Sleeping 3 Hours a Day: Polyphasic Sleep

Photo by jorel319.

By Josh Rueff on June 10, 2013

“Sleeping is a waste of time.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Time is perhaps the most valuable thing a person can possess.

On what seems to be (but isn’t) an unrelated note – one of the most controversial and oft debated subjects is that of sleep. Especially polyphasic sleep.

Do we get enough sleep? Should we nap? Can we sleep less?

In today’s society a subculture of polyphasic sleepers is on the rise, claiming that 4, 3, and even 2 hours of sleep per night is enough. The prevailing theory is that REM sleep is the only sleep that seems to be of any importance, and you only get 3 hours of REM in an 8 hour block of sleep. When you train your body to sleep in fragments, your brain adapts, jumping right in to REM sleep instead of wasting 5 hours before and after.

As legend has it (and it may not be much more than that) Leonardo da Vinci slept only 2-3 hours per night, which is almost absurdly believable when you take into account the vast number of inventions, paintings, theories, and contributions to science the man is credited for.

Benjamin Franklin is another supposed proponent of the habit of polyphasic sleep, which may be a myth derived from his autobiography where he advises a sleep schedule of no more than 5 hours a night, and his habit of taking naps during the day. Not much, but also not polyphasic.

Tesla claimed to only sleep 2 hours a night, leading many to believe he was a polyphasic sleeper as well, since this is the only way a person can survive off of that little sleep. The fact that he admitted to napping occasionally to “recharge” gives further credit to the theory.

Thomas Edison called sleep “a heritage from our cave days.”

Polyphasic sleep is a schedule where you take a series of scheduled power naps throughout the day ranging from 15 to 30 minutes each. Some polyphasic sleep schedules allow for a core sleep block of 1 1/2 hours to 5 1/2 hours, followed by a series of power naps. The overall goal of course, is to gain more time, which is valid enough, and though the practice seems to go against nature, it turns out that most animals are actually polyphasic sleepers. So us humans, with our luxurious 7 to 10 hours of monophasic sleep happen to be the weird ones.

Sleep Schedules in Nature:

1. Giraffe: 2 hours per 24 hour day, fragmented.

2. Deer: 3 hours, fragmented.

3. Elephant: 4 hours, fragmented.

4. Lion: 20 hours, fragmented… Wait a minute – 20 hours???

Yes indeed. Well no actually, they don’t just sleep 20 hours, but they either sleep or rest for that long every day.

So why do lions get to rest so long when the other animals only sleep a tiny fraction of the night?

I don’t have a blatantly scientific answer for that, but my best guess? They can. They’re at the top of the food chain just like us, and just like us, they sleep more than they need to. It’s a luxury they’ve earned.

So how much time should we sleep?

It depends on what you want! If you love to sleep, those extra 3 or 4 hours sleeping in on a lazy Saturday may be your favorite thing in the world, and that’s okay! If you’re more like me, you may have a Christmas list of the things you want to do, and polyphasic sleep is the perfect answer – with an additional 30 (or more) hours a week, you pretty much stretch one week into two! That’s a capital (ist) dream.

This was too good for me to pass up, so I’ve recently begun my journey into the dark (veeery dark at times – you start to feel like a vampire being up at all hours of the night when everyone else is snoozing their life away) art of polyphasic sleep. I’m not going to lie, I feel like a superhuman, even though technically I’m doing the baby version of polyphasic sleep – the Everyman 3. Who knows, maybe I’ll start the notorious Uberman schedule of 6 20-minute naps every 4 hours, but I doubt it. This is all about what benefits me best, not how much I can deprive myself. Although 42 hours of extra time every week would be nice.

I have to say, even though this post is about sleeping less, I love the example the lion gives: If you’re able to conquer the world around you, you can choose whatever schedule that fits you best.

Josh

14 Comments

  1. greenminimalism June 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Hi Josh

    I tried the polyphasic sleep pattern for over a month about half a year ago. Although I slept only a few hours every day, my waking hours were of very poor quality and my diet and concentration was bad. I wouldn’t recommend the sleep pattern; but if you’re having more luck with it, then I’m glad!

