It’s been almost two months since I started making a significant effort to adapt to a polyphasic sleep schedule. While I have not come close to success in terms of practicing a strict uberman schedule, I have gained something worthwhile out of the process. Going in, one of the things I think I wanted to achieve was increased flexibility. It may seem a little strange to say that considering I was attempting to adapt to the strictest of the polyphasic schedules, but it seemed to me that 20 minute naps throughout the day were more flexible than 8+ hours of sleep at night with poor function the following day if that was upset to any significant extent. At this point I feel like I have gained a significant amount of sleep flexibility.
I suspect the whole process would have gone a bit more according to plan if it weren’t for the unfortunate timing of illness. Connor and Rowan both got sick around the time I started, and then I came down with the stomach bug on the third or fourth day of my adaptation. To that point I had been doing well. I had kept the nap schedule and made it through the grim days of sleep deprivation. Based on the reports of others, things should have been easier going forward. Getting sick changed that, and I felt worse as day four went on, sleeping through the night. On the plus side, I was better after that, but since that time there have been few times that I’ve managed to keep the nap schedue for more than 36 hours or so.
What usually ends up happening is that I do fine for a day and a half, but the second night I get drowsy. When I get drowsy, my motivation dwindles significantly. On a few occasions I’ve had trouble making it to a schedule nap time, but mostly what happens is that I wake up and turn off my alarm, then lay back down and end up falling back to sleep. I think if I managed to avoid laying back down, I would probably be much less likely to fall asleep, but feeling little motivation, it’s all too easy to fall into bed again. Once I sleep extra like this, it’s tends to be the case that I will sleep for most of what remains of the night.
Part of the reason for the lack of motivation is that I have managed to accomplish a significant part of my goal. I’m able to stay up through the night (with the naps, of course) with little or no ill effects the following day. Even though I don’t do it every night, I have done it many nights over the last couple of months, and I have some confidence that if/when I had the need to do so, I could. To put a somewhat arbitrary number on it, I might consider this 80% of my goal. The remaining 20% is much less compelling to me, especially in the face of drowsiness.
One of the things I have learned about myself through this process is that there is more than one kind of tired. There’s the deep sleep-deprivation fatigue that I experienced in the initial days of adjustment. This seems to result from a lack of REM sleep, and until I start getting the REM sleep, I’ll feel it regardless of what I do. Since I have managed to maintain my ability to dream during my naps, and have kept up with my nap schedule apart from the periods of extra sleep, I have not experienced this kind of fatigue since the first three days. The other kind of tiredness is what I call drowsiness.
Drowsiness seems to be fairly superficial, though in many respects more insiduous than the sleep-deprivation fatigue. Although I’ve never experienced chemical addiction and withdrawal (even for things like caffeine) in some ways, my experience with sleep/drowsiness seems like it might be similar. Although it seems like I can function just fine without the sleep, my mind keeps telling me I “need” it. Part of the reason I don’t think I need the sleep is that when I can find something sufficiently mentally engaging, the drowsiness will go away. Unfortunately, there are not too many things that are sufficient for extended periods of time. Inevitably (so far, at least) the demotivating effect of drowsiness makes me feel less and less inspired to do things, and I end up deciding I should “think about what I need to do”, and at that point it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I will fall asleep. I suspect it would probably be much easier to avoid this if there were others I could consistently interact with during the times when I was feeling particularly drowsy.
Going forward, I’m not quite sure what I will do. At the very least, I plan to continue the partially structured pattern that I have been on for the last month or so (napping on a more or less regular schedule with irregular extra sleep). While I have not been alert all of the time I’ve been awake, I’ve also not been any more tired than I was when sleeping 8+ hours a night, plus I am sleeping significantly less than that most nights, so it seems like a worthwhile change. Part of me would still like to fully get on the uberman sleep schedule, but I’m not sure the sum of my desire, discipline and motivation to do so is great enough by myself in the face of the drowsiness I experience. Something else I may try is going with a more freeform polyphasic approach where I do not sleep on a schedule but rather when I feel tired. I would limit myself to 20-25 minute naps with a minimum of one hour between naps. I’m curious about whether I would settle into a relatively consistent number of naps throughout a 24 hour period, though perhaps not equally spaced.