Sam Rosenthal is a musician (with his band Black Tape For A Blue Girl), a record label owner (Projekt Records), an erotic novelist (Rye), & a half-the-week dad. What follows is his account and description of his long-term polyphasic project / experience, interspersed with some bits of conversation we’ve had over that time. Sam came at polyphasic sleep from his own angle, and did a lot of experimentation, plus gathered some cool data. Please remember YMMV, and this is just one person’s anecdote! I’m really grateful to Sam for writing it all up to share with everyone, though, and I know I won’t be the only one to learn a lot from his efforts. Here’s his report:
I've reached day 300 of Polyphasic sleeping [as of the date of this post]. I think I deserve a prize, though I cannot decide what you give yourself for not sleeping much!
PD asked if I'd like to talk a bit about my experiences. So here it goes… Like many people, PolySleep* is something I got into to gain extra time in my day. Certainly part of why I still do it is to prove to myself that I can! To prove that I can win the struggle against my brain. PolySleep is not easy, and not everyone will succeed at it.
*NOTE: I shorten Polyphasic Sleep to Ubersleep; Sam calls it PolySleep.
Most people I mention it to adamantly declare, "but I like my sleep!" As if I'm threatening to take away something they cherish. Yeah, sleep is nice. But we only live once, and I'd rather have more time to be creative, and talk with friends, and pet the cat!
I'm going to describe what works for me, knowing full well you might discover something quite different works for you.
I think I'm (pretty) successful at PolySleep because I'm predisposed towards its requirements.
I have no trouble falling asleep. Seriously! I've always been able to nod off within a minute of closing my eyes, heading immediately to REM and dreams. Some find this hard to believe, but when my son was younger and I was getting him to bed, I'd nod off during story time. He'd poke me and say, "Daddy, daddy, finish the story!" I fell asleep between words, and started dreaming immediately. And that was BEFORE I started doing PolySleep, where we are actively training our brain to go to REM. Good candidate, see?
NOTE: Sam’s assertion that polyphasic sleep causes you to fall quickly into REM sleep is unproven, though it is supported by some individuals’ data. Also, it seems to bear adding that I used to fall asleep incredibly slowly, but learning polyphasic sleep taught me to fall asleep quickly, so while the predisposition to it is definitely nice, it doesn’t seem to be required.
I don't have much trouble waking up. I don't need 3 alarms.
I don't need the 7 hours of sleep I once required. I can survive on 4.0 – 5.5 hours a day.
I am self-employed and work at home, so I don't have a boss wondering why I'm napping when I should be slaving to the man.
For my first month, I floundered about trying to find a sleep schedule. I was trying to cobble it together from things I read online; I was not really adjusting. Let me tell you, improvising a schedule is a BAD IDEA! I discovered PD's blog and read her book Ubersleep: Nap-Based Sleep Schedules and the Polyphasic Lifestyle, and realized my brilliant strategy could be, urm, improved upon! I went to a version of Everyman 3 with three (but sometimes four) 20 minute naps. When I got it working best, it looked like this:
4 – 7 am core sleep
11:30am 20 minute nap
3:00pm 20 minute nap
9pm 20 minute nap
1am bonus 20 minute nap, when needed.
HOW COULD A 20 MINUTE NAP POSSIBLY HELP YOU REST?
If you don't do PolySleep, I am sure this schedule doesn't make much sense. But let me tell you: A 20-MINUTE NAP IS AMAZING. I fall asleep within a minute, and I nearly always wake up at the 16 or 17 minute mark, convinced I overslept my alarm, because of the sense that four or five hours had passed. I look at my timer, and realize I still have a few minutes left to sleep. Bizarre! 20 minutes asleep is an amazing rejuvenation: I fall right into REM and replenishing my brain.
I began with an earlier core sleep, around 1 – 4:30 am, but I found that my body required a core that allowed me to wake after sunrise. I needed that sense of "A new day beginning" which didn't happen with the core in the middle of the night.
