Polyphasic Sleep: Days 4-6

I have successfully survived 6 days of polyphasic sleep! Woohoo!

My last sleep log covered what went down from the middle of Day 2 to the start of Day 4. This one will cover lessons I've picked up and the main relevant experiences I've had from the middle of Day 4 to the start of Day 6. 

Lights for the Way

Double-up on alarms. There were several naps in a row in which the alarm on my phone never sounded. I have no idea why. I overslept on one of those naps. Now, in addition to my phone, I set my clock to blast static-laced radio stations very loudly about 5 minutes after my phone is due to go off. Thankfully I have been subject to the clock only once so far.

Oversleeping once isn’t the end of the world—not even a little. On day 4 I slept from 5 AM to 6:10 AM, a whole 50 minutes longer than I planned to sleep. You know what I did? I took a nap, as planned, from 7-7:20 AM. Then I did the same from 9-9:20 AM, and again at 1-1:20 PM. If you oversleep get back to your schedule ASAP, even if the next nap is a little close to the one you just indulged in. Don’t nap less frequently or for shorter durations because of this, either: then you’re just asking for more oversleeping to come. One mistake need not throw away all the pleasures of living polyphasically.

Strike the proper balance between your biology and the schedule. It seems best to choose a duration between 15 and 30 minutes and set an alarm to go off that many minutes after you have begun sleeping. Say you wake up before the alarm—should you go back to sleep until it goes off, or are you better off getting up because this cycle of REM sleep is complete? The latter sounds more reasonable because, unless you’ve been interrupted by some force of noise or other sensation, this cycle of REM is likely complete, and based on a multi-nap schedule there is no need to sleep anymore for now.

If you set an alarm for 30 minutes and don’t wake up before it goes off you probably either screwed up somewhere (e.g. missed a nap, nap durations have been excessive) or haven’t fully adapted to this sleep-life yet. Thus, relative deprivation won’t hurt you. Instead, it will force your body to figure out how to adjust to the parameters set on it—and believe me, it can. Just accept that you may be tired and cold for a little while and keep moving. You’re free to take another nap just 90 minutes from now if you need it that soon: that’s not a whole lot of time.

At this point it seems that a proper, naturally-ended nap is no shorter than 12 minutes and no longer than 25. But this includes the amount of time it takes to fall asleep (i.e. time not spent asleep): in a 25 minute nap actual sleep may have been interrupted or delayed (took more than 2 minutes to fall asleep). I’ve generally found this to be the case so far.

Whatever happened over the course of those 15-30 minutes, do not attempt to sleep after the alarm has gone off. Closing your eyes without sleeping is better than not closing your eyes at all. Again, the next nap does not have to be far away, and it can restore you.

The stricter the start the better. A polyphasic schedule can be fairly flexible, as I am learning, but for at least the first five days you are best off going to sleep and waking at the same times each day. You can add more naps (up to 12) to that schedule as needed, but only make additions when you do this: don’t shorten or change the times of the naps you already plan on taking.

Leave yourself many options for the night hours. You’re more likely to be tired when it’s dark out. This can make intellect-based work such as reading and writing more difficult, as they just aren’t stimulating enough to keep you from nodding off. Surfing the web and watching TV are in the same boat. In those tired hours when you have to scrape by you want your body to be somewhat active but not so much that you exhaust it (i.e. as in exercise).

When the night comes and the things you’d normally do don’t work, be open to what it is you’d really like to do. This is difficult to know before attempting polyphasic sleep: you’re bound to surprise yourself. Save some chores the middle of the night, fill your fridge with ingredients to be turned into gourmet meals, and buy some Play-Doh—these are just the things you might need to stay awake without going insane.

Don’t take your own exhaustion too seriously. This is related to the last point. If you switch to an activity that mildly involves your body and/or is something you’d really like to do, you may go from barely awake to wide eyed in, well, the blink of an eye.

There is value in distraction here: don’t worry about doing things that seem obviously useful or productive just because you’re awake. If you’re exhausted aim simply to stay awake. You will have plenty of other time to take care of more important tasks when you’re not dog-tired anymore.

