Polyphasic sleep & the Age of Majority

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.  ;)

About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut, and life-partner to polyphasic sleep. Rabid fan of as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the wall).
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12 Responses to Polyphasic sleep & the Age of Majority

  1. Pingback: Advice on a polyphasic sleep routine.

  2. Jake says:

    Depends. generally, I would say Uberman. I cant say much about Dymaxion, because I have not read about anyone trying it (although I might sometime soon). If Uberman isnt good for you because your schedule won't allow for periodic naps, then I would suggest Everyman
    PS. If you DO try Dymaxion, keep me posted, because I would like to see how it goes for you.

  3. Allison says:

    My birthday is November 10, 1992. I have stopped growing height-wise. (I am not sure if my boobs will always be this small, har har.) Would now be a good time for polyphasic sleep? Would you recommend Dymaxion, Uberman, Everyman? Any answers at all would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you so much.

  4. Ely says:

    Yeah, I've been to that blog.
    I do think polyphasic is natural, however, not two hours (I don't think it will kill you).
    Anyway, good luck with that. LEt's hope you can go alright through the adaptation period!

  5. Jake says:

    well im 15, and ive decided that this summer Im going to go Uberman. If it stunts my growth, I dont really care; and Im fairly certain that it wont kill me or cause any legal issues with my parents. So, why not? Also, if you read Steve Pavlina's blog (http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/10/polyphasic-sleep/), he brings up some good points regarding polyphasic sleep. He says that maybe polyphasic sleep really is 'natural' and that society has forced us to adapt to monophasic sleep. Anyway, wish me luck. 

  6. Ely says:

    Benajmin Sutton: Maybe you should try to go everyman just so you can keep a semblance of monophasic sleep to grow.
    Pizza Piñata: Maybe you should try to reduce the core nap instead of increasing it. Every organism is diffferent. After puberty I went in a 4 hours sleeping cycle, so maybe that's what you need.

  7. Pizza PiƱata says:

    Benjamin. I'm 17 and I'm in a similar situation. I can't have a healthy monophasic sleep so is it a good idea to go into polyphasic?  Uber man seems like a terrible idea for teens, it might not be but it seems like it. The difference from 9 hours to 2 is just too big.
    I want to try everyman although I'll have 2 weeks of uberman adaptation.
    If you ever get into polyphasic sleep, which seems like a bad idea at your age even though you could say the same about mine. I advise you everyman.
    I'm still wondering if changing the core nap from 3 to 4,5 hours is a good idea. Everyman's core nap just makes you hellishly tired.

  8. Benjamin Sutton says:

    Hi, so here’s the thing, I’m 14, I started going through puberty at age 11 (which is when my voice suddenly broke and became a lot deeper than my friends’ voices.)

    While going through puberty I fell into a 26-28 hour sleep schedule that I couldn’t (and still can’t) break out of. This means the times I wake and sleep shift 2-4 hours forward every day. This makes schooling impossible unless I find a home tutor willing to stay up two hours later each night… Also friendships are harder to maintain.

    A lot of the time I suffer from sleep dep anyway (as well as a constant jet-lag like experience.)

    Considering this, would you advise trying an Uberman’s or Everyman sleep cycle?

  9. Ely says:

    From what I've researched so far, you need a bit longer to adjust to schedule, and would go through quite a hell to go back to monophasic (I'm exaggerating here, but still, not pleasant). I would recommend going Everyman, as you're a teenager like me.
    I'm about to go Uberman from today as I've a spring break even though I'm a 17 year-old teenager, but the only reason I'm doing it is because I'm pretty sure I already stopped developing.
    Boys develop later than girls (and ths is one of the reasons why some sociologists say women tend to marry men older than them—they are at the same developmental level). You need regular, or semi-regular sleep cycles to cope and go through adequate the adequate development stages, such as the maturing of your sexual organs, growing to your full height, etc.
    In my case, I started t develop quite late when compared to my peers in my birth country —11 years old—  but went through an incredibly fast growth stage (apparently it's very frequent in my family). To put this into perspective: I started to develop at 11. My growth spurt started at 12. I reached my full height at 16 —1.74 cm—  (it's been more than a year since then and I have just grown 1 mm). If you haven't finished growing, you haven't finished your development yet. Do not try it.
    *According to many scientific studies a good measure of development is the growth rate of your body. I couldn't find anyone right now to back up my claim, but I've read them.
    And no, it wouldn't be any "less risky", because you will be missing on valuable weeks of your body organism growth.

  10. Jake says:

    This has certainly swayed my opinion towards not trying polyphasic sleep, however I am still curious about the idea. Since school is over in a month, I had wanted to go polyphasic for finals, the return to monophasic when the summer starts. Since I would only be polyphasic for a few weeks, would it be less risky?

  11. Grimmer says:

    Cheers for that. I have been debating for quite awhile when to start polyphasic sleeping, and this is a helpful resource. 

    But say we (being minors) were to start a polyphasic sleep pattern, presumably a less intense schedule would reduce (or negate) the negative side effects? Perhaps a four hour core nap?

    I know I'm asking "how much evil is too much evil" but I'm really keen to do this.

    And you cannot sue in my country, so don't worry about that aspect :)

    • puredoxyk says:

      LOL I totally understand the “how evil is too much evil” question, and the urge to ask it. And I do agree, that if you have to experiment and you’re still young, starting with the less-intense stuff makes sense. (Try a 4.5 hour core, though, as that’s more known to work than a 4-hour one. And for the record, the safest polyphasic schedule is the siesta schedule, where you sleep 4-6 hours at night (basically as long as you want) and have a nap in the afternoon that’s between 45 min. and 2 hours. This is actually known to be quite safe, and people all over the place do it.)


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