How to Sleep Hack

Right now, it’s 5:20am and I am up writing a blog post. I went to bed at about 12:30am. Funny thing, last night was a great night of sleep and I feel awake this morning. No, I don’t have weird insomnia, I have been doing some sleep hacking lately, meaning less sleep, more hours awake, and almost no fatigue. It’s also called polyphasic sleeping. If you haven’t heard of sleep hacking, let me give you the brief overview.

The basic idea of this is that the majority of restful sleep for humans come from just two hours of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that occurs during the other sleep phases. in theory, that’s all the sleep needed, but most human bodies are adapted to sleep for 8 hours, while getting 20 minutes of REM at a time scattered throughout the night. However, if you only allow yourself to sleep for twenty minutes at a time, the human body will adapt to jumping right into REM sleep and skipping all those other pieces of the sleep cycle. I’m not going to give you justification for this, instead I will link you to others who can do that for you and even a self-published book. I will say though, that if you think about the slow evolution of humans and the likely sleep habits of a hunter gatherer, short burst sleep might make more sense than long (yes, I’m still a biologist).

Anyway, here’s a brief guide to a few types of sleep-hacking if you ever want to try it. There are other guides on the internet with fun graphics too.

This is the most simplistic sleep hack, and it means you sleep just a little bit less at night (4.5-6 hrs) and take one nap during the day. Some people make this a longer nap (1.5 hrs). I tried this and although I could do it, the schedule didn’t work well for me, so I moved up to the next one.

There are a few schedules that fall under this type of polyphasic sleep, but they all include a “core” sleep or a longer period and then 20 minute naps throughout the day. Currently, I am on this schedule with a 4.5 hr core sleep and two 20 minute naps. Other options are 3 hr core and three naps (I want to try this one next!) and the most extreme 1.5 hr core with four naps.

This consists of sleeping for 30 minutes every six hours and was supposedly used by Buckminster Fuller. Supposedly this is the hardest schedule to adapt to and most people prefer either Everyman or Uberman.

The Uberman
This is the most extreme type. A person literally takes only 20 minute naps every four hours all day. Apparently, this is hard to adjust to and you feel like a zombie for a month while trying, but once you do it works. However, you have to stick pretty closely to your nap schedule to stay functional.

How to do this:

1. Choose the schedule that appears to work best for your life and pick a time period with at least 2 weeks where you can be minimally functional

2. Stick with your schedule like glue. Do not oversleep, set multiple alarms if needed.

3. Stay busy. Have a huge list of things to do, exercise, clean, be active, it helps.

4. Make minor adjustments as needed. I’ve moved times around a bit from the beginning and now I’m in a good spot.

5. Enjoy your extra hours!
Overall, the biggest problems with sleep hacking are that napping is considered socially unacceptable, so it can be tough to work into a normal life, and that some people simply can’t figure out what to do with their time, so end up sleeping out of boredom, messing up the system. There are people who simply believe it is impossible.

I’ve only been doing this for about two months, so I don’t have much to say long term, however, prior to trying this I took drugs to sleep reasonably for years or I couldn’t stay asleep and I felt crummy in the morning. Since starting this, no drugs, I fall asleep easily and I feel more awake. I’m also seriously nocturnal, and being able to be up when it is dark and nap during the day is awesome. I get quite the buzz around midnight.

I don’t think this is for everyone, and here’s a list of who it isn’t for. However, if you are someone who doesn’t tend to feel refreshed after long nights of sleep or just wants more hours in your day, why not try it?

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. eye-shuh
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 17:22:44

    Interesting! I don’t think I have the discipline for anything like this anymore. I have tried “biphasic” though I didn’t know it was a thing, lol. It helped when I did school and work at the same time. I got down to 5 hours a night with hour naps after work, but now that I have less to do and am on a more flexible schedule, I don’t think I could go back to it. I love my 10 hour weekend sleep too much. 😉


  2. Avalyn
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 18:24:40

    I do the “Everyman” once in a while. If I am super-sleepy at work (and at risk of nodding off in meetings) I will nap in my car for 15-20 minutes. My sleep schedule is about 6-7 hours at night so maybe I should nap more often – once during the day and once right after I get home from work.


  3. ang
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 08:53:38

    After reading this and several other blogs I decided to give it a shot. And of course I’m blogging it with super-exciting daily details. If you’re interested I’m linking to my ‘polyphasic sleep’ tag so it will take you to a page of only blogposts on that subject. Feel free to wander around if you’re interested in my healthy living journey or general geekiness. 🙂


  4. Grey
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 14:34:21

    I ended up trying something like this a while ago and use something similar to the everyman on the intern if I’m very busy travelling for work. As long as I wasn’t too physically active it worked rather well. I found however that when I was staying regular with martial arts and the like that I needed the full rest period of regular sleep for the body to recover or it was just a progressive drain on me.


  5. vikasc
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 11:57:04

    Interesting. I didn’t know that there is a technical reason behind this. But I think I am already doing it :). Usually on working days, I take a 5-6 hrs night sleep and then a 30 minutes afternoon nap.
    Thanks for this interesting piece.


  6. frank
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 16:39:43

    ive noticed that when i dont sleep much, as soon as i doze off i am right into REM sleep, this is an interesting idea. i dont know if i could fit this into my schedule of sleep and work. very interesting though thanks for the information.


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