It was 6:00AM. I’m all alone.
And at the expense of sounding like a really cool club track (Jamie Jones – “Should Have Gone Home”), or a commuter on their way to a job that starts way too early; that was the truth for me March 12th. No I was not actually at a club ditched by my friends on some funky trip, although I would love to go to Club Space in Miami and dance at 6:00AM. There probably were people on their way to or from work too, however the notion stood true for me though I was not doing the same.
While unlucky (or crazy) people were getting their days started at work or with their early workout routine, I was simply jamming out to Jamie Jones alone in my apartment pretending I was in Space. Now why would someone be up at 6:00AM dancing around their apartment to bouncy techno tracks on headphones, trying to move silently so as to not wake their sleeping partner and parrot in the other room, if not waking themselves up for work or about to hop on an early flight? Well, I’m an insomniac right? Maybe. But that’s not the real reason.
What’s really going on for this particular crazy person (because let’s face it, unless you’re a bird waking up at 6:00AM is insane no matter the reason) is a unique circumstance that can be described as a polyphasic sleeper going through adaption. More specifically and related to this blog, you have someone obsessed with polyphasic sleep trying to make a huge change in their life. Someone going to bed at 2:00AM daily to then wake up again at 5:30AM on the dot. Now, WHY in the world would I do this and more importantly HOW would this even work? Well like another bumping club track, you could say that I’m “Hungry For The Power“. Hungry for the power to have more time in my day, for the power to accomplish more, to be more creative, and ultimately, just be more productive with everything I do. Also, I’m an Aspie. And so obsess over things is what I do.
That is probably the underlining layer of what led me to start an intense sleep schedule known as polyphasic sleeping, or more specifically for me what is known as the “Everyman Schedule”, or E3 (E2 and E4 being some other variations of this schedule). In this schedule, I am not sleeping 7-8 hours as most others do, or even 5-6 hours as a smaller percentage of the population regularly does. And while there are even fewer people out there that really do sleep 3.5 hours or less in an entire day, I’m actually sleeping 4.5 hours total in a day. That may not sound like a huge difference but the way in which these schedules are carried out is very different. Without going into too much detail about the various sleep schedules, E3 is defined by what is known as a 3.5 hour core accompanied by three 20-minute naps throughout the day. That is where the number “3” comes from in E3: three naps in the day. So it’s not exactly a “party-goer” schedule nor is it a “workaholic” schedule, unless you have the kind of job that has flexible hours spread out in the day or you can afford to nap while at work.
But why obsess over getting less than 5 hours of sleep a day if not able to party all night at raves or working my sleep deprived butt off? Surely that kind of living can only last so long before I crash or literally bite someone’s head off from being so irritable. Well aside from me having what was previously (and to many still) known as “Asperger’s Syndrome” (now simply called “high functioning autism”), there are some serious benefits to polyphasic sleeping if you can adapt to it. In general, you may be sleeping less but the goal of polyphasic sleep is to increase your sleep quality. This is accomplished by having a very rigid sleep schedule where everyday you go to sleep at the same time, wake up at the same time, and then more or less nap on the dot throughout the day. What this does if followed strictly, is change your natural circadian rhythm. But why would you want to do that? In reality, our current circadian rhythms are already off. Humans are not meant to sleep 8 hours – at least, not consecutively. In the early 1990s, there was a psychiatrist by the name of Thomas Wehr who conducted an experiment that gave us some of the first substantial evidence to prove this. In it humans were plunged into darkness for 14 hours daily, lasting a month total. These humans did something that at the time surprised scientists but is now backed up with even further evidence, a wealth of history put together by Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech that tells us humans did not sleep 8 hours consecutively. So what did they do?
Humans naturally sleep in segmented periods. Typically, one will sleep for 4 hours or so and then wake. At this point, they will remain awake for up to about 2 hours and then go back to sleep for another 4 hours. In Thomas’s experiment, this is exactly what happened to the subjects. After 4 weeks their sleep schedules had all changed to a segmented sleep pattern! In fact, humans are not the only ones to do this. Pretty much every living thing sleeps in some kind of segmented fashion. As a licensed massage therapist myself, I can say that sleeping in the same position for 8 hours typically has adverse effects on the body. And there are many people who struggle to even remain asleep for 8 hours, often waking up and lying in bed wondering why they can’t sleep or tossing and turning while they try to force themselves back into slumber. The answer is, it’s not natural.
