Polyphasic Update – 02/21/16

I’m starting to feel fed up with the Uberman sleep cycle. (Warning: Technical post ahead.)

200px-uberman-svgIn case you haven’t been spending hours and hours reading over everything you can find about polyphasic sleep, I’m talking about an alternative sleep routine where the only rest one gets is from six—yes, you heard me right, six—20m naps. Oh, and each pair of naps is supposed to be separated by exactly 3h 40m of awake time…in my case, that means taking a nap at exactly 12:25, 4:25, and 8:25 (AM and PM).

That’s a grand total of 2h of sleep (meaning 6h 30m of extra awake time) every day! And in a lot of ways, that’s wonderful. Along with the obvious advantage of giving me more time to go climbing and to procrastinate on my assignments, it has, after a rather difficult adjustment period, made me feel more focused, calm, and aware in the time that I am awake. Additionally, it has allowed me to learn how to fall asleep extremely quickly, remember significantly more of my dreams, be a showoff (“If you think that YOU didn’t sleep a lot last night…”), and become more aware of my alertness and energy levels. Furthermore, I’ve only been on this schedule for 21 days, so maybe these effects will increase with time. This seems to be the experience that some other bloggers have had while on the Uberman cycle.

So what’s the problem with being an Uberman?

Well, for one thing, different people require different amounts of sleep when they’re on monophasic (a.k.a. normal) sleep cycles. From this, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the viability of the Uberman cycle varies from person to person. Maybe I’ve hit the genetic jackpot and am a bit of a nonsomniac who can receive more than my fair share of REM sleep and stage 4, or “slow-wave,” sleep (which are crucial for our mental and physical health). Alternately, I might need more of them than this sleep cycle has to offer.


Additionally, the Uberman cycle requires its adherents to stick to a somewhat ludicrous schedule. Every four hours (and not a minute too late), they must drop everything they’re doing, find a peaceful sleeping spot, and take a 20-minute nap. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. If you’re in the middle of a date, about to head over to the mall, or feeling in the zone while working on a really important assignment, well, that’s too bad. On the Uberman cycle, each missed nap makes you about as tired as you would be if you had missed an entire night of sleep, each late nap makes it next to impossible for you to get to sleep during the next nap, and oversleeping sets you far back in your adaptation process.


I feel that, while polyphasic sleeping is supposed to give one a greater sense of freedom, the Uberman cycle, with its highly restrictive nap rules, makes you a slave to a four-hour cycle. And unless you’re lucky enough to work in a results only work environment (or be in a high enough position to set your own schedule), be surrounded by a plethora of sleeping spots wherever you go, and have extraordinarily understanding friends and acquaintances, you are likely to find that the world is in conflict with your chosen sleep schedule. And for people who thrive on variety, going to sleep every four hours on the dot might turn into an exercise in monotony.

My plan

Before you say, “But what about your experiment?” know that I won’t be giving up on it that easily.

Unless A) situations arise that make it impossible—not just difficult—for me to stick to a polyphasic cycle, B) my sleep cycle causes me to start significantly under-performing in my classes (and, as far as I’m aware, that isn’t even close to happening), or C) I become aware of compelling evidence that I’m permanently damaging my brain (which, based on the long-term experiments that have been conducted by a handful of bloggers, probably won’t happen anytime soon), I’m riding this schedule out to its bitter end.


What is this end that I speak of? Well, here’s what I have in mind: At the beginning of each month, I will do a review of how I felt at the beginning of the previous month (in this case, the period where I deprived myself of sleep to kickstart my naps) and at its end (which is 8 days from now).

  • If I feel worse at the end than at the beginning AND I feel that the schedule is going nowhere but downhill, I will switch to a slightly less extreme schedule.
  • If I feel worse but also optimistic, then I will stick it out for another month, possibly doing a nap refeed (in other words, double my nap times for a while) to reduce my level of sleep deprivation.
  • Finally, if I feel that I have adapted to the Uberman sleep cycle but am still tired of its restrictiveness, then I will move to Phase 2.

Phase 2: Beyond Uberman

The schedule that I’m hoping to move to after the Uberman sleep cycle is basically a version of SPAMAYL: an abbreviation for “Sleep Polyphasically As Much As You Like.” That involves sleeping only in 20m naps, just like the Uberman cycle, but taking them whenever you want (as long as each pair of naps is separated by at least 20m of waking time). Apparently, a SPAMAYL sleeper requires a few more naps each day than an Uberman sleeper. However, I’d very willingly increase my total number of naps if that means that I get a more flexible schedule.

Here are the rules for the version that I plan to try:

  1. Sleep only in 20m naps.
  2. Don’t stay awake for more than 6h at a time (or at least try not to) and do something active for no less than 20m between naps.
  3. Take a nap whenever you’re sleepy, even if you’re only feeling a little sleepy.
  4. Take naps immediately before and after long events (“long” meaning “more than 4h”), even if you aren’t feeling sleepy at all.
  5. Try to keep the naps as evenly spaced as possible.

We’ll have to see how this goes! Maybe it will work out well, but maybe it will fail miserably. Either way, I’m excited to give it a try.



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