Add to that the three (or four, if needed) naps, and I had the 4.5 hours of sleep I was aiming for. And while I adjusted, in the sense that I didn't feel sleep dep during daylight hours, there was still a problem.
Zombie Mode. Late at night (after the 9pm nap), I'd often find myself sitting in my chair, staring blankly at my computer screen. 30 minutes had passed in this half-awake state, often while I was working on a spreadsheet or trying to edit html. It's like a bad dream, where I was lost in some simple task; I was actually repetitively cutting and pasting text, but forgetting what I had just done, and going back to do it again. I flowed along, quite dreamily, repeating the task, and then I’d wake out of it for a moment and realize I accidentally delete what I was working on. Ugh. No good.
It never happened between 7am and 9pm. It cropped up many nights as the evening wore on and I got further from the core sleep.
This didn't happen every night, mind you. There'd be periods where everything ran splendidly, and I'd wonder if there was a reason these days were so good. I'll admit I don't stick to the schedule as precisely as I could. Sometimes I'd get busy and forget the first or second nap and have to pick it up an hour late, or sometimes I'd push the 3rd nap so I could go see a concert, or have a friend over. So yes, I am to blame for tweaking on the fly.
I keep a really detailed chart of my sleeping, using the "timeworm" I created. I am a graphic designer, and I wanted to represent time in a linear fashion. Time doesn't run around a circular clock; time flows ever forwards. My design keeps the look of a 24 hour clock, but it flows like water (or a segmented worm). The examples of my sleep schedule on this page use the timeworm, and here is a pdf so you can keep track of your own sleep.
NOTE: Wow, thanks for the chart / pdf, Sam! Those are awesome.
I think PolySleep is a great way to learn about your brain. First off, you (the witness) get to struggle with you (the brain: the machine that runs your sleep). I understand that for many people, the brain kicks ass and wins the fight. Hey! I don't think PolySleep is for everyone. There is no shame in trying, and then stepping back slowly and surrendering, "Nope, that's just not for me."
There's also no shame in occasionally wanting to sleep outside the schedule. I’m not a purist: do what you gotta do to stay with the experiment. Do the best you can. Don't beat yourself up for not being perfect. Get some extra sleep when your body demands it. As time goes on, I’ve discovered the benefit of taking a "hop" which I will explain in a little bit.
PD says the adjustment process can take six weeks. It took me quite a while.
Ok, related to Zombie Mode, there’s another thing I didn't like about Everyman 3: my brain's aversion to books. No matter what time of the day, I'd fall asleep within 1/2 a minute of starting to read. Even 100 days in, when I was not feeling Sleep Dep, my brain couldn't focus on reading. "Words on paper? Must be time to nod off!" I like reading books. It's one of the things I was planning on doing in my extra hours. But waking up to the thud of the book hitting the floor? It gets old after a while.
Now back to my progress. At day 169, because of the problems listed above, I decided I needed a switch. I read about Triphasic sleep, which is three evenly-spaced 90-minute naps (Leif gets pretty precise in his article, regarding sunset, sunrise, etc.). I figured I'd give it a try to see if these longer naps might be a better fit for me. But after a few days, I realized this schedule was even worse, and I was regressing. I really need a core sleep.
Making this switch I learned that my brain just doesn’t want to wake from 90-minute naps. However, the process did reveal my perfect nap lengths. I really think this is key: finding the points where your body wakes up with ease. These are linked to the end of your REM cycles.
Note: Again, Sam’s data bears this out for him, but the research isn’t really there to make the bigger claim scientifically. We can call it a really good guess, though! :)
I found there were two points that I’d wake naturally and feel rested and ready to go. The first was around 15 – 18 minutes after I lay down, the second around 40 – 45 minutes. I could wake up as late as 60 minutes after, and be fairly functional. But after 60 minutes, my ability to "nap" ended and my body was entering a 2.50 hour sleep mode. Most attempts to wake up between 60 – 150 minutes lead to turning off the alarm, swearing that sleep schedules are the tool of the devil, and plunging back to sleep.