That being said, you’re probably thinking, segmented or not humans in the experiment and in history still slept 8 hours. So what is this 4.5 hour sleep crap? And how is this related to Asperger’s? We’re getting there.
Sleeping in more than two segments and for such a short amount of time is not necessarily natural. There are some humans who possess a gene which makes it so that they need less than 6 hours of sleep, but it’s estimated that only 5% of people possess this gene. Again, why do polyphasic sleeping? Well, besides the fact that you might be like me, who only sleeps 5-6 hours some nights anyway, again the goal of polyphasic sleeping is to change the way you sleep. First, segmented sleep is more akin to your natural way of sleeping. Second, polyphasic sleeping requires you to learn both how to fall asleep faster and wake easier. This is done not only by altering your sleep habits (such as reducing blue light before sleep) but by the act of cutting your sleep down. By doing so you are essentially forcing your body to adapt to less sleep, which means it needs to recover quicker and more efficiently. It may sound cooky but this will actually be my second attempt at polyphasic sleep, the first having failed mostly due to not having all the information I needed nor a good routine to keep me awake and productive. But that being said, once I did find my routine and start to adapt I noticed significant benefits.
It was only in the first week of segmented sleep that I realized I was more creative compared to either A) Staying up late to write and make music or B) Sleeping 8 hours straight and then writing/producing. I later also began to fall asleep much faster than I did before, sometimes falling asleep immediately upon lying down compared to 30 minutes to 1.5 hours of trying to fall asleep. Yet when I awoke, even my 20 minute naps started to feel longer and longer, as if I was sleeping much more. My days felt longer and suddenly, I came to understand that polyphasic sleeping might actually be perfect for someone like me, an Aspie with a horrible sense of time.
To give you an idea, my music production was moving at a pretty slow pace and because I was juggling work, my relationship, chores – I felt I did not have enough time to enjoy one of main hobbies to the fullest: gaming. So like most people I ended up feeling like I had to sacrifice my time; either from my mate, my gaming, my music production, or my own health and wellness (exercise, massage, etc.). But after starting polyphasic sleeping I essentially had not only an extra 3.5 hours in the day, but 5-7 extra hours in the day if you count the time it used to take me to fall asleep and the time I typically would lay in bed after waking from 7-8 hours of sleep. That’s like having an entire other work shift in your day, dedicated to what you want to do. At the end of a week, that’s another 35-49 hours of being awake. In other words, instead of having a 7 day week, it will feel like you’re essentially having a 9 day week! What would you do with an extra 2 days worth of time?
I took those 2 days as time to double my music production, including mastering, which is usually the least fun part of music for me. I actually began to touch my novel again after months of not writing a word, found the motivation and courage to prepare this blog after years of thinking about blogging, had time to play games while everyone else was asleep, and even took some 8:45AM morning shifts at work that I would NEVER have agreed to otherwise as I am not a morning person. I was even going to bed with my mate, who hated that I stayed up later than she did when I did not have a bedtime. Of course, I still woke up before she did (with or without segmented sleeping) but this time I was more alert by the time she woke up and was able to have hot cocoa in the winter, breakfast, and at times groceries already done for us both.
This may be a familiar experience to other’s with Asperger’s Syndrome but I have a horrible sense of time and unless something is in front of me, I do not even consider it. This makes it extremely difficult to complete tasks and spark the thought to start others. At the same time, as an Aspie I really like my routine, to the point that I sometimes become very upset if my plans are changed or disrupted. So adapting to segmented sleeping was simply a new routine, one that revolves heavily on a strict timely schedule. With this new routine I was now more aware of the time and how long I had to do things. I made better use of my time and truth be told I was actually gaming less than I did before but did not mind because the time spent on it was enjoyable and the time that was not was being used for other productive tasks. Partly due to the lack of concrete information around the subject but also because it makes you sleepy and likely to oversleep while adapting, I even cut back on my smoking of marijuana (done for medical and recreational benefit). Whereas I was smoking everyday several times throughout, I was now taking at least 2 days off and smoking much much less when I did (which of course provides a better high).
