The Polyphasic Sleeping Challenge: A Review of the Opening Few Weeks

Fight Club Insomnia

Since the start of my polyphasic sleeping self-experiment, I have kept a Word document on my laptop where I note down my feelings, thoughts and observations. As we are now heading into what I think is the third week (it may even be the fourth) it seems like as good a time as any to go over my findings.

The first few days were a blur. In fact the large majority of these two or three weeks have been a blur. It is the same routine day-in and day-out, so a Sunday ends up feeling almost exactly the same as a Tuesday. No lie-ins to be found here, not even at the weekend.

This had initially started out as a day-by-day analysis of feelings and observations but I soon had trouble remembering what event occurred on what day. As I said, the days were blurred into one and so pin-pointing exactly when something had happened, or when a feeling had taken me, was like reaching blindly in the shower for your shower gel, you may guess correctly, but the chances are you won’t.

I remember the first few days were fine. I lived off the excitement and the buzz of this bizarre new task I had set myself. There were no real issues, and the going was good. I was very productive as well. In the first handful of days I was able to finish one book, get started on another, and wrote a really good article for Skin Deep. This was on top of doing my 9-5, and everything else that comes with living.

If you need to have a productive five days or so, then I would recommend this sleep pattern, as it does give you hours more free time than what you are used to, and for the first few days your body is not really fighting against the change of sleeping pattern.

As I progressed through the week the naps were becoming more like naps. Rather than just lying in bed, I was actually getting some sleep. The first few attempts did just consist of me laying in my sleeping bag with my eyes closed. I didn’t feel tired so my body refused to shut down. As the days went on though, I soon began nodding off during my 20 minutes. It still took a good five minutes or so to fall asleep, it was not as if my head hit the pillow and I was out, but I slept nevertheless. I remember the first time I was woken up by the alarm on my phone. The fact that I had to be awoken was a good sign. An even better sign was that soon, within my naps, I was starting to dream.

Dreaming only occurs in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, and this is also the part of sleep where your body regenerates and gets rested. The fact that I was dreaming meant that I was hitting REM during my 20 minute naps. This was essential if I wanted to continue with the polyphasic sleeping.

There was one day I remember, early on in the challenge, whereby I could not bring myself to wake up at 5am. I simply couldn’t do it. I was exhausted after having only six hours of sleep in 48. I ignored the alarm and had a lie in. I slept for three hours and awoke at around 8am.

It was after this set-back that I amended my sleeping schedule somewhat. 5am starts were painful to do, my eyes physically hurt when I opened them, and my eyelids were incredibly heavy. It was a battle just to stay awake. To combat this inability to continually wake up at 5am I added on another hour to the core sleep. I would follow this new 2am-6am core sleep schedule at least until the naps were giving me sufficient rest. Perhaps then I could revert back to the 2am-5am. With my new schedule of four core hours, and then three 20 minute naps, I continued.

During the days I feel fine, I am not slow in how I act or what I say, I do not feel lethargic and as I mentioned, I am very productive. I am reasonably active in terms of stimulating myself and keeping busy, though I am not that physically active. Outside of the walks to town, the walks to the seafront, and the weekly shop, I am not doing all that much physical exercise. It would be very interesting to see the effect a gym session, or a game of football, would have on my energy levels and need for sleep.

All in all, I felt all right. My mind worked as it normally did, I was not falling asleep at random times, and nodding off at work. Apart from the struggle to open my eyes each morning I could not really complain.

Since I adjusted the core sleep and added that extra hour, things improved. The entire process became easier. I felt more rested, getting up wasn’t such a struggle, and I still had plenty of time to be productive. In the space of just four days I was able to write a Skin Deep article, read two books, watched a whole series of house of cards, had a haircut, finished a module on my journalism diploma, worked my 9-5 day job, and on Friday night I went out for a few drinks with a friend. I would say that is a fairly productive Monday to Friday.

I did not really experience the effect of alcohol and other drugs on the sleeping routine during the first few weeks. Outside of two pints when I saw a friend, I had not drunk anything, and I had avoided drugs and energy drinks like the plague. My thinking was that once my body was in polyphasic mode, perhaps then I could begin to introduce these things. For the first few weeks I wasn’t willing to risk it.

The night of my drinks with a friend I was able to stay awake until two, and on Saturday morning I was awake before my alarm went off. By 5-30am I was dressed. That morning I finished the second book, read a magazine and continued with the routine.

That Saturday morning is particularly memorable because it was the first time I had a really deep and vivid dream in my nap. It is still probably the most successful one I have had, and despite waking up before the alarm, I felt rested and refreshed. The dream itself was wonderfully vivid and detailed, alien landscapes coalesced with well known locations in my own world and I got lost in the fictional reality my brain had created.

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