Only So Much Time In A Day: A Musing On Polyphasic Sleep

After an earlier musing on being an insomniac [1], one of my friends sent me a humorous and somewhat sarcastic article on the folly of polyphasic sleep.  Now, I happen to know a great many people with unconventional or unusual circadian rhythms, but aside from manic bits of creativity, I can’t think of a single person I know who is successful at the “power nap” (i.e. polyphasic) method.  Most people I know (myself included), tend to get just a wee bit cranky, uncoordinated, and mentally less productive when sleep deprived for prolonged periods of time.

Now, it is one thing if one naturally struggles with sleeping schedules.  There appears something highly perverse in attempting to force one’s body to adopt an unnatural sleeping schedule (and especially in trying to force the body to live on less sleep) out of a greedy desire for more productive time.  Trying to get something from nothing (i.e. equal or greater productivity from less rest) is a bad plan on a variety of levels.

There are at least a few useful points I gleaned from the amusing article [2] sent to me:

  • Most of the people claimed to have been successful in polyphasic sleep did not engage in such behavior.
  • Most human beings are either long-sleepers (one-phase) or biphase sleepers (with a short sleep at night and a one to two hour nap during the middle of the day, as in the traditional Latin siesta).  I happen to be a long-sleeper (or bear-napper) under optimal conditions.
  • Good sleep happens when mental and physical cycles coincide, leading one to sleep at the right time.
  • Shifting sleep schedules really screws people up, making shift work a bad plan for productivity.
  • Poly-phasic sleeping seems connected to a gnostic view of the unimportance of the flesh and the need for ascetic measures to control/screw up one’s body cycles.

The implications of the Uberman theory of sleep (sleeping a full amount of time for maximum mental productivity) and ditching the over-reliance on alarm clocks are interesting.  For one, it would suggest that the 24-hour day is “natural” in that it corresponds with our body’s healthy rhythms.  Additionally, it would suggest that the mental and physical well-being of humans depends on a sensible and consistent pattern of behavior, rather than abrupt changes and shifts (making shiftwork and follies like Daylight Savings Time a bad move).

These would seem to suggest that our society, in making false assumptions about the nature of human beings with regards to how much and what pattern of sleep is necessary is doing potentially great harm to productivity and well-being in the name of ‘flexibility’ and ‘control.’  It is possible that a substantial proportion of the problems of medical errors, bad driving, and other annoyances and dangers of modern life are due to the way in which we have screwed up our sleeping patterns.  We need to take better care of ourselves.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Only So Much Time In A Day: A Musing On Polyphasic Sleep

  1. Nathan invited my reaction to this issue, noting that I have posted @ weird hours [overnight] on RedState.

    I learned about the phases of sleep just before entering med-school in 1970, and pivotal was the recognition that the 90-minute cycle was the key-component thereof. Thus, for the subsequent four decades, I have “timed” my naps accordingly, maintaining wakefulness when alertness was needed.

    When a deadline exists, working overnight yields fewer distractions; when early-morning awakening [not due to reactive depression] is needed, a can of beer is ingested in the early-evening to ensure early-collapse…and early-awakening.

    Otherwise, the only major concern has been generalized inability to recall dreams, if for no other reason than to gain unvarnished insight.

    Hoping Nathan finds this exposition sufficiently explanatory….

    • Thanks for the explanation, Dr. Sklaroff, as you are the only person in my acquaintance who has managed to pull off polyphasic sleep. It would appear that a lot of your success has to do with your use of mild means to keep the timing up (like beer), and your avoidance (it would appear) of the temptation to try to squeeze more action into less time, but rather seeking instead to gain a more efficient use of time in the night when there are fewer distractions without becoming entirely nocturnal. Most of my “nocturnal” friends are code monkeys who don’t like distractions but who need more time to program code continuously than polyphasic sleep would allow. Nonetheless, for your own schedule it appears to work pretty well, despite the lack of ability to recall your dreams. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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