And if I was able to launch myself out of bed after 60 minutes, it inevitably turned into Zombie Mode where my brain tried to round out the 2.5 hours of sleep that I had started, by sleeping with my eyes open while staring at a screen (or book). Bad brain! Bad brain!
I started trimming two of the three 90 minute naps, adding the saved time to the first nap to create a core. PD suggested we call this E245 (though I reserve the rights to come up with a cool altname). Here's what it looks like today:
4:00 – 7:00am Core Sleep
3:00 – 3:45pm – 45 minute nap (time fluctuates)
9:30 – 10:15pm – 45 minute nap
(Through trial and error, I found that having the first wake period be 8 hours long is really beneficial.)
It's 4.5 hours of sleep a day; the middle nap seems to work floating a bit. I feel the 45-minute naps give my body a lot more than two 20-minutes, as far as I am getting rest that allows me to remain lucid. I can float a nap up to an hour later, to fit my schedule. Or sometimes I’ll take a 20 minute nap around 7pm as a booster shot, if I'm sliding my 2nd nap to midnight because I’m going out (or staying in!).
I think this schedule could be effective for somebody working a normal job, because there's only one nap during the day, and you could do it on your lunch break. More experimentation is required.
Some questions from PD:
You've been aiming for a total of 4.5 hours of sleep every 24. Do you feel fully adjusted?
I feel fully adjusted in the sense that I don’t have that headachey, groggy, am-i-getting-sick? feeling anymore; which isn’t to say that I am free from bouts of sleepiness. (You’ll notice that I was having trouble staying awake the night of Day#237, above. I went out that night, with the plan of getting Nap#2 later, but I just wasn't able to wake up (the yellow and pink means sleeping in my chair at my desk), so I just said "Screw it!" and went to bed for my core at 2:30. As I said, you’re not going to be perfect). From 7am to 9pm, I am always fully lucid and productive; But 9pm to 4:30am can be hard. Some nights my body just demands sleep.
I have discovered that a handful of trailmix (heavy on the nuts), and some pacing around (or a walk around the neighborhood) is a good pick-me-up at 2am.
Which schedule do you like best, and why?
As opposed to e3 or Triphasic, E245 works better for me. I get the core sleep, and I feel the longer naps are better for my brain; they regulate me better and make my evenings more productive. If a 20-minute nap is the equivalent of 90 minutes of sleep. Then these 45-minute naps feel like the equivalent of at least 3 hours of sleep. I feel more lucid at all times. I can read, I can work, It's more functional.
That said, the thing I loved about Everyman 3 was all those naps! Crawling into bed every 4 or 5 hours, and falling asleep? It was very luxurious. Very fun. And the weird perception of 4 hours passing in 20 minutes was pretty interesting!
How much time have you gained on an average day, and what do you do with it?
I find on average, I sleep between 4 – 5.50 hours a day. I'll admit that quite often I ask myself, "Why don't you just go to bed at 2:30 and wake up at 7am?" It would also be 4.5 hours of sleep, without all the napping. But the problem – as we all know – is you really lose productivity on a 4.5-hour monophasic sleep. The naps throughout the day rejuvenate the brain.
What do I do with my extra time? I run my own business, and I downsized about a year ago, and work at home. I feel that PolySleep is the main reason I can keep the business going. So I find I work too much. But I feel a lot less pressure during the "work day." I can go out and water the plants, or sit on the porch and talk on the phone with a friend. I try to walk 3 miles a day. I don't feel guilty taking that 45+ minutes break. I walk around the neighborhood at 2am. Cray-Cray?
You said you sometimes take "nights off" which you call "hops." Describe those please: How often do they happen, and how long do you sleep? Do you feel like you "crash" or are accumulating sleep-dep in-between them? Could you keep your E245 schedule without those nights of extra sleep?