Like I said, I did fail my first attempt at a reduced segmented sleep schedule. But I was so excited upon the thought of less sleep (I hate wasting time doing so) that when I discovered polyphasic sleeping I jumped onboard and did not have the best understanding of certain aspects, such as the most critical: a strict sleep schedule. In other words I started off wrong and I also did not know my body well enough when it comes to sleep. For example, knowing when you will fall asleep no matter what if you lie that head down; even if for just a second. Or having multiple alarms on different devices so I cannot snooze through one alarm. It was things like this that added up to me oversleeping a few times throughout my first month attempt at segmented sleep, things that in retrospect seem to be handled pretty easily. So, instead of quitting polyphasic sleeping and losing the benefits I gained or continuing after oversleeping a bit too much (very bad as it actually adds sleep deficit), I decided to take a 2 week recovery. And how did that go?
While recovering I learned that I retained good sleep habits and knowledge. I kept to a bedtime instead of staying up until I could not anymore and I gave myself less time to fall asleep as I did not need it. I extended my blue light reduction to my TV as well, not just my computer and phone as I did before segmented sleeping. I was still mindful of what I ate before bed and I also had a better sense of time than before I started this. So, even if I had reverted back to the archaic (or new, really) way of mono-phasic sleeping, I would still be sleeping better right? To a degree, probably. But as the days went on I gradually noticed changes that were not favorable. From the first night of mono-phasic sleeping I was already feeling weird with my day, as if it was cut dramatically and I suddenly had much less of a life. At first I was sleeping maybe 7-8 hours (usually waking up once in between sleep) with no alarm but that soon started to drag into 9-10 hour sleeps. I then started to lie in bed longer and started to indulge in habits counterproductive to sleep again, such as playing games right up until sleeping and I of course went drinking the weekend I went out as you should not drink alcohol while adapting or throughout most of a polyphasic sleep life. By the end of the two weeks I was dreading mono-phasic sleep and could not wait to start a polyphasic schedule again. To each their own of course, but as an Aspie polyphasic sleep helped give me tools and structure to be more creative and productive with my time, as well as give me much needed alone time; time that mostly everyone else is asleep during and so is quiet and perfect for both hobbies and work.
Even if I were to fail again at E3, I would attempt E2 (two naps and longer core) and eventually biphasic sleeping (most natural way of sleep with 2 cycles) because I now have confirmed that sleeping 8 consecutive hours is just not what we are designed for. I have even spoken to many others and it is quite common to hear, “I feel tired when I sleep 8 or more hours”, “I often wake up in the middle of the night”, “I feel like I don’t have enough time in the day,” and many other comments that support the notion that mono-phasic is not the best fit for most people if anyone. Of course, modern society and work schedules may impede on one’s ability to have the ideal schedule, but this seems like it will work for me and it may for you too.
Nonetheless, I wanted to share my experience as an Aspie with polyphasic sleeping and I will continue to do so, along with other experiences and obsessions related to being an Aspie. Maybe another Aspie will be inspired to try polyphasic sleeping as well. Ironically, I did find others with Asperger’s in my polyphasic sleep support community (and joining this community also prompted me to join Asperger’s communities). And even if you don’t have Asperger’s, maybe you will be inspired to try a new sleep schedule. Remember, there are several variations and some will get you just as much sleep if not close to what you’re already getting now; you’ll just be sleeping more efficiently. If anything, I hope this at least inspires you to make a positive change with something in your life; to be more motivated, to try something new, be more productive or just adopt better sleep habits, as sleep is important! This is a new blog, but as always, I wish my readers the best. Good luck with whatever it is you choose to do and please come back to follow my journey.
– Indi (: