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Polyphasic Sleep (wikipedia.org)
32 points by singold on Aug 22, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments

I have found exactly zero peer-reviewed studies that say that you can replace what is considered to be normal sleep (with one or two phases) with polyphasic sleep.

I've once seen a quote (can't find it on google right now) from a doctor who said something like "Trying to 'adapt' to polyphasic sleep is like trying to teach your bowel to excrete in portions of exactly 25 grams. It doesn't work that way.".

Alarm clocks are designed to scare our brains, as if we were in danger, to forcefully wake us up. I can't imagine that sort of punishment, multiple times a day, over long term.

Researching the subject, I have found the following link. Note that the Supermemo software is from the author, so there is some bias there towards using (and purchasing) the software. Other then that, the articles are interesting. http://www.supermemo.com/articles/polyphasic2010.htm

The way that adaptation works (warning: simplifying a bit here) is that your brain wants you to get restful sleep when you aren't allowing it to. In this situation, its default strategy is to cause you to feel the effects of sleep deprivation in order to induce sleep. If you successfully resist this urge, only going to sleep at certain times, and follow a schedule fairly strictly, then your brain will give up after a week or two, and will learn to just take whatever it can get during those time slots (i.e. go directly into REM sleep).

After a while of doing this (adaptation), you will get most or all of the sleep you need, just from naps, and you will no longer feel sleep deprivation.

Check out the book "Ubersleep" written by Pure Doxyk, someone who has successfully done long-term polyphasic sleep, for details on this model of sleep.

albedo you have made a excellent summary! When I tried it, I slept 20 minutes every 4 hours and at the end when my system had adapted, I woke up automatically after 20 minutes even before my alarm went off and full of energy as if I slept 10 hours. But after 4 hours, I was completely exhausted and I really needed my 20 minutes of sleep.

Steve Pavlina had taken the schedule up and had wrote about it in some detail. Not what you'd considered peer reviewed but definitely a first hand experience akin to Buckminster Fuller's experience with the attempt at a polyphasic sleep schedule.


Dude is a 'life coach'... There's absolutely zero reason to trust anything he says

There don't seem to be any long term studies (which isn't terribly surprising, as getting significant compliance in the long term would be incredibly difficult. There are a couple studies over small periods which found increased/equivalent alertness from short sleep periods.

I did it for 90 days. It was awesome. Then the holidays hit, which made it impossible.

Polyphasic is perfect for the person who doesn't have any other life commitments and wants to be super productive every day. (Weekend mornings get super boring, btw. So I replayed every Xbox game I own. And then that got boring.)

Based on what you write, I guess you don't practice sports.

One interesting fact is that people attempting to hack their sleep never talk about it, and from the perspective of sporty people, the reason is obvious.

I was on a polyphasic schedule for 3 months while in college last year. I noticed I had slightly decreased strength and energy levels while lifting and playing various sports. Overall my body felt slightly sluggish, like it was running at 90% speed. One thing to consider is the fact you are staying up for significantly longer. My diet changed quite a bit because of this - I was eating more often, but smaller meals. I assume this alone could have been effecting my metabolism / energy levels over the long term.

Overall though, it was the negatives on the social side of things, rather than the physical, that caused me to stop.

Correct. I didn't exercise. I basically did startups and that's it. Folks who do sports claim that if you already are in a regimen, you can switch without too much difficulty, but starting an exercise / sports regimen when on polyphasic seems almost impossible.

What kind of Polyphasic sleep did you attempt?

Trying to remember.

I think I did 3 hours core, 3x20 naps, then switched to 4.5+2x20.

The adaptation period was almost exactly three weeks, iirc. After that it wasn't too bad.

I'm considering switching to a polyphasic sleep cycle in the next few weeks, I've often found myself more productive on 4 hours + nap when I've had the opportunity but my work schedule has precluded me from attempting it. There's been a few interesting studies and articles where the rise of monophasic sleep is a relatively recent addition to modern lives (I think ~Victorian era), but obviously we all have a distinct number of years of sleep patterning that our bodies are accustomed too.