    Eric

    Reply

    • Josh June 12, 2013 at 7:31 am #

      Hiya! Eric, I’m not even close to surprised that you’ve tried polyphasic sleeping, you seem the type! (That’s a compliment of course (:)

      That’s a bummer – it seems to have so much promise; 42 extra hours per week… Oh man that would be amazing. I’m only doing the Everyman 3-Nap schedule, so it’s not too bad, but then again, I haven’t been doing it for a month.

      Which sleeping cycle did you try?

      Reply

  2. greenminimalism June 11, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    Also there’s less delta sleep so there’ll probably be a detrimental effect on muscle building. That’s why pro bodybuilders sleep so much.

    Reply

    • Josh June 12, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      That’s an interesting point – I had to go research it a bit. I’m definitely inclined to think you’re right because my muscles have been sorer than usual after workouts.

      Apparently, about 50% of growth hormones release occurs during Delta sleep, so it will be important to get the proper amount somehow whether my body adapts or I supplement my schedule with monophasic sleep on the weekend.

      I just read that Delta sleep usually occurs during polyphasic naps, but I don’t know whether to believe that or not.

      When you tried it out did you experience heavy muscle loss?

      Reply

  3. Mr Simple June 13, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    Ah how I love to nap. All the sensible civilized cultures siesta, but not ours. I have minimalised our alarm clock to freeganism so we awake as we please.

    To lie on a riverbank napping in the sun. A wonderful life for an idle gent. Is there greater pleasure than napping in a hammock in the garden after running trails in the morning? If there is I haven’t found it.

    Unfortunately parenthood brings much unwanted polyphasic kipping. King of the jungle no longer!

    Interesting post Josh. Good reading. Cheers!

    Reply

    • Josh June 20, 2013 at 10:22 am #

      Thanks! I was never really into napping, but I just didn’t know what I was missing. Especially now that I’m only sleeping 4 1/2 hours per 24 hour day, I love them!

      It’s too bad parenting makes polyphasic sleep impossible – I’ve read the same about other parents, although they were on the uberman schedule – I’m doing the Everyman 3-nap and it’s pretty easy, seems like it would be doable kids or no kids!

      Reply

      • Mr Simple June 20, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

        Only one way to find out brother!

        Josh’s How to nap with tripplets. You would make so much money off that book. NY times best seller (unless it is just some crappy advice like fleeing to the spare room and letting the other parent bear the brunt)!

        Reply

        • Josh June 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

          Oh my gosh triplets… That sounds horrendous – but quite impressive as well now that I think about it. That’s some serious efficiency haha

          I can see how that would be difficult at best (:

          Reply

  4. 13_11 July 10, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    As far as I know, the reason a lion sleeps that long is because he’s digesting a great ammount of prey’s meat and insides.

    It’s his natural eating cycle: he’s starving, he’s hunting, he’s eating, he’s sleeping and then he’s starving again…

    Reply

    • Josh July 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      1311 – interesting, I didn’t know that! I’d like to find some sources to research that more.

      I think I do remember reading that scientists believe they sleep a long time to conserve energy, so that makes sense!

      Reply

      • 13_11 July 13, 2013 at 9:36 am #

        You may try to experiment with your own body that way to get underneath his skin a bit to better understand it.

        All day long just drink water and have an apple or two. Do your normal day activities. Only when it’s 6 or 7 p. m. you are allowed to eat everything you want in preferable order: vegetables/fruits -> protein -> carbohydrates, or protein-carbohydrates in one dish. You may take a break between each course, or you can just eat and eat and eat šŸ™‚

        [The most important thing for us as human beings is to taste all 6 flavours on a daily basis. Never forget that. Otherwise you have those night cravings.]

        When you feel truly satisfied, stop eating. That means you are full and all that your body needs right now is to relax and digest. Naturally, you will feel very sleepy.

        Enjoy that day and pay attention to your body. You are going to be extremely aggresive and sharp like a lion on his hunt. Only in the evening after your ”successful hunt” you are going to find your peace and your body is going to be progressively more and more calm.

        That’s not just some theory, it’s the real experience how predators like a lion hunt and eat and live, or die.

        Reply

        • Josh July 23, 2013 at 5:44 am #

          I like it (:

          I’ve never heard about the importance of tasting all 6 flavors – great info, thanks!

          Reply

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