I mentioned yesterday that I was starting a sleep experiment, trying polyphasic sleep. I have started out carefully, and today I will tell you a bit more about my plans for the experiment, about the specific research I have done, and about my first experiences today.

uberman-chartFirst of all, I have selected to go for an equiphasic sleeping pattern of roughly 20 minutes ever 4 hours, or what’s usually called the uberman pattern. There are several reasons for this choice. First of all, it’s the pattern that gives you the most time awake. Second, it is the one that deviates the most from normal sleep. Third, it is a pattern that is said to sometimes cause a heightened state of awareness, which would be cool to experience. And fourth, while its adaptation period is the hardest to cope with, it is also she shortest, and since I have only got a month to experiment with this, I would like to not spend the entire period adapting.

There are options here. It has been suggested that it might be possible to adapt by slowly moving parts of your sleep into naps, and letting the body adjust. That would surely be less painful, but would also take my entire month (and more).

A fair number of developments recently have led to this being possible at all (or at least helped make it as easy and pain free as possible). Quitting caffeine completely was a first step, learning to get up early every morning immediately when the alarm clock went off was another. I have now spent around two months adjusting my body to these new routines.

Sometimes, long term planning is the only thing that can prepare you for something. If you are not serious enough to be willing to go through a major development like that, perhaps you should think twice about attempting a grand experiment.

Messing with your brain

A word of caution here, if you think this all sounds interesting. I have spent several months doing research on this, between when I first became interested in it, through deciding to try it and while preparing for this experiment. Not only is very little known about the long-term effects of polyphasic sleep, we actually do know that messing with your brain can be dangerous.

In Sweden, a radio DJ set a world record in staying awake the longest time, and spent the entire time on the air. Even though he had doctors checking up on him, being sleep deprived for so long that it messed with his brain. He ended up broken, losing his job and with his wife leaving him. Of course there are other factors in that as well, but what I am saying here is that it isn’t a game. Do not take risks without knowing as much as possible about what you are doing.

Avoiding that was important to me, which meant I did a lot of preparation. First of all, that meant research. If you want to know more, a good place to start is the Ubersleep book. It was written by puredoxyk, the woman who came up with the names “uberman” and “everyman” sleep. If you don’t want to order it, there is also an e-book version that you can buy online.

Also, there has been a number of publicly documented polyphasic sleep attempts on various blogs, both successful and failed (mostly failed, to be fair). I wont link you around, if you are interested you should find out as much as you can for yourself and if you are reading this any period of time after I posted it, chances are there are more recent sources of information you should look at. Hopefully my documentation of my own experience will be a good starting point.

Another thing I have done is set a cutoff day. What hurts people is not trying to adapt to polyphasic sleep and failing, but failing to give up. My cutoff date is staggered: if I have not seen any improvement in the sleep deprivation by day 4 (on Friday) I will quit it and try to figure out what went wrong. If I have not seen a near-full recovery by the end of the first week, that’s the second hard cutoff date (which means Tuesday, next week).

Another part of my preparation was to stock up on alarm clocks. I realize that at some points it will be incredibly hard to wake up from the naps. My hope is that since I have been getting up immediately when my alarm clock goes off for a  fairly long time now, that will help me. I have also enlisted Lethania, who will wake me up whenever I need an extra shove (or when the alarms get too annoying, I suppose).

Finally, I have already prepared a long list of things to do. This is something I intend to use as my brain stops functioning. I do not want to end up in a situation where I am too tired to decide what to do. Keeping busy through the sleep deprivation is a key to succeeding, I figure.

Sleeping schedules

To note about this range of information is that it is incomplete and sometimes even conflicting. For instance, the Ubersleep book is extremely clear on that uberman sleeping schedules are extremely strict (saying you cannot shift a nap by more than a few minutes). Still, a blogger used a version of the uberman schedule and found it very flexible, being able to shift naps several hours.

The same blogger also adapted by doing more naps. At night, he inserted an extra nap when the sleep deprivation was at its worst. The reasoning behind this move was that the point of the adaptation is to deprive the body of REM sleep, forcing it to learn to enter REM sleep quickly when you take a nap. This makes a lot of sense to me.

My plan and hope is to be able to replicate that result. If I could end up with a version of the uberman sleeping pattern that is as flexible as his was, I could probably adapt that to fit in with my work, if I want to continue the experiment past this first month. If not, the backup plan is to switch to an everyman pattern with naps spaced further apart. All assuming I want to continue past the end of the month, of course.

Getting started

I started out by skipping a few naps. After getting up this morning, the first few naps seemed rather pointless anyway — no way I was going to be able to sleep at noon today. My first naps went that way as well… I laid down, did not fall asleep since my body was up and running at full speed, and by the time I had slowed down, it was time to get up.

The result of this was that paradoxically, I was mentally more tired when I got up than when I went to bed. My body felt somewhat rested from laying down though, which felt nice. I also had one of the cats walking on top of me, but that is just something to get used to around here. I am slightly worried about how that will impact my ability to quickly fall asleep since the whole experiment becomes pointless if I end up taking half an hour falling asleep for each nap.

My midnight nap was a little better. It took quite a while to fall asleep, but I eventually did and I would estimate I slept around 10 minutes before waking up by myself, a minute or two before the alarm went off. The darker environment helped, but I think I need to do a better job about eliminating annoying sound sources in the room.

I also need to slow down a bit before going to bed I think. I had a lot of thoughts spinning as I went to bed (like how to write things in this article), but part of that may also be because of the new experience the whole thing is to me.

Practically, we have prepared a temporary bed in the living room that I can use when Lethania is asleep. I don’t want to interrupt her sleep several times per night because of this experiment, though I suspect I will at some point when I fail to wake up from the alarms. With the added time I have available I can make it up to her by making breakfasts for her anyway.

I will write another update on my progress tomorrow.