After all the discussions HN has had on this topic, I'm still waiting for someone to pop up with "Yeah, I've been doing this for two years now and I'd never go back." So far the stories have all been in agreement... "it sort of kind of worked for maybe a month or twoish (with rare people sticking somewhat longer), then I hit a wall because I was ever so slightly bumped off the schedule and I just fell apart. Also in hindsight I realize that I wasn't doing as well as I thought I was at the time."

So far I'm not seeing any concrete evidence that the general idea of polyphasic sleep is anything but wishful thinking. I recognize that anecdotes are not data, but after a while the complete lack of even anecdotes of success, after the number of people trying it publicly, is itself evidence of a sort.

"Biphasic", or "afternoon naps", by comparison, are indeed quite natural, though I'm not sure I've seen that much convincing evidence that night sleep+naps is universally better or worse than just night sleep. Individual differences are probably swamping any attempt to make sweeping declarations. Personally I do a lot of "just listen to my body" here and over the years and various growth and health stages I've swung all around on what I seem to need.


Polyphasic sleep for a month means exactly nothing. I've been sleep deprived for periods longer than that, sleeping less than six hours a day. Doesn't mean that "sleep deprivation works", or that it is healthy, or that it can be sustained.

I've been polyphasic for a short time (sleeping less than 4 hours per 24 hour period) and I've been sleep deprived for longer, having one sleep at night of five hours or less a day for a while, and they feel like two completely different things.

Not to say that polyphasic is healthy or anything, but despite the slightly weird feeling, I feel much more functional when polyphasic than when sleep deprived.

I think I've seen one long term self-study that was ~18 months which said it worked for them. I've seen plenty of fallen off the wagon, or cautiously optimistic though.

Maybe a mixed solution would work, biphasic sleep during the week when you're maximising productivity, monophasic when it's less important (holidays etc) to get around the constraints. Not sure, I might experiment with it.

Ok my friend has done this and it is definitely interesting. However, if you do polyphasic sleep, you age several times faster during that time, approximately around 5 times faster. So if you do Polyphasic Sleep for a month, you'll actually age 5 months. If you do it for 5 years, theoretically you will 25 years, whereas I believe the aging process accelerates every month.

There are no research results on these numbers yet and it could be only 4 times faster, 10 times faster or accelerate by one time faster every month, however the reason for accelerated aging process is the fact that with Polyphasic sleep you only hit the REM phases of sleep, which regenerates your mind.

So you can give your mind a break and it will be back to speed again, however you never hit deep sleep phases which is where the cell regeneration happens.

So as long as you're doing Polyphasic Sleep, you are essentially going without cell regeneration, thus the accelerated aging process.

So you have to be aware of the trade off between increased productivity to accelerated aging. However, Polyphasic Sleep for 2 weeks in a crucial time in your life (finals, startup just getting traction etc.) it can definitely be an attractive option, because it can improve your life dramatically and it doesn't really matter if your lose a couple of weeks of life span, since you can get it back when your can harvest your fruits of work. :)

If you're actually trying to warn people who are thinking about trying polyphasic sleep, you're going to need to provide some data.

I'm highly doubtful of polyphasic sleep but the phrase "you age several times faster during that time, approximately around 5 times faster" is at the same time vague and yet oddly specific.

I think a lot of people think about this the wrong way.

The way I see it, if you're able to successfully adapt to Uberman, you get an additional ~6 hours a day. Any negative effects you would experience from being on Uberman need to be collectively greater than getting 6 hours of additional life per day, in order for it to not be worth it.

6 hours per day is really awesome. It's not just additional productivity. It's additional life. And it's not additional life at the end of your life, it's additional life now, when the value is likely to be very high.

A useful test for these sorts of things is to ask yourself whether you would make the same trade if it were to be reversed. If you had grown up on polyphasic sleep, would you give up 6 hours of your life per day in order to feel mildly more productive on average, and to gain some additional flexibility in your schedule?

This is true, but it can be quite difficult to maintain high energy and motivation through all of those extra hours, and bear in mind that if you're on the sleep cycle I was on, you're basically barred from doing any activity that takes more than about 3 hours.

It led to some very interesting conversations with managers at work who weren't completely happy with me sleeping at work twice a day.

Even after I stopped, I was suddenly able to nap more or less whenever I wanted which was a nice benefit.

