October 19, 2015

Everyman Sleep Experiment

Today I embark on a new, peculiar kind of experiment, but one which purports the most appealing results.  I have often said, in a half-joking manner, that I would avoid sleep entirely if I could.  Recently, I have come across an interesting form of sleep which may move me much closer to that objective, called polyphasic sleep.


While the notion of polyphasic sleep itself is not new, having apparently been fairly standard during pre-industrialized times, the recent re-examination of this sleeping method is. The basic objective is to maintain or increase the quality of one's sleep while decreasing its duration. This is typically accomplished by breaking up the long, single session of sleep (called monophasic sleep) into two (biphasic) or more (polyphasic) shorter sessions.
There are a wide variety of sleeping schedules out there, but the two most commonly attempted and written about are the Uberman schedule and the Everyman schedule.  Uberman is typically defined as six 20-minute naps evenly spaced throughout the day.  The most common variant of Everyman, by contrast, maintains a 3-hour "core nap" and three 20-minute naps, spaced roughly equally apart.  I decided to attempt the Everyman schedule, primarily because it offers more flexibility with naps and fits better with my work schedule.  Uberman has a very short amount of time you can move naps without feeling groggy, whereas Everyman usually allows you move a nap an hour in either direction without any deleterious effects.
In polyphasic lingo, "adaptation" is used to refer to the process by which the body acclimates to a new sleep pattern. Through adaptation, the body (which previously had plenty of time to mosey around to REM) is now forced to do so in a much shorter time span. The body responds initially with symptoms of sleep deprivation (tiredness, grogginess) but eventually adapts by entering REM much more quickly during sleep sessions. Once this occurs, effects of sleep deprivation fade as the body obtains effective, restful sleep.


I plan to accomplish my transition into Everyman via a three-step process called "Phased Adaptation", which to my knowledge. has not previously been proposed.  It is described thusly:

  • Phase 1 begins with the addition of three, 20-minute naps into one's daily schedule.
  • Phase 2 begins with the gradual reduction of the "core" sleep while maintaining the Phase 1 nap schedule.  At the start of each week, the individual awakens one hour earlier, although they continue to go to sleep at the same time each night.
  • Phase 3 begins once the individual reaches a core sleep of three hours, and continues until adaptation is complete (for Everyman, this is usually 30-90 days).


Primarily, I am doing this to increase the quality of my sleep, as I have had difficulty sleeping (to varying degrees) throughout my life, and especially within the last year.  Medication has done little to resolve this, and at any rate, I certainly don't want to be dependent on it. It has been my observation that those who practice polyphasic sleeping fall into REM sleep (considered to be the most restorative phase of sleep) almost as soon as they attempt to go to sleep. Others who experience other sleep disorders such as night terrors, sleepwalking, and the like report significant improvements in the quality of their sleep after switching to a polyphasic sleep pattern.
        Importantly, this skill once learned, appears to remain with them even if they later abandon their polyphasic sleep schedule. This behavior is also consistent with my observation that police, firefighters, and military members often develop the ability to command sleep at a moment's notice, as sleep must be taken when it is available. Thus, it would seem apparent that the ability to fall asleep is a learned skill, and not purely a genetic/environmental trait.
Secondarily, my objective is to increase the number of waking hours I have, as there are many things I should like to do if I could have the time to pursue them.


Polyphasic sleep may raise concerns over the health implications of such a schedule.  While sleep deprivation is well known to deleterious cause side effects, a proper polyphasic practitioner should not experience any sleep deprivation at all (and may actually experience an increased quality of sleep), because they are dropping quickly into REM sleep and obtaining the most restful form of sleep, albeit in shorter durations.  Getting enough sleep for good health is not solely related to the length of time one sleeps.

However, to err on the side of safety, I will be utilizing the following daily measurements to track the cognitive and physical effects on my body:
-Resting Heart Rate, as determined by heart rate monitor and verified by jugular vein
-Oxygen saturation (SpO2%), as determined by pulse oximeter
-Blood pressure, as determined by manual auscultation
-Body weight, determined by electronic scale to tenths of a pound
-Muscle mass percentage, as determined by electronic measurement
-Body fat percentage, as determined by electronic measurement
-Cognitive function, as determined by Quantified Mind using the Full Brain Workout battery, which calculates a discrete score for executive function, working memory, verbal learning, motor function and mental rotation.
-Subjective reporting of well-being

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of quality studies regarding polyphasic sleep specifically.  Most of the research is culled from studies on individuals who primarily use monophasic sleep patterns, and which offers an incomplete at best understanding.  My hope is that whatever data I can collect during the adaptation period may be useful for others and in increasing our understanding of polyphasic sleeping as a whole.

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