This is coming late — I've been writing comments and emails to answer the "I'm a teenager; should I do this?" question for literally years — but I think something in me just resisted the idea that it needed its own post. (It does have a section in the book, within the first 10 pages.) But obviously I was wrong; and it's time to pay up.
The short version: Have you ever seen an extreme, wildly experimental tweak/upgrade be recommended for people who haven't finished growing yet? EVER?
Didn't think so. This one isn't, either.
There are two major reasons why:
1. The physical reason. Sleep is a major component of the huge tangle of complex processes that governs human growth. Restricting it, or in any way messing with it, while you're still in the middle of the last major growth-cycle of your life is about as good a plan as deciding to replace your transmission while you're going eighty on the freeway.
Remember that you only get one shot at developing the physical and mental things that are happening in your teens: If you screw it up, your body does NOT go back and do it over just to be sure. You may permanently lose mental capacity or physical hardiness that you can never get back.
I'm a big, big fan of polyphasic sleep, but doing it right now rather than in a year or two is not worth that risk.
The physical reason lasts until you're out of your teens, for women; and into your early twenties, for men. There's a bit of "know thyself" here too: If you've been developing slowly, or are not in the best of health anyway, then you should wait longer than someone who's super-healthy and started developing very early.
The legal reason lasts until you reach the legal age of majority in your jurisdiction:
2. The legal reason. In most countries, until you reach the age of majority, your guardians are held legally responsible for your care. That means that if you're neglected — i.e. if anything happens to you that could have been prevented if they were paying closer attention — they can go to jail for it. It happens all the time.
Being a legal minor also means that adults who hurt you by convincing you to do things that are bad for you can also go to jail. When you reach the age of majority, society figures that you're on your own now; if someone cons you into taking drugs or spending all your money, well, life's hard; but while you're a minor, you have some legal protection from that sort of thing.
That means that, if you tried polyphasic sleep and in any way damaged yourself, your parents/guardians and me could be held legally responsible and gotten in serious shit. The fact that you're a smart person, quite probably smarter than many of the legal adults around you, and that you felt capable and inclined to take on the risks personally — as well as the fact that you tell your parents, or put it in writing that you won't blame me — does not matter legally. The law has to draw a line somewhere, and when it comes to minors, most laws are very strict: That line is your age, period. Your parents could have their lawyers write me a notarized letter saying it's fine, but if one of your neighbors saw your sleep-dep and reported it as abuse/neglect, life would get very awful for your parents and I both. Almost nothing in the adult world sucks as bad as being sued, and I would really, really rather not, if you don't mind.
In conclusion…I know being a minor sucks. I know that having limited rights compared to people a couple years older than you is intensely irritating and unfair. I hated it too.
But the reason for your intensely irritating pre-adult years is so that you can learn to be an adult. And one part of that is realizing when you do and do not have the right to take risks, and that includes risking yourself and the people who do or may depend on you. By risking your health during your growth, you're potentially screwing everyone from yourself to your friends to your parents and kids, later on in life, when you aren't as healthy as you should be. By risking your guardians' or my legal responsibility, you're putting thousands of our dollars and months or years of our stress ahead of your desire to not have to just wait until you're of legal age before trying something crazy.
I had to learn this the hard way, like I'm sure most people do — I wound up risking my father's career, and then having to really eat crow when things got out of control, he almost lost everything, and I had to take all the blame in order to avoid screwing my whole family over. And I have a kid now, so it's easy for me to look down at her and think, "Christ, I really have to take care of myself. Stupid shit like driving too fast while not wearing a seatbelt can have a ridiculously high cost."
You'll learn it the hard way too, and you'll feel stupid sometimes, but meh, that's growing for ya. The trick to navigating it successfully is to be careful, and be aware that there are, in fact, big nasty consequences lurking around that you can't see from where you are. Take risks — all humans must — but take calculated risks. (i.e. if you're going to try drugs, don't pick heroin; if you decide to try sex, wear a condom — that kind of thing.) That way the mistakes you make — which are inevitable — won't come with pricetags like addiction and AIDS. They'll still suck — drugs will still probably make you really unpleasantly sick, and the person you choose to sleep with will, at some point in your life, either suck at it or be awesome and then not call you back (whee!) — but you can, with some forethought, keep the risks you take from ruining your life too badly. This is a key skill of adulthood, and one of the major things all those fraught-with-heavy-decisions teenage years are there to teach you.
In my rather-well-informed opinion, polyphasic sleep is not worth the risk of doing it earlier than the age of majority. For the record, I was almost 20 when I first tried it. I also never dieted to try to lose weight (and I was chubby) while I was under 18, because my parents were in medicine and explained the risks to me — the same risks polyphasic sleep has, pretty much. Even though I hated being the pudgy kid, it was not worth the possible damage to my growth, etc., to start dieting too early. So I am preaching what I practice here, in case that counts for anything.
OK, off the soapbox. You're all smart people and I know you can weigh the risks and make good decisions. My advice is that you decide, if you're under the age of majority, to wait until you're safely done growing, and no longer under the legal protection of people who don't deserve to go to jail for your decisions (and don't forget, I'd rather not be sued either), before experimenting with crazy sleep schedules — or diets, or drugs, or anything else that can be permanently harmful if done too early.
Trust me, all the crazy shit will still be there to experiment with, when you're ready. I will personally see to it. ;)