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!

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