What I Learned Through Completely Failing To Master Polyphasic Sleep

What I Learned Through Completely Failing To Master Polyphasic Sleep

I’ve never felt such relief. Laying my head on the pillow, bracing myself for a full, guiltless sleep. Bliss. My polyphasic sleep experiment had ended. I could enter back into normal society as a fully rested, fully functional human being. At that precise moment my mind was empty, scattered, exhausted. Only later, after 13 hours of sleep, did I attempt take stock and ask myself: what went wrong? What could I have done better? Was my experiment a complete and utter failure?

Behind the overwhelming relief lay a single strand of guilt — I wonder if I did myself justice? During the course of doing this experiment, I made mistakes, I stumbled and, ultimately, gave up. Only now, five days later, post-rest and with perspective, have I taken the time to write down some of my observations. Think of this as the ‘extras’ section on your boxset DVD. These are my regrets, my thoughts; these are the things I wish I’d done better.

Observation 1: Polyphasic Sleep Gives You More Time, But Limits Your Options

One of the major reasons I began the polyphasic experiment was to gain more time: time to work, to play more games, consume media. Time for tasks that can be difficult when you’re stuck in an office or forced to interact with other people!

And, of course, my schedule gave me time in spades — an extra six hours to be precise — but the drawback to sleeping less is having to split your time into strictly scheduled blocks, severely limiting what you can do, and when you can do it. With the uberman schedule in particular, you’re locked into a tight schedule that’s as rigid as they come.

From the precise moment I woke up from each 20 minute nap on this schedule, I was acutely aware of time, and how long I had until my next nap. Three hours and 40 minutes may feel like a long time, but it’s not. There’s no way I could use that time to head into the city, go to a nice restaurant, then head to the movies. There simply wasn’t enough time. The simple act of socialising was impossible. When and where would I sleep?

At times at felt a little like being in prison. It was hard to commit to doing anything outside my house or office.

And I couldn’t be spontaneous. I couldn’t just cut loose and meet someone. I couldn’t attend any event or party that interfered with my strictly scheduled nap times. With the uberman schedule patterns of sleep are paramount — if I messed with it even a little, particularly in the beginning, it would result in a setback.

In the beginning I don’t think I was truly prepared for that.

Observation 2: You Have To Be Single-Minded, Pig-Headed Even!

One of the difficult things about attempting polyphasic sleep, particularly with the uberman schedule, is that you’ll have hordes of people — family, friends, people on the street — telling you that it’s impossible, that it’s dangerous, that your brain will become a gelatinous abomination and then melt out through your nostrils. It’s hard not to be influenced by that. I know I was.

Those who were successful at polyphasic sleep, at least the ones I spoke to, were the kind of people who attempt insane things and ignore naysayers to the point of pigheadedness — single-minded people who think they know better, and frequently do.

To an extent I fall into that category — truly I am a stubborn and narcissistic individual. I thought I was right, I thought I could make polyphasic sleep work, but I was susceptible to suggestion. I doubted myself, and what I was doing every single day of the experiment, to my detriment.

Observation 3: I Could Have Prepared Better

When I spoke to my polyphasic sleep mentor (yes, I had a mentor, this guy, who followed the uberman schedule for six months) I went through a list of things I thought I did wrong . . .

  • I tried to sleep in a reasonably well lit office
  • I ate too much sugar at times
  • I played too many video games
  • I set alarms one at a time, instead of planning in advance
  • I didn’t plan enough things to do with the extra time at my disposal

And so on, and so on…

After reading the first thing my mentor asked me was: “Do you drink caffeine?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I consume copious amounts of caffeine, but I stopped for the duration of the experiment.”

“That wasn’t enough,” he said.

Apparently the fact that I was most likely going through caffeine withdrawal in the first three days may have been the major reasons why I struggled to transition. It would have been for me to stop drinking caffeine the week before I started polyphasic sleep, so my body didn’t have to adapt to two major changes at once. Makes sense!

Observation 4: I Enjoy Sleeping Too Much

It was very difficult for me to forego the more traditional style of sleeping, difficult for me to lose the simple pleasure of resting a weary head on a pillow, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t have to wake up for a long, long time.

It was difficult to go through life on an endless four-hour schedule.

Sometimes I wonder if I failed because I really didn’t want polyphasic sleep enough. Some people genuinely see sleep as a waste of time. I don’t. I love it. Sometimes, I look forward to it. Losing that moment of bliss, just before going to bed. Losing lie ins on the weekend — that was a bitter pill to swallow.

In short, sometimes it felt as though the end goal — making it through the transition period and being comfortable with only 20 minutes sleep every four hours — wasn’t something I wanted badly enough. It wasn’t really something that was worth striving for. I was in it purely for the challenge, not the reward, and that may have been problematic in the end.

Observation 5: I’m Still Glad I Tried

I think this is important. Despite the fact that I was a sleep deprived, tortured human being who almost went insane, and developed a split personality purely to sabotage myself, I really had a lot of fun.

I don’t regret the experiment at all, nor would I necessarily discourage others from trying the same experiment. I wouldn’t encourage it necessarily, but I would recommend doing as much research as possible, and asking some serious questions about your lifestyle and whether it would suit polyphasic sleep. This goes quadruple for the uberman schedule, which is intense, rigid and psychologically terrifying.

Thanks everyone for joining me through the whole process — even those who called me an idiot! The fact that I had some sort of audience waiting for updates was a massively motivating factor. Hope you all enjoyed it!


