Yesterday’s post sort of spilled over into this one. So, this will be part status report for the day, and part another chapter of the things I’d intended for the original post, about how I do my naps — what I changed from last time (hint: a lot), how to prepare, etc. Also today: how to deal with the low periods and beat that zombie feeling.

Tomorrow, I will be doing a post about how I am measuring and documenting this experiment.

Status

First though… how are things coming along? I have had a rough couple of nights since the last post. Tonight was the first night that started looking something like proper zombie mode. I got up, decided to make pasta to eat, went into the kitchen and was presented with the seemingly unsurmountable obstacles of cleaning the stove and bringing out two cooking pots.

Eating helped, but it also meant sitting down. I notice now that I am getting quite clear microsleeps if I do sit down and just watch TV or so. Intense games that just keep throwning things at you are good to keep your mind from relaxing.

I still have no oversleeps, and my nap quality is starting to become seriously good. Compared to last time, I got into it and out of it really quickly. Before midnight last night I had a nap with a dream from which I woke up by myself about 30 seconds before the first alarm. Brilliant.

I do feel though like each nap is not quite giving me enough steam for the period that comes after it. So even during daytime, and even if I had a brilliant nap just before it, I may only last 2 and a half out of the 3 and a half hours between naps before I start getting really sleepy. In general this will not impact my ability to function much unless it becomes really bad, it is just that I feel like I would fall asleep in a second if I relaxed, similar to how I feel at night.

Napping

Anyway, that brings me to the things I wanted to say about how my naps are done. In my previous attempt, I would go lay down pretty much as I usually would when sleeping monophasically (I usually fall asleep laying on my side), with a piece of blanket covering my eyes, often in dark rooms.

I had three alarms: a pillow vibration thing as my main alarm (which is absolutely brutal). My cell phone would be my second alarm, which would be placed on my desk on the far side of the room. The third alarm was a normal small alarm clock. I would set it and then toss it as far under the sofa I was sleeping on as possible. This meant I had to go sprawling on the floor to get it back, which was a good way of fighting off my inner zombie.

So what has changed? Pretty much everything. To begin with, I have started using a sleep track as my main alarm clock. This is essentially a nap-long mp3 file of some sort of noise which then fades, and potentially contains some wake-up sounds. A poster on the polyphasic google group called placebo has made such tracks from generated noise that a lot of others have liked.

I tried placebo’s tracks, but didn’t like them. Then I switched to a recording of the sounds in the rain forest during a rainfall, which was better, but contained some hilariously screaming birds or monkeys or whatever. The track I am using now (and have been since the start of the experiment proper — make sure you sort out these kind of questions in advance) is an edited version of the rain forest track I made which has the annoying sounds stripped out.

I chose not to include any wake up sounds in it, but simply fade it out at the end, leaving the waking up to the song after it in the playlist. Currently, I am using a number of repeats of this song, as it is both heavy enough to wake me up and actually is actually someone telling my brain to wake up. Sometimes, this sort of message can be better than just loud noises. If you are interested in trying out the sleep track I use, please let me know.

Posture

Using the sleep track means wearing headphones of some sort. I am using sport in-ear buds now, which work great — in-ear which means they have got good sound and fit my ears, sport design making them hard to accidentally lose. This really does work best if you’re sleeping on your back though, and I have read discussions where polyphasers have hinted towards sleeping on your back being more efficient for naps, making it easier to get up. So I decided to sleep on my back as well. The only problem is that I have never been able to fall asleep reliably on my back. It has worked surprisingly well, and I only have problems with it the first couple of naps.

To summarize how I nap now then: I nap with a 23 minute sleep track in my iPod, followed by music as my main alarm. I am using my pillow shaker as a backup alarm, which has still not been needed, and with my girlfriend as an additional backup when she is awake. As I start to get more zombie, I will be piling on additional backup alarms.

I sleep on my back, always with the lights on or light from outdoors illuminating the room, but with a sleep mask. This in combination with the sleep track is an excellent preparation for sleeping in uncomfortable places with lots of disturbances — sleep track to keep sound out, sleep mask to keep light out. During nights I sleep on the sofa, during daytime naps I sleep on the bed.

Staying awake

There will be times when it is simply impossible to stay awake if you lay down. There will be times when it is simply impossible to stay awake if you sit down on a soft surface. Yet standing up for several weeks on end isn’t a viable solution. My feet hurt from the amount of standing up I do already, and it’s only a couple of hours during the night.

For my last experiment, I had rules for how I could sit: Never sit down on a soft surface during night-time, and never sit down at all if I was feeling at all sleepy.

This would mean I played games on my PS3 standing up in front of the TV to get through zombie mode, and then sat down on the hard floor, sometimes with my back against a coffee table (not very comfortable, but still some support for my back).

This time I have expanded on those rules, with some new equipment that makes it all a bit more tolerable. I got a height adjustable desk, so I can stand in front of my computer, and I got a yoga ball. The ball is great to sit on, since it’s not as static as a chair and if you fell asleep you’d fall over. Mind you, that’d still hurt. Another great property of the ball is that if I have music on I can now dance around while sitting on the ball.

So, the rules I go by now:

  1. If I’ve had microsleeps recently, or feel that there are risks for them, I have to stand up or sit on the yoga ball while constantly moving around like I described above.
  2. Otherwise, if I am at all sleepy, I’ll prefer the ball to chairs other other sitting surfaces.
  3. If I’m not sleepy, however, I allow myself the comfort of whatever I want.

When it comes to things to do to keep awake, I’ve found that playing intense video games is incredibly useful. It not only keeps you awake, it can actually help clear some of the fog that your brain hides behind.

What you want is games that just relentlessly keep throwing stuff at you and which require constant input. I’ve been playing the Trackmania racing game on my PC during the worst parts, and Rock Band on the PS3… which is slightly less effective, as when I was at my sleepiness peak, I would almost nod off during the loading screens. When I’m at my computer and sleepy, I try to have loud music in my headphones.

Feeling fresh

I mentioned above how playing intense video games would not only keep me awake but also actually help me feel better afterwards. For instance today when I wanted to finish this article off, I was way too much a zombie. However, after an hour of standing at my PC racing, I was feeling good enough to start writing, even before the following nap (which made everything a whole lot better).

I have come across a few other interesting tips during my studies on polyphasic sleep the last year as well. The best one has to do with grogginess and eyes. By chance, someone on the polyphasic google group realized that when she was feeling groggy, her eyes were also always dry and sore. The interesting thing is that the connection works the other way as well: using eye drops when I feel groggy has helped me a lot.

Another thing I noticed last time around was that my grogginess got a lot worse when I was dehydrated. So staying hydrated is an important piece of the puzzle. With me now eating a half-portion after every nap like I described yesterday, this is much easier than it was before… I essentially don’t need to consider if I should be drinking more water, just remember to drink a big glass with my meals.

Phew… that will be enough for today. Tomorrow will be mostly about how I’m measuring and documenting my progress.