Polyphasic Sleep: The Return to Monophasic

After doing polyphasic sleep for about 5-1/2 months, I finally decided to switch back to monophasic. I made the decision about 10 days ago and have already returned to Bearsville. I went back to my previous pattern of being an early riser. So now I sleep about 6.5 hours a night and wake up with an alarm at 5am every morning.

Why the return to monophasic sleep?

First off, this definitely wasn’t a clear-cut decision either way. I could just as easily have kept going. As previously noted in my extensive log entries, there were many things I really liked about polyphasic sleep. Obviously the extra waking time was great. But there are some drawbacks to polyphasic sleep that ultimately led me to decide to discontinue this pattern. The drawbacks should be easy to understand even if you don’t try it personally, so I don’t think any of these will surprise you.

First off, let me say that I didn’t decide to stop for health reasons. To my recollection I didn’t get sick even once while sleeping polyphasically, not even a cold. My energy and alertness were excellent once I made it through the adaptation period. A lot of people asked me about weight training and exercise — I didn’t have any problems there either. My recovery after workouts was just fine. Perhaps the post-workout nap had a positive effect.

I also didn’t decide to stop because of the general weirdness of polyphasic sleep. It took me many weeks to psychologically adapt to this pattern of sleeping, but I did eventually adapt. It gave me a whole new perspective on the passage of time. I saw time as passing continuously rather than being chunked into individual days. That was such an interesting experience.

The #1 reason I decided to call it quits is simply that the rest of the world is monophasic. If most of the world was polyphasic, I probably would have stuck with it. Obviously when you go polyphasic, you fall out of sync with the way other people live. You’re awake most of the night while everyone is asleep. If you sleep like most people, then the hours you’ll gain from polyphasic sleep will come in the middle of the night. And as I gradually learned, nighttime hours are not the same as daytime hours when you live in a monophasic world.

At first I rather liked the novelty of this new way of living. I enjoyed having all that alone time. It was great for writing, since I’d never be interrupted. But after several months, it began to wear on me. Although I gained those nighttime hours, I also lost about 90 minutes during the daytime because of my naps. So that meant less time to interact with people while they were awake. There were times when that wasn’t such a desirable trade-off.

At first it was fun doing things at night. Las Vegas is a decent place to be polyphasic. I played poker late at night a few times, and that was fun for a while. But even though this is a 24-hour city, most businesses still close at night, and most of the available nighttime activities don’t interest me. My family and friends are all asleep at night, and I don’t know anyone locally who’s up all night and isn’t working. And I already spend enough time on the Internet. So ultimately I was left with many hours of alone time. Working at night was OK, but I like bouncing ideas off my wife during the day, and that wasn’t an option at night. Also, if I worked at night, I didn’t want to work during the daytime too. I tried that and quickly grew weary of 20-hour workdays. Working at night meant being out of sync with people who worked during the day, like missing business calls and such. Also, I really enjoy working with sunlight coming in through my window as opposed to using artificial light.

Another challenge was that I had to take my naps fairly regularly, every 4 hours on average. I could stretch the time between naps every once in a while, but if I did that I’d have to make up for it later with more frequent naps. Suppose I want to begin working on a project, but I have a nap coming up in an hour. I didn’t want to start the project knowing that I could only work an hour before having to nap. So I tried to shuffle my work around to coincide with my short waking cycles. That became somewhat annoying because I used to enjoy working 5-6 hours without a break. I didn’t like chopping all of my work into 3.5-hour blocks, and I often found the naps were getting in the way of my flow state. This wasn’t a very resilient pattern because if something unexpected came up, it would throw off my schedule, and I’d have to take naps while I was in the middle of a task like writing an article, which broke my train of thought.

Whenever I wanted to do anything socially, I had to bracket those outings with naps on both ends. I got a bit tired of having to do this. I could never just up and leave. I always had to nap first unless I was only going to be out a short time. Also, I’d often be both hungry and sleepy when I returned unless I ate while I was out. My outings often took the form: nap-outing-nap-eat. I like being spontaneous at times, but you can’t be too spontaneous on polyphasic sleep without negative consequences. That really cramped my style.

I also missed sleeping with my wife. However, she really liked having the bed all to herself at night. She said she never slept better. She actually didn’t want me to go back to monophasic. But what I really missed was having 90 minutes less with her while she was awake. Our time together was often interrupted by my naps, especially the one at 9pm. For example, we couldn’t start watching a movie together at 8pm without it being interrupted by a nap intermission.

So really it was the combination of all these niggling factors that led me to decide to return to monophasic sleep. There are some things I really loved about polyphasic sleep, and there are some things I found very annoying. But now that I’ve adapted back to monophasic, I have to say that it’s still not clear who the winner is. I can’t say that I’ll never return to polyphasic sleep if my circumstances change. But for right now, for the kind of lifestyle I want to have, monophasic sleep is just a little bit better. So it’s back to hibernation mode for me. 🙂

What was it like switching back to monophasic?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to switch back to monophasic. It ended up taking me several days to re-adapt. I started out by going to bed with my wife one night and trying to sleep until morning. I only managed to sleep a few hours. I kept waking up, but when I couldn’t sleep I just quietly meditated instead. It was a long, slow night. The next day I tried to skip naps, but I wasn’t very successful. I still got sleepy at my usual nap times and took three naps. The second night was slightly better — I was able to sleep longer, maybe 4-5 hours total. Each day/night saw more adaptation, and over the next few days, I reduced my daytime naps from 3 to 2 to 1. Eventually I was able to go the whole day with no naps. I’m not quite 100% re-adapted yet, since I still need a daytime nap sometimes, but it’s close enough. I may actually keep the early afternoon nap, since I still find it very refreshing. I am sleeping a good 6.5 hours at night now, although I still wake up once in the middle of each night. Last night was sort of funny because I actually fell asleep twice while my wife was talking to me. 🙂

I’m sure some people would rather see me continue with polyphasic sleep — I was amazed at how popular it’s become and how many people have wanted to try it. Although I opted to blog about this experiment publicly, it was something I chose to do for personal reasons. So try not to be upset that I won’t be continuing as your friendly neighborhood polyphasic guinea pig. As I stated at the outset, my main reason for trying this was curiosity. I wanted to know what it was like. Now I do. 🙂

Hopefully I’ve shared enough detail throughout this experiment that anyone else who wants to try it will find the archives very helpful. Even so, this was an individual experiment, and as such its applicability to other people may be limited. I’m not particularly close to the average in many areas (vegan, left-handed, colorblind, ENTJ, guy who thought Bush was an idiot before he was elected, etc).

Polyphasic sleep was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done but also one of the best growth experiences of my life. I’m really glad I did it. I’m sure there will be more wacky experiments yet to come… all in the name of personal growth. It’s going to be hard to find something as exciting as this though. I’m open to suggestions (unless you happen to be pissed off that I’m no longer polyphasic, in which case you should seek counseling or perhaps eat some carrots).

So would this be a good time to tell you that the whole polphasic sleep thing was just a big joke? April Fools and all that? Remember that if you’re polyphasic, it’s still the same “day” as April 1st, right?

Don’t worry — I wouldn’t do that to you. While I do appreciate a good joke now and then, this isn’t a joke, although many people seemed to have a hard time believing it at first.

Edit 4/14/06: For your convenience, here are links to all of my polyphasic sleep log entries in order (each link will open in a new window). This is a treasure trove of free information for anyone interested in learning about my trial of polyphasic sleep. To my knowledge these are the most detailed polyphasic sleep logs you’ll be able to find anywhere on the web.

Sleep well!