Adapting to Polyphasic Sleep

polyphasic sleep

In choosing to sleep a polyphasic lifestyle (3 or more sleep sessions per day) there are concessions that one has to make in scheduling. As well, there is a period that lasts 10 to 14 days (on average) where the body has to adjust its sleep patterns to the new polyphasic model.

The Physical Adaptation to Polyphasic Sleep

Human bodies have two natural rhythms or internal clocks, the circadian and the ultradian. The circadian cycle is the cycle that monophasic sleepers are most familiar with, as this natural body rhythm is approximately 1 day in length. It is why some people feel sleepy in the afternoon, as that is common to have that dip in the cycle. The utradian cycle is shorter in duration and commonly about 4 hours in length. One can see this cycle in babies, as they most commonly follow this cycle in their sleep patterns. It is also known that older people generally start to follow this cycle, often having short naps (falling asleep) without intending to. According to Dr. Claudio Stampi, “4-hr cycles in sleep propensity have been found in many studies conducted in unstructured environments (e.g., Nakagawa, 1980; Zulley, 1988).” (Stampi, Why We Nap)

If one is purposefully trying to adapt to a polyphasic sleep cycle it can be difficult, physically. Most of those who have written about doing it admit that the first couple of days aren’t too bad, but the week after that is extremely difficult. Many people fail to adapt at this point and simply quite trying. There are suggestions that a gradual adaptation works better. This means moving to a biphasic sleep schedule, then gradually shortening core sleep while adding naps at different intervals during the day. After some weeks, then one can adapt to a complete polyphasic sleep schedule such as Everyman or √úberman (see previous article for definitions of these).

Going straight to a hardcore polyphasic sleep schedule requires planning and willpower. Those who have done it often state that multiple alarm clocks or having another person wake them is very useful in not oversleeping in naps and (especially) the core sleep.
After the first two weeks have passed, most people state that they are much less likely to oversleep. Some even state that they do not need alarms for naps and eventually for the core sleep, as well.

One thing to note is that all of those who have adapted state that they will eat more, although in smaller meals. And eating healthy is a must. And so is not drinking alcohol, as this tends to interfere with sleep.

The Social Adaptation to Polyphasic Sleep

Western society does not really understand or even recognise polyphasic sleep. There is very little education about it and if mentioned to the average person, it is unlikely the word “polyphasic”, nor will such a sleep pattern, be heard of, except in babies. Naturally this will lead to scepticism, doubt, and even outright resistance to it. Industrialized society is completely adapted to monophasic sleep patterns (at least most of the world).

Because of the conflicting schedule between the polyphasic sleeper and most others, careful scheduling of the naps is required. In some jobs it is possible to nap during lunch. Some employers might be more sympathetic and allow a more flexible schedule, as long as there is availability during crucial time periods. These are avenues that should be explored. For someone who is self employed, this might be less of an issue; it appears that most of the people writing about their fully adapted polyphasic lives are self employed.

There is also the social aspect. It would be difficult for a polyphasic sleeper to tell someone that at exactly 6pm she must take a 20 minute nap and simply walk out on a dinner function to sleep in her car. While nap times can be somewhat flexible, more than a one hour delay is found to be difficult, and more than 5 hours between naps causes some people to get cranky and even to get off of their schedule. However, there are some who have stated that missing a nap once in a while (presumably less than once per week) doesn’t really affect them.

Careful planning and educating those closest are certainly requirements for anyone who wishes to adapt to a polyphasic sleep schedule. Expect varied reactions from fascination to indifference and even thinking it’s completely insane.

Fully Adapting to Polyphasic Sleep

Compete physical adaptation varies widely. Some people adapt in less than one month, while others take twice as long. This can be partially attributed to stricter adherence to the schedule decreasing the adaptation period. Diet and exercise also seem to help. If one eats more healthily, it seems to help a lot. Those who report the least difficulties adapting tend to also report that they eat vegetarian diets (or nearly so).

Part of fully adapting is also using the extra time gained in a productive manner. Active activities during the nocturnal waking period are highly recommended and for some people may even be essential, even in the long term. Watching TV at this time is not recommended, but an engaging book might be okay, depending on the person. Many polyphasic sleepers will use this time to clean or exercise, allowing the daylight periods for less physically active activities.

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