  • I’m glad that you attempted this, and posted up your experiences. I’ve often had the desire to try something similar, but have never been in a situation where I have been able to attempt it.

  • Because of the strict schedule, I don’t see how the majority of people could even think about trying this. It’s simply too impractical. But I think we needed to be reminded of that fact. So thanks.

  • At the risk of sounding like an a$$-hat, I can only feel that all you’ve really done is prove what humans have been doing all along, is what we need, and what works.
    We’re diurnal creatures from millions of years of evolution living on a world with roughly half the day in daylight and the other half at night.
    I can’t help think that this experiment was doomed from the get go and that it really should be obvious without the need to put yourself through it.
    You felt like crap from it because it IS a crap way for humans to get the rest they need.
    Anyone who IS able to operate properly under these conditions for the long term obviously have a defective body clock. I’ll wager those folk also have other “issues” accordingly.
    Good on ya for documenting it all though. Kudos for that much at least.

      • Actually, I think it is you that sound more ass-hatish than Just.

        I looked into polyphasic sleeping a few years ago. Took me a while to get to the bottom of it, but Just has the right of it. You can’t work off just REM/naps. You need deep sleep. Ask any sleep expert (the ones running the labs that study brainwaves and the like.)

        I learnt interesting things when researching this stuff. For example, because Mark had probably had almost zero Delta-wave* sleep (deep sleep), but enough Alpha-wave (REM) sleep, he would have immediately fallen into a long Delta-wave period. This is called “sleep debt” is it is kind of amazing the human body “knows” that it needs this, and goes straight for it when you’re short.

        The relief Mark felt was because he body had been begging for something it required. He describes being “well rested” quite a bit. I interpret this to mean “I am now functioning normally.” This infers that while depriving himself of sleep, he was functioning poorly before. This is no surprise, really, is it? A hard-to-keep schedule is the least of your concerns. I wouldn’t go as far to say you would die (though perhaps you could? I don’t know) but it is sleep deprivation, pure and simple. Do some research. Read other people’s testimonies and ask yourself if this sounds similar to simply being enormously sleep deprived.

        Next look at sleep experiments such as ones where people sleeping in labs are woken whenever they go into REM sleep… compare what the subjects report to what polyphasic sleepers report.

        If some people are walking around with this sort of sleeping habit, I am pretty confident they are walking zombies who are acclimatised to sleep deprivation (but that doesn’t mean *overcome* sleep deprivation.)

        I wish I could get 6 hours a day more… but alas we just can’t yet. I hold on to the hope we research how to do this in my lifetime.

        * – I think that’s what the type of wave is

  • Mark, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this experiment unfold, and it was twice as rewarding because you constructed your articles so well, so thanks for giving me something interesting to follow. You are a good writer and your thoughts and opinions are genuinely interesting, keep it up’.

  • When I got in to the office in the morning, feeling terrible, at least I knew there was someone feeling a lot worse than me. Put a smile on my face. I’ll have to search for some other freak-show now… 😉

  • I’m surprised that you have a list of reasons for your failure. It implies that you have discounted “Six twenty minute naps a day is not enough sleep for me” or any normal human.

  • Cool 😀
    Looks like you actually woke up a lil during this experiment, and it was awesome to see how your word choices changed as you continued on. Next time you meet your shadow don’t be scared! Good luck with your future experiences

  • Having gone through a sleep deprived week myself, I can somewhat relate to an extent. At first i just simply forgoed a nights sleep. The following night i actually COULD not sleep at all. That process followed for a number of days. In that time i was still going to work and doing all the normal things. But started to feel different. Than the hallucinations started. That was it for me, sleeping pills it was and never had trouble sleeping again. But it was an interesting experience. You are so tired but wired sort of. You can change feel and mood in milliseconds.

    • What sort of hallucinations?

      I work nights and ended up staying up later and later after work until I was at the point I was going to bed at 8am after finishing at 11pm and waking up again at 12 to start at 2pm….I eventually spent an entire weekend in bed having feverish dillusional dreams

  • I have explored my own sleep cycles for years, still landing at approximately 90 minutes per cycle.

    I think it would be *much* more feasible to explore the Everyman (with 3 naps) alternative polyphasic sleep cycle as opposed tot he Uberman. With the 180 minute block you get two solid complete cycles, and then three 20 minute “power naps” on top of that – a good balance and still only 4 hours of sleep per 24.

    I applaud your efforts and encourage you to give this a go as Round 2… Gambatte!

  • I’m not one of those people who think its impossible because your brain will become mush, but I do think that humans weren’t designed for polyphasic sleep, otherwise it’d be done by all of society and would require little effort to do. But still, I’m glad you tried, and I commend you for doing it, it’s a far cry from what I can do.

  • I’m curious about your pain levels. I have Fibromyalgia and one of the theories is that lack of deep sleep causes a lot of the pain and other symptoms. I’ve heard they can replicate some of the symptoms in the lab by waking someone up before they get the chance to go into deep sleep.
    I know I’ve never slept well. Did your pain levels increase? Did things like bumping into a wall become more painful?

  • Please tell us if you found out what happened during your missing hours, I find that more interesting…..the thought of not being able to account for several hours of my day would freak me out, and not the “Oh i’m so drunk I can’t remember” type because usually your mind can recover that information, or at least you KNEW you were drunk, but to just have no idea what happened for 2 hours while you believed you were just having a nap, that is creepy. For all you know you could have played a video game, gone to the gym, hurt someone, or even invented time travel and went back to the dark ages but have no idea

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