About six months ago, I had a semi-successful experiment with polyphasic sleep. (See Polyphasic Sleep Experiment Background) It wasn’t a permanent change but it ended up being a good proof-of-concept test. I’m thinking about trying it again, but I need to be a little better prepared. The biggest obstacles to anyone with a normal, day job/family life trying polyphasic sleep are:
- A place to take naps during the workday
- Buy-in/accommodation from spouse
- Predictability: No big physical or temporal changes
Let’s dive in a little.
A place to take naps during the workday: In order to make the schedule work, you take naps every four hours. In special circumstances, you can stretch it to five or six hours, but this makes recovery later more difficult. This means that there are 2-3 naps during or around your workday. I find that associating the nap with work time rather than home time works better at home, and if you keep up work and office time, your boss won’t care (or even know). In the first experiment, I slept one the train to and from work, and then in an out-of-the way room at work that had a couch. Now that I’m at a new job where I drive to work, I don’t have either of those things. So here are my options for a napping place (none of which look great):
- My car – private, semi-comfy, not very reclined, climate problems (Chicago winter, Chicago summer)
- Home – comfy, hard sell at home, makes the math hard (one nap for the entire workday + commute both ways), doesn’t help me in midday
- Gym – Don’t laugh, there’s a little-used gym in my office building with a sauna. If I don’t turn it on (so I don’t die), I could probably take a half-hour nap there. I’ll definitely have to test run it for a week or so to find a time when no one is there; having another guy crank the temperature up to 175 degrees and walk in naked would definitely disturb my nap.
I think I’ll scout the gym/sauna option in the next couple weeks to see if it’s workable. If that doesn’t work, I might have to try the car (ugh)
Buy-in/accommodation from spouse: My wife didn’t like polyphasic sleep last time. I think she thought it was just another one of my wild schemes that occupies my mind but goes away if she humors me long enough (“Hey, let’s start a non-profit software company as an international development effort in Fiji!”, “Let’s buy our own island in the Stockholm archipelago so I can go sea kayaking every day!”, “Let’s buy a busted old graystone in a bad neighborhood so we can earn rental income and buy at pre-gentrification prices!” – all real examples). When I actually did it, she was worried about my health, my job performance, etc. We’ve talked about it since then and she has tentatively agreed to let me do it again, and she’ll try to trust me that I won’t do anything to jeopardize myself. I definitely didn’t cover this base before I started last time.
Predictability: There’s a fairly delicate balance in polyphasic sleep, which is why the schedule is so strict. I was doing with the schedule and my energy level, so I decided to use some of this extra time to exercise, one of the longstanding members of my To Do list. Well, this caused the crash that ended my experiment. Polyphasic sleep lets you manage and meet your mental rest needs, but it doesn’t do anything for your body. After starting to swim laps, my body needed so much time to recover that I couldn’t stay awake and I just crashed. That’s the biggest reason I’m putting off starting polyphasic sleep again. Two weeks ago I started swimming laps again, and once I get to the point where I’m used to the exercise and I have the energy level for my workouts, then I can change my sleep schedule. I also waited until after I finished the change to my new job for the same reason. Routine is your friend. Steve Pavlina, who had one of the most publicized successful polyphasic sleep experiments out there, was in excellent shape and was self-employed, so this predictability wasn’t a problem for him. Hopefully once I’m more used to exercise, it won’t be a problem for me either.