Sometimes I take a night off when I am seeing my partner. When they spend the night, we go to sleep together and wake up together. That said, I can set my alarm and get up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night while they’re asleep.
Sometimes I'm just feeling wrecked from a stressful day, and I allow myself a 6 or 7 hours sleep. But even when I go off schedule for a night, I keep all the naps, so I am ready for the next night on.
Funny thing. I was convinced that I read somewhere here on the blog that you developed a sleep schedule called "Everman-Hop," where you do Everyman, but some nights you hop out of it and do a normal sleep. PD says this was just my hallucination, but I like "Everyman Hop" as the name of the evening when you sleep through, whether because you just feel the need for some extra sleep, or because you're enjoying a lover's warm body in your arm.
Personally, I don't really feel like I accumulate "sleep dep" on E245 the way I did in the early days of adjusting to Everyman 3. Right now it is 2 am, and I feel completely lucid and my typing is as error-free / error-filled as it usually is. I don't feel icky.
Could I do E245 without a hop? I am not sure. There are just some nights that the sleep pattern isn’t working. And I think it’s fair to have the option of sleeping in once in a while, so life doesn’t feel so rigid and torturous.
What's the biggest difference, in your opinion, between an adaptation to polyphasic sleep that succeeds and one that doesn't? What are the most important things someone who wants to transition can do?
Hmmmmm? I think you have to be good at falling asleep. I think that you have to be able to shut off the internal dialog of your brain, so you're not chattering through that 20 or 45 minute nap. Because then you're not napping, you're just looping on your to-do-list. It's a bit like meditation: you have to develop a way to let your thoughts slip by, rather than hooking your attention and keeping you awake. That's something most people have a hard time with.
PD recommends that in the beginning you lay down for those 20 minutes, even if you cannot sleep. To train your brain, "This is the time you get, Use it wisely!" I agree with that. You are learning how to train your brain.
You also have to be good at waking up. You have to learn when your "good wake-up times" are. On PolySleep blogs, I've read about people who set three alarms, with one out in the kitchen, because they are shutting the alarms off and going back to sleep. I have blown through alarms on occasions, of course. But I really believe the problem comes down to WHEN you are trying to wake yourself up. This will be personal to your brain, and I think it could be the biggest decision about what sleep schedule is right for you. Forcing yourself to try to do something that doesn't work for your brain will cause repeated failure, and you'll doubt the possibility of PolySleep. So, in my view, it takes trial and error, to find your good wake times.
Another bit of advice: cars are a great place to take a nap. I did that often when I needed to take my 20 minute, and my son was at a sport event. As many of us are self-conscious, and might skip a nap rather than risk getting "caught," I like PD's suggestion that if somebody asks you what you're doing, just say, "I’m feeling a bit under the weather; I am resting a bit." Don't try to explain your crazy-ass-sounding sleep schedule to the mall cop! : )
How long do you plan to be polyphasic? Would you do it always if you could? What do you think is the biggest obstacle to keeping it up indefinitely?
I think the biggest obstacle would be if I was living with my lover; because sleeping together is much more sensual and pleasant than sitting here at my computer catching up on email.
Polyphasic works fine for me as a single dad. Actually, I created my second nap to match the time I put my son to bed. So I can crash with him for 45 minutes as he falls sleep, then get up and have the third installment of my day.
As far as how long will I keep at it? My son is very excited by the whole thing and my charts; when I groan that maybe I should give up and go back to normal sleep, he tells me to stick at it. Sometimes I think I'm doing it because it entertains him!
But yeah, I like what I'm getting out of it, and I will stick at it because all-in-all, it's pretty interesting.
What I’ve described above is what works for me; it's very personalized. "Your mileage may vary."
…Speaking of personalized, for the three days since I started writing this blog, I’ve been wondering about that question I asked in the first paragraph: What do you give yourself, as a present for doing PolySleep 300 days?
An alarm clock? A sleep cap?
How about 3.5 extra hours a day? That's a pretty good gift! Thanks, just what I wanted!