After having people at JES tell me about their polyphasic sleep experiments, I decided to do some reading. I’ve been using three sources of information: Puredoxyk’s polyphasic sleep portal, from the originator of the Uberman schedule, Steve Pavlina’s journal of how he went polyphasic for 6 months, and a polyphasic sleep forum.
The summary is basically this: Normally, people have sleep cycles of 1.5 hours, but only a small portion of that is REM sleep, perhaps 20 minutes. By depriving your body of the normal sleep cycle, and only allowing it 20 minute increments, then you can eventually train it to go straight into REM as soon as you hit the pillow. This allows you to get more REM sleep during your group of naps than most other people do in the entire night, because you’ve removed the other parts of the sleep cycle.
The most well known of these schedules is the “Uberman” schedule, so-named because it is thought that various prominent figures of the past have done something similar (such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, etc). The Uberman schedule is a strictly timed series of 20 minute naps, one every 4 hours. This gives you 6 x 20 = 120 minutes = 2 hrs of sleep each day, but you’re getting the normal amount of the good REM sleep. The downside is that it can be rather hard to get your body to adapt to this, and if you miss a nap or oversleep, then it can reset you back to the start so that you have to adapt again. It also leaves you very few options if you want to go out and do some sort of social activity that requires more than 4 sequential hours. Despite these drawbacks, there are examples of people living on this schedule successfully for more than 6 months at a time.
One suggested answer to those problems is something called the “Everyman” schedule, where you instead have a short period of “core sleep” for maybe 1.5 – 3 hrs, and then a series of 20 minute naps through the day. The idea is that the core sleep allows you to be much more flexible with the naps so that they can be spaced further apart. There are some accounts of people following this schedule for multiple years.
A newer variant, and the one that I’m now attempting to adapt to, is called SPAMAYL, or Sleep Polyphasically As Much As You Like. In this schedule, you still train yourself to do 20 minute REM naps, but you nap whenever you feel tired instead of by the strict schedule. The result is that instead of 6 evenly-spaced naps like the Uberman, you’ll have perhaps 7 – 9 naps throughout the day, but some might be closer together and others further apart. One example was to cluster more of the naps during the night so that the day-time naps are spaced out more, allowing better social function in the world of the day-walkers 😉
I’ve chosen SPAMAYL for my first attempt because I think it should be easier to adjust into. I can start right away with training my body to accept 20-minute naps, but I keep at least 60 minutes in between consecutive naps so that my body doesn’t try to resume the previous sleep cycle. Each must be recognized as a separate sleep cycle in order to train the instant-REM portion.
It’s very comforting, though, to know that I’ll soon be able to take a nice nap if I want, instead of trying to endure the mind-numbing horrible crushing force of sleep deprivation all the way until the next 4hr Uberman nap-interval. At the start, I anticipate taking somewhere around 12 naps per day, and as my body adjusts, I’ll slowly space them out until there are only 7 or 8 or so.
There are two main results I hope to achieve with this. The first is the skill to drop and have a high-quality REM nap at any time of the day, and the second is the huge number of extra hours that will be available if I succeed. Shaving my sleep down from around 8 hours to somewhere at or under 3, means that I’ll have 35 extra hours per week in which to do anything I want….which is almost like a whole extra full-time job. Apparently one of the big challenges of polyphasic sleep is finding enough stuff to do in all those extra hours to prevent yourself from getting bored, but I’m certainly interested in the prospect of perhaps adding an extra language to my study schedule, in that time that I’ll hopefully conjure out of thin air.
Too much time sounds like the perfect problem to have!