I've tried this for a few months, and cannot recommend it. One of the only things I really enjoyed was how vivid the dreams were. However even after the experiment, I found it difficult to stay awake during important parts of the day, and felt like I could easily slip back into the polyphasic cycle.

Same. In particular, I found that I could induce lucid dreams pretty much on command. At the same time, I noticed (what felt like) a correlation between this ability and generally being wrecked with exhaustion.

In retrospect, I'm not sure if my dreams were actually more vivid (or if the lucid ones occurred with actually greater frequency), or if they just felt that way because I moved so quickly between sleep and wake, so the dreams weren't cleared from my working memory. (If I had to wager, I'd say it's more a matter of recall bias than actual improvement in dream quality.)

Perhaps it takes a long, long time to adjust to a polyphasic sleep regimen. Perhaps some of us just can't do it, due to the idiosyncrasies of our physiologies.

An interesting article by a fellow HN commenter, who did an extensive self-study on sleep quality (including thoughts on the costs vs. benefits of polyphasic sleep):


I remember trying this some year ago when a lot of bloggers were trying it out and blogging about their experiences. I tried the Uberman Sleep Cycle (4x15min) but inevitably it wore me down to the point of being completely nonfunctional.

I had the same experience when I tried it about 7 or 8 years ago. When I finally decided to stop (after about 2 months on Uberman) I crashed for about 14 hours straight, and was still oversleeping/catching up every night for about a week afterwards.

I tried it for about 3 months in 2005. Things I noticed:

- I gave up caffeine the month before the trial. I had pretty significant withdrawal effects (migraines) for that month.

- I was pretty much completely non-functional for about half an hour before the scheduled nap times

- I didn't think I was impacted very much, but friends commented after that I definitely seemed less bright than normal. I hope that it was for the half an hour mentioned above, but if you want to try it you should definitely try and get some objective measurement of performance.

- I still notice effects to this day. I can nap pretty much wherever & whenever I want, and fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Before the trial, it used to take me hours to fall asleep.

Looks like you got one thing out of it! The ability to take naps on command!

You can practice taking naps without going to such extremes.

Thankfully the recommended uberman is 6x20-22 and dymaxion is 4x30, but there are no confirmed successful adaptations to it. Uberman is seriously difficult to adapt to, but Everyman-3 is a good compromise (several naps and a core)

When I was in university I tried the polyphasic sleep technic for 5 weeks. Here are my findings:

- The first 14 days are really difficult because the system must adapt and causes a severe lack of sleep. During this period, I would not trust myself to drive a car.

- Do not drink coffee and alcohol because it completely destabilizes the system.

- The vivid/lucid dreams where an incredible experience.

- Not sleeping at the same hours as my girlfriend.

- Time... so much time! It is also often the reason that people fail to polyphasic sleeping. Some people don't find anything to do and fall asleep watching television.

Overall a very pleasant experience!

My experience from a few years ago: Loved it but it only worked when I stuck to the schedule. Work, commute and family made that impossible so I only lasted 2 weeks.

More details:



Not completely connected, but I'd be very interested to hear if anyone's experienced something similar. Or, even better, can point to some science that can explain my experience:

I find my concentration improves tremendously after I've been awake for 20-24 hours, and I can continue being more productive than usual for up to about 40 hours, at which point the negative effects start to outweigh the positives.

Anyone experienced anything similar? I should note that I've not done this repeatedly/for extended periods and I only allow myself to do it if I'm sufficiently well-rested. (Otherwise I just figure it really isn't going to be worth it and I'm better getting myself to bed and getting an early start.)

I'm afraid I have no data to support my claims. In the absence of data I do have an anecdote though(!) - I remember when I was maybe 8-12 years old travelling long-haul and had been up for 45+ hours absolutely SMASHING a puzzle game (slide the blocks type thing) on my Gameboy - previously I'd struggled to get past the initial few levels. I'd not thought about it much until recently when I noticed this effect (end of Master's degree... you know the score).

I, too, experience this. I believe it is related to cortisol spikes similarly to the increased daytime cortisol levels seen with insomniacs.

Sleep deprivation and short sleep cycles are a symptom for mania, and most people with bipolar disease experience this. But weirdly enough, it's not only a symptom, but also a trigger. Means you can simulate/induce mania by depriving yourself of sleep. I actually know a lot of People doing this on purpose. Although apart from being bad for your body in general, if you are in risk of developing bipolar, this might accelerate the process.