Adjust, adjust, adjust. In regards to times and frequency of naps, there is no need to replicate yourself to a T each day. Taking 10 naps yesterday doesn’t mean you can’t do with 8 today. Putting 4 hours between your naps during daylight doesn’t mean you can’t nap every 2 hours during then night. Sleeping from 8:45-9:05 yesterday doesn’t mean you can’t try 8:00-8:20 today. Chances are that at some point it would be impractical for you to replicate yourself so precisely anyway.

Just get those 6-12 naps in for each 24-hour period, sleep no less than 10 minutes but no more than 30 in each, and stay awake for at least 90 minutes at a stretch but try not to exceed 6 hours. It’s an oversimplification, but that’s all there is to this.

To fall asleep, let go. About a minute after I lay down I usually think to myself, “Okay, you can sleep now.” Sometimes I have to say this again because I let my thoughts carry on. Once I make this statement, all I have to do is be open to the activity of the subconscious and drift away in it. Usually I’ll be hit with thoughts and images which aren’t voluntary, yet which also are not disturbing. I can get to sleep within 2 minutes of laying down.


Other Experiences

Pain. Since the start of the trial I’ve had decent amounts of chest pain, stomach pain, and what I have interpreted as kidney pain. The first several nights especially I had pain in my legs- particularly behind my knees-, probably from siting with them tensed up for so long.

Music stuck in my head more than usual? Not the most important point, but for the last 6 days I’ve had specific parts of three songs playing almost nonstop. Perhaps my mind needs to find structure and comfort somewhere.

Little desire for exercise. I genuinely have not wanted to move around a whole lot the last few days, which is unusual for me. I’ve walked at least several miles each day but I’ve run only briefly (3 miles altogether), and I’ve avoided strength training completely. Considering the questionability of my body’s ability to recover at this time (due to the sleep changes), this is probably not a bad thing.

Naps feel long and frequent. If I wasn’t tired a third of the time and I didn’t have data to tell me otherwise, I would think I must be sleeping for 4-8 hours a day. When I wake up from a nap I feel like I’ve been asleep for an hour, though it’s only been 15-25 minutes.

Also, I have not been in complete darkness in five days. When I nap at night I usually place my headlamp (an LED light) near me and turn it to its dimmest setting. When I nap during the day I close the blinds. I haven’t tried sleeping in complete darkness yet, though I usually do when I’m on a monophasic schedule. I’ve trusted that keeping a light on will make waking up a little easier.

Beating the alarm is uncommon (at this point). I’ve done this a few times and I suspect I’ll do it more often as the days go on, but so far it has been my trusted steed.

Dreams aren’t too vivid or memorable. Excluding Day 1’s weirdness I can’t recall any of the dreams I had right now. These dreams are more durable than monophasic ones and I’m more likely to remember them for at least several hours, but none have stuck with me this far.

The days get less cold; the nights, a little more. I don’t totally understand this. Each day I feel more comfortable in weather-appropriate clothing during daylight, but each night seems to feel a little colder than the last. I’ve wondered if cold mostly results from low-quality sleep. After a 1 PM nap my body temperature may feel perfectly fine, but after a 1 AM nap I put on pants, a sweatshirt, thick socks, and I wrap a blanket around me. Why my nighttime naps might be worse (and thus more cold-producing) than daytime ones I am uncertain.

Feeling more comfortable with all this. For the first three days I would sometimes feel a little nervous going into a nap and would fall asleep with an arm around a body-length pillow for comfort. I still keep the pillow next to me for each nap but I usually don’t make contact with it. Whereas these frequent naps first posed as vulnerable trips into loneliness, fear, and general spookiness, they now feel more like a routine task I ought to do, similar to eating but more urgent.

Ritual (AKA behavioral conditioning). For most of my naps I’ve followed a basic routine before and after I sleep. I didn’t have nearly as much organization around sleep-time when I was on a monophasic schedule, and having these routines feel nice. I’d like to think the pre-nap routine has been associated in my subconscious with short naps, such that I have learned to fall asleep after completing the routine. Similarly, having a post-nap routine may make it easier for me to wake up and get out of bed, since I know, without thinking, what I must do next.