So, I’ve developed an interest in polyphasic sleep, with an eye to actually trying it out soon. There are a bunch of links around the place, pretty much spiderwebbing out from Wikipedia. Steve Pavlina, whose account on becoming polyphasic was my main motivating force, wrote once that he knows of only one book on the subject, which he hasn’t read (see the end of his post). He also notes how expensive it is — I can’t object to that; luckily, there’s a copy in my university library: Why we nap, editor Claudio Stampi.
I’m reading it at the moment, and it contains a wealth of information. Including a fair amount of info that contradicts much of what the polyphasic sleeping people claim. The differences are minor, though.
There’s also an article in Outside online that seems to be the source of quite a number of conceptions on the topic. As a magazine article, it’s more accessible than the book. And I just wanted to jot here my notes on it.
there are two types of sleep: REM sleep, which is important for memory and learning, and non-REM sleep, which restores energy and releases hormones for growth and development. Non-REM sleep occurs in four stages: Stage one is a light slumber; stage two marks the onset of real sleep, where the heart rate and breathing slow; and stages three and four provide the deep (or slow-brainwave) sleep that is most highly restorative.
This is a great summary of the actual phases of sleep that most polyphasic advocates seem to not mention. Instead, it is popular to say something along the lines that REM sleep is all you need and your brain adapts to entering it quickly. This explanation is overly simplified at best, and incorrect at worst. Recall I’m not an authority on the matter, so these statements may be premature from my mouth. Or fingers, rather, I suppose.
Back to Stampi: the next paragraph after that quoted above talks about how most of the slow wave sleep that happens in an 8-hour sleep cycle is performed in the first three. This implies its usefulness to the body, and how multiple short naps are more efficient since the earlier parts of sleep are the best. Moving on:
[Morning people], Stampi discovered, are good at taking short naps but are not as efficient late at night, and prefer a more regular routine. [Night people], on the other hand, appear to be excellent at coping with highly irregular schedules, but prefer longer naps
Interesting! I hadn’t come across this yet. As a night person, it simply doesn’t make as much sense for me to try and extract much rest from a really short nap. Another interesting tidbit is that people don’t want to sleep between 6pm–8pm, which I’ve typically found the best times for working in my very irregular schedule.
Sleep researchers, including Stampi, agree that if you have the option of snoozing a solid seven or eight hours per night, then taking it is the best strategy for being a well-rested, efficient human being. But if you can’t pull it off, a Stampian approach might help keep you upright with less than sufficient sleep.
And what do I make of this? Well, I think that learning how to sleep properly is the main outcome I’m hoping to achieve from my interest in this area. If it happens to be like Stampi himself, with a six hour night and a single 15 minute nap in the afternoon, then that’s still exciting news for someone who’s struggled with sleeping patterns for as long as I can remember.