This is nit-picking if I'm right but potentially enlightening if I'm wrong (so apologies if it's the former): wouldn't /insomnia/ be the symptom of mania, and sleep deprivation be the consequence?

Also, I always thought of mania as being either very 'up' or very 'down' - is that my ignorance? I feel neither happy nor sad during these periods, just a lot more focussed.

First off: Mania only describes the up phase, bipolar is the term for describing both up and down (depression being the down phase). Insomnia is usually more a symptom of depression (as in not being able to fall asleep), manic people generally just tend to be overly energetic, needing very little sleep (like 2-4 hrs a day) for long periods of time. Trigger wise you can induce this energetic up feeling by depriving yourself of sleep (by which I don't mean insomnia, but actively keeping your sleep cycles short), but you will pay the price at some point.

Inevitable Seinfeld reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLTg2nHZEHQ

I read a lot about this and tried it mid last year. It was hard to adjust to at first. I was really missing some social time and there were times at around 2am that I became depressed with being up at that hour, even though it was my choice.

Productivity was great. I felt rested after my small naps and the dreaming felt very real. Almost to real for certain types of dreams.

I am in the middle of writing a video game and was talking with my wife yesterday about trying this again to get through the last crunch.

I've never been too successful with polyphasic sleep, at least not the hardcore type (6x20m naps). That said, a lot of very successful people have adopted biphasic sleeping, taking a shorter core nap (4 to 6 hours) with a nap during the day. I think this is a better approach, especially if you're in a field where you use your brain a lot. Taking a 30m nap can do wonders after lunch.

This is a great read on the topic: http://dustincurtis.com/sleep.html

Also interesting is caffeine BEFORE a nap. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_nap#The_caffeine_nap

This is really incredible, now that i've read it, it seems very intelligent, but I don't know if it can have any other side effects.

I followed a polyphasic sleep pattern for maybe 2 months, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

There are the more obvious obstacles: your friends, family, and co-workers don't follow the same schedule. It's lonely for anyone who values social connection. Unless you work on your own, the workplace is a bad environment for sleep.

There are also potential health concerns for certain polyphasic sleep schedules. Most polyphasic sleepers don't sleep a full ~8.5 hours in a day. Your body uses sleep to refresh your body and keep the body (particularly the circulatory system) running strong. On my schedule, I started by sleeping about 5 hours. I was monitoring my blood pressure, and while it remained within a healthy range (I was in my mid twenties) the variance was much greater than it was on 8.5 hours. When I went to sleep late at night, my BP was quite low.

The long-term health effects aren't well known - there aren't many people to study, and a clinical trial would be all but impossible (people would likely not adhere to it). We can make some guesses, though. For one thing, you're altering the way melatonin and cortisol work in your system. Messing with your body's chemical and hormonal balance usually doesn't turn out well for health.

We have one group to compare with: people who work night shifts. Studies have shown they're at increased risks for heart problems, ulcers, obesity, depression, some cancer, other gastrointestinal diseases, and possibly more. (Just Google it or use Scholar: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=night+shift+worker...) I certainly experienced depression.

There are other things that are just annoying. As someone else stated, coffee is a bad idea, and so is alcohol, and I enjoy both. Most people will have to decide between holding to a schedule or attending others' events. You'll probably either eat worse at night or have to cook more. Nothing is open when you're awake. The list goes on.

I don't recommend it, but if you DO think you want to try it, still, here are some suggestions:

-You must have a completely dark room to sleep in during the daytime.

-Avoid coffee and alcohol. In fact, cut coffee and alcohol out before you change your sleep schedule. Doing both (especially if you rely on coffee) will be quite a shock.

-To adhere to the schedule, you'll have to think of what you're going to do when no one you know is awake. You need to schedule things.

-Don't forget to schedule social things. I tried to be wake up before 7 PM when many social things seem to start.

Speaking from personal experience, but I'm sure many of you can relate, when I wake up from afternoon sleep, I will feel even more tired, disoriented and sometimes with a headache. Perhaps you have to adapt to breaking up sleep, but I've found it difficult.

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