Some 2 or 3 months ago I decided to experiment with Polyphasic Sleep. It is a fancy word, I would just describe it as “sleeping in multiple slots spread across the 24 hours of the day”. Don’t ask me why; maybe to make more time for myself, to be awake more, maybe to do more stuff, or maybe just because it is a fancy new thing. But I think it was because I wanted to wake up early, start my day early, but my work required me to be awake till late.
So I started by reading about it online, there are plenty of websites, blogs, but I found the /r/polyphasic very helpful for learning and Napchart very useful for planning. I had no intention of reducing my total sleep time, on average I sleep for less than 6 hours a day anyway. So I started by looking at all the different well-known sleep schedules available online, I needed something simple. There are plenty of simple schedules. Some of the biphasic and triphasic schedules are easy to adopt without much impact on your work and family. But for some of the other schedules, you would probably need to get buy-in from your family as well; to be honest, I find these pretty eccentric, even scary to look at as a beginner.
I created a schedule with one 4 hour sleep (core) and 3 short periods of sleep (naps), one of an hour, and two 30 minutes long. Cores are big blocks and naps are short periods of sleep. As I was not reducing total hours of sleep, I was expecting to get adapted to this pretty quickly. I soon realized that this schedule looked ideal, but wasn’t easy to follow. My mornings and evenings are so tightly packed it was nearly impossible to make time. So I tried pushing the evening nap a little later and the morning nap a little earlier in the day. That seemed to work but then I noticed something, it felt as if I was doing the sleeping and waking rituals quite frequently. I seemed to need a ‘prep time’ to sleep and to wake, which was not accounted for. To be sleep-ready, I would have to stop what I was doing, take it to some closure, if I was on a work call (which is what happened most of the time), I would have to inform folks that I will be back in some time; the same when sitting with family enjoying some show. I would also need some time to get back into what I was doing after waking up. I tracked and plotted a chart to see how much time I was spending in prep. I did not like what I saw, nearly 1 hour was spent in prep over and above sleep, which left nearly 40 minutes less time than I had before trying this! Wasn’t acceptable.
In the middle of all this, right when I seemed to get a hang of this, I contracted COVID. That set me back, considerably. Lost almost two weeks, returned weaker, and devoid of any training my body had by then. But I got time to think and reconsider. I decided to drop some hours of sleep to save a bit more time. When I started adaptation again, I did so with a new schedule. It was simpler, biphasic, less prep, less likely to need prep, easier to manage, easier to adapt to, but sacrificed an hour of sleep.
Unlike most folks the time gain I got was not only from sleeping less, a majority of it was recovered from how the sleep was distributed instead. I was no longer going even close to a bed till it was time for me to sleep, I need no longer feel any guilt for not sleeping before midnight, and need not feel any guilt for waking up late either. I was sleeping after everyone else in the family/at work was asleep and getting up before them, that gave me a lot of personal time! Soon, I noticed, that at times, I could finish my day’s planned work early in the morning, and still had the entire day at my disposal. I found myself checking my Todoist a lot more frequently to find things to do, breaking my set GTD pattern. I found myself waking up before the alarm, more enthusiastic about the day than I usually felt. I felt a spur of creativity and motivation pumped into me. Completing my planned tasks and having more time gave me a lot more energy to go through the day. But all this came later, after a few hard days of sleepless slogging managed purely on grit.
I was already sleeping less than average (Not sure who put this notion in my mind, always makes me feel guilty about sleeping less!) taking an hour out of that already less sleep was not easy. For a few days, I found myself feeling sleepy all through the day. I work on a computer screen for nearly 12 hours of the day. With more time on my hands, I started using my computer and mobile a lot more, increasing my screen time further! I found my eye strain increased a lot. My eyes started feeling drier. To be honest, this feeling was not completely new to me; I would sleep for 3-4 hours every once in a while but I would always recover that in the next few days. Now, it was not going to be recovered anymore! I needed greater motivation to wake up. Even without the polyphasic sleep, I always slept like a dead man; I always joked about this by saying “I don’t sleep, I shut down and restart every day”; all my sleeps were a lot deeper now than usual, like after a heavy trek.
I handled this by making my sleep more deliberate, I would no longer allow myself to drift watching a movie or reading a book; I would brush and lie in bed at the set time, and sleep intently. I would not lie in bed if it was not the time to sleep. To boost my motivation, before going to sleep I started reminding myself of my pre-decided wake-up time. To give me some flexibility, I delayed my scheduled alarms, I would instead ask my phone to ‘wake me up in 4 hours / 40 minutes’.I avoided video content, especially TV series. I wanted to do some courses, and read books, I would do that instead. I was using my screen time more effectively and would rest my eyes when I could.
My Galaxy Watch 3 used to track my sleep for me. I soon realized that the watch cannot track naps shorter than an hour and cannot show you average REM/Deep sleep durations if your sleep was less than 4 hours. I lost my tracker, kinda. I still wear it, but I prefer noting down my sleepiness (sleep pressure) like a journal instead.
I noticed that a full stomach disturbed my schedule, made me feel lethargic. I started eating just enough!
What I learned along the way is people around you might take your afternoon naps as optional or extra. Every nap/core is necessary, as necessary as the night’s sleep for other folks. I think it will be long before I would learn to be productive after skipping the afternoon nap. At the moment though, if I skip it, I find it hard to stretch till the next scheduled sleep. It is important that I stick to the schedule, even on weekends and even when outside. I should remember to keep an eye mask with me.
I made a mistake along the way, coffee. The community of polyphasic sleepers warns against using coffee for motivation, but I find myself relying heavily on it right now. I always liked coffee, but now I take a shot of black, strong, sugarless, bitter coffee multiple times a day! I have to find the motivation to quit it and switch back to my selection of green teas. I will figure it out, smaller issue, you see, I have the whole day going for me!
Well, take this blog, for instance, it comes two whole years after the previous one! 😀