Long-time readers will remember my experiments with polyphasic sleep last summer. For a few weeks I tried adapting to a new sleeping pattern, an equiphasic pattern with 6 naps per day and no longer sleep, known as the Uberman sleeping pattern to some. I failed. Which sucks, because for all the pain that the adaptation was, I experienced some awesome things.

Since then I have kept reading more about it, and I have come up with some interesting information. First of all, the two big names in polyphasic sleep when it comes to visibility to others than the polyphasic sleep community are Steve Pavlina, a well known blogger who blogged about going polyphasic for a number of months, and Puredoxyk, author of the book on polyphasic sleeping: The Ubersleep book. I bought the e-book version before my first adaptation attempt, and I still believe it is a good resource… but not without its problems.

This situation is a bit unfortunate, because when you dig deeper, you find that as adaptations go, they seem to be special cases. For Pavlina and Puredoxyk, adaptation took about a week with the worst part of it being the second or third day. For just about everyone else, adaptation takes a month, and the worst part of it usually happens in the middle of the second week — days 9-13 seems to be a common time. This meant that I, like many others I suspect, went into the adaptation period with entirely unreasonable expectations. Ultimately, this misinformation was also why I ended my adaptation attempt last summer.

Anyway, as experiments go, they were fairly successful… I learnt a lot from them… and this summer, I have a month off. This means I have now started a new attempt at adapting. Saturday was day 0, the last day I slept a full night to, which means I’m now on day 5.

I was planning on posting an update about it earlier, but this post has kept growing to the point that I have now decided to split it up over several days. Also, I have been fairly busy recording data and doing tests about my state as I move further into the adaptation period.

There were a number of mistakes I did last time around… some that I have realized afterwards and some that I understood right away. I will be spending the rest of this post and several coming ones detailing the things I have learned and how I have changed the parameters of the experiment and the preparation for it and the results I’m having.

Food

One major thing I underestimated the impact of is food. There has been a lot of discussions in the polyphasic sleep community of whether being a vegetarian is a must for a smooth adaptation. I do not think that is the case, but I do think paying attention to what and especially when you eat is a good idea.

Eating lots of food will tax your body, causing it to slow down and process food. If you eat a large portion of food soon before you go to bed, you will almost certainly drop into a deep sleep which is really hard to get out of. This means that eating habits can clash with polyphasic sleeping. I wasn’t really paying attention to when I ate during my last attempt, and I know that sometimes I would accidentally end up having a large meal right before a nap. Bad idea!

To fix the problem, I am now acting a bit more like each waking period is a mini-day, which gets some routines in nicely. This also means I get up and eat half a portion of food soon after each nap. I’m getting a total of about as much food as I had when I was monophasic (probably a bit more), but never much food at once, and always more than 2 hours before the next nap.

This feels really good, with the only problem being a near constant need to be in the kitchen making food… even if only to warm up a small portion of something in the microwave oven.

Exercise

Last year, I would do a lot of exercise. I took long walks during the night when I needed to keep myself awake — which could be several hours each day. That was probably still a good idea, since it was something I did for the worst zombie time of day, and while I haven’t had to do such a thing yet this time around, I think I will if I need to, although not to such a great extent.

I also did a fair bit of weight lifting though, which was probably a bad idea. Exhausting your body will lead to the need for extra rest, which usually means extra sleep, or extra deep sleep. Either way, that is a bad thing when you are trying to adapt to a polyphasic sleeping schedule.

I am trying to keep away from heavier exercising this time around. I may still go for a bike ride, a walk or a swim while still in the adaptation period, but I wont do any weight lifting and I have cut down on my regular exercise. If I do some heavy exercise on a day, I might add in an extra nap to compensate.

Sleeping rythms

I have learned that the body has two sleep rythms that interact and overlay each others. The strongest one in most adults is the Circadian rythm, which is our 24-hour cycle of becoming sleepy, resting and waking up each night. If you become a night owl during vacations and then have problems getting up once you go back to work, that is your circadian rythm in play. The same goes for jet lag.

There is also a second rythm, called the ultradian rythm, which is the dominant rythm in infants but exists in adults as well. It is a 4-hour cycle of becoming tired, and the cause of the experience almost everyone has of being very sleepy, finishing off something and going to bed, only to realize they are not sleepy anymore. This can lead to tossing and turning until the ultradian cycle’s swings around, and it is 4 hours long. Ouch.

These insights helped me in two ways. First of all, finding my ultradian cycle helped me decide my schedule. The theory is that if you take your naps slightly before you are about to become sleepy, it will be much easier to cope with the downside ofthe cycle. If on the other hand you design your schedule to sleep on the peak of the cycle, you will be running out of energy by the time you come to the dip, which could make things hard.

This probably means that by designing sleep schedules depending on work and such factors (or, like I did last time, just place your naps evenly spaced out from midnight), you are in a lottery as to whether it will work or not. This time, my schedule is evenly spaced out from 10:30, since my ultradian low is somewhere in the half hour following that. If I manage to adapt, I am sure I will have the flexibility I need to move things around a bit.

Now the main problem when going polyphasic is the circadian rythm. During the low point of the circadian rythm and floored by sleep deprivation is where adapters describe entering a “zombie mode”. I think this has several causes, some of which are reasonably easy to do something about. Your low is likely to happen during the night, when it’s dark and you’re alone, which makes it harder to cope with.

Something I did then was to move my circadian rythm before starting the attempt. This is simply done either by simply pushing the amount of time you stay up by 30-60 minutes per day, or by doing a complete reset using fasting. The circadian rythm is tied to food consumption, which means that you can reset it by fasting for 18 hours, breaking the fast when you would like your “morning” to be.

By the time I started my experiment, the last “full nights” sleep I had actually ended at 2:30 PM. What this means is that my worst periods are now in the mornings to midday instead of during the black of night, which also means that my girlfriend will wake up. The light and having another person around is a massive boost towards the chance of making it through.

Results?

This post is already becoming far too long, so I will save more nice details for an update tomorrow. That does leave one important question then:

How do I feel?

I feel pretty good. A quick look back on my last attempt, I seem to be having a much better ride through this time. Most importantly, I have had absolutely no problems with oversleeping, and even though there are pretty bad periods, they are not the incredible zombie mode I experienced back then.

In itself that is encouraging, because it means I must have hit at least some factors on making adaptation easier, which is a major goal in the polyphasic sleep community.

In fact, I think I shall spend some time tonight reading through my old logs so I get an accurate comparison.

That will be it for now though. Nap time is rapidly approaching.

If you’re interested in more information about polyphasic sleeping, read my old series of posts:

If you’re interested in more information about sleep in general, read my old articles