I finally answered one of those emails in what I think is a significantly universal fashion to post here:
In my experience (which is, of course, mine, plus the secondhand reports of a few hundred pioneers such as yourself), any reasonably healthy person with a reasonably flexible lifestyle (or I should say, one that can be flexed to include polyphasic sleep; if it’s rigid after that, that’s fine, and in fact probably preferable) can adapt to polyphasic sleep just fine. Far and away most of the failures I hear about are due to people not having the foresight/planning, discipline, or level of temporary masochism(*) to stick to the schedule; or having an incompatible lifestyle. Only twice to my knowledge have people quit because of adverse health reactions, and both of them had non-trivial conditions to begin with (diabetes, in one, and an autoimmune disorder in another).
(*) “Temporary masochism” because the adaptation period is simply going to be not fun at all for several hours, and some people simply don’t find they want to put up with that. I made comparisons in my book to fasting or getting tattooed; it takes the kind of mindset that’s willing to be majorly uncomfortable for a little while in the service of a greater goal.
…And there are a few other disclaimers, that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, but I’ll put them here too in the interest of completeness:
- No, you shouldn’t try it if you’re not physically an adult yet. This has nothing to do with polyphasic sleep in general; you shouldn’t be trying weird diets or anything either. Don’t mess with your growth-cycle! You only get one shot at getting it right. …On the flipside, being on the old side doesn’t seem by itself to make a difference, other than the usual tendency older adults have to be less friendly towards schedule-changes. (My personal opinion is that people should all stay friendly with change, and that this is a choice; but that’s just me, and I’m 30 so wtf do I know, right? ;)
- Try to stick to one big change at a time — don’t go polyphasic and vegan simultaneously, or go polyphasic the same month you join a new martial arts class. A new sleep schedule is a big change; give it some room.
- Yes, you should probably quit drugs first, especially stimulants; but that said, many people have succeeded while still imbibing a moderate amount of caffeine or whatever.
- If you have any illness, temporary or chronic, you should probably be getting as much sleep as you can to help you heal. That said, there are people with illnesses that made sleeping for a long period difficult, who’ve benefited from sleeping polyphasically instead.
- No amount of being healthy and well-prepared will make it so that you don’t experience some exhaustion while you adapt. It’s true that (very) occasionally someone adapts with hardly any discomfort, but as far as anybody knows there’s no reason for this that can be applied to other people. Similarly, no amount of being healthy and well-prepared will make the schedule work, or make the exhaustion go away, if you don’t stay disciplined and stick to it for a month *minimum*.
There, once again, I hope this was helpful to some of you. If you hadn’t noticed, there’s a “polyphasic portal” page over on the right, now, and I’ll be adding this post to that list, so you can find it easily for future reference. (Because I care about saving you time, heh!)