It is 3 o’clock in the morning. I don’t know where I am. The last two hours had been an empty, unknowable darkness.
I hear sounds like a medieval battlefield. Swords clash, horses gallop, men shout. I stagger forward, trying to catch myself. I’m very confused.
I am in the apartment; my apartment, I think. Totally confused, hallucinating. I want to throw up. I look at my cell phone: three missed calls, all from my wife, asleep in the bedroom.
I’m exhausted. What is happening.
I stumbled into the bedroom and woke my wife.
“Did you call me?”
“I heard you left the house. Where have you been for the last two hours?”
I’m taking a break. I am confused inside.
“I do not have any idea.”
Sleeping like Superman
It’s been about 10 years since I tried polyphasic sleep. It was an unmitigated disaster.
Most people, myself included, sleep with a “monophasic” pattern these days. Normal sleep. Seven to eight hour stretches followed by 16 hours of sleep.
Polyphasic sleep is designed to break the sleep pattern into more manageable chunks and reduce the amount of time spent snoozing. Usually this breaks productivity: eight hours is a long time to put yourself out of commission. If you can sleep less and be just as effective, why not try?
There are different types of polyphasic sleep schedules.
The “Everyone” table is the simplest. This allows for one three-hour nap, supplemented by three 20-minute naps throughout the day — effectively reducing eight hours of sleep to just four hours.
At the other end of the spectrum is the brutal “Uberman” chart.
No big naps allowed with the Uberman polyphasic sleep schedule – only 20-minute naps. Days are divided into four-hour periods. You stay awake for three hours and 40 minutes, then you sleep for 20 minutes. Then you do it again… and again… as far as you can take it. That’s the equivalent of two hours of sleep a day — if you sleep every second of your dreams, you probably won’t.
That’s what I’m working on. My plan: Do the Uberman polyphasic sleep schedule for a total of one month.
I continued for a week.
When it comes to polyphasic sleep, the mileage tends to be different. Those who took it out have accounts. They claim that after a transition period of about a week, the body adapts and gets into a rhythm. Apparently, 20-minute naps send you straight into full REM sleep, and you’re awake, energized, ready for three hours and 40 minutes of hard productivity.
It didn’t happen to me. Not exactly.
Well, it did and it didn’t.
In the beginning, polyphasic sleep was relatively easy. Like taking a big overseas trip, getting little sleep on the plane. You know that endlessly exhausted feeling, stumbling through customs to baggage claim like a zombie in search of brains? That’s how I felt — at least for the first few days.
It also felt a little cool Staying up early in the morning, playing video games or working on side projects, finding ways to escape sleep, like letting a small child stay awake before bed. I quickly took a sickening pride in what I was doing. Dead asleep in their primitive patterns, these normals couldn’t understand what it felt like to evolve beyond the need for regular sleep.
Of course, I was tired, but dreams gave me strength. I had two small beds. One in my apartment’s spare bedroom and one in a storage closet at work. I remember my co-workers laughing at me as I approached my strange little closet holding a brown sleeping bag. The whole production was a lot of fun.
Until it doesn’t.
The first significant signs of fighting occurred within about two days. I remember walking on the train platform on my way to work, when – out of nowhere – I completely lost my balance. I tripped and almost fell into the train line. I left the station shaken. How did that happen? I thought I was walking…
Later that night I went for a walk in the dark, tired and broken. I took the brunt of what felt like complete depression, circling the local park in the middle of a cul-de-sac. It was a strange, oppressive pressure that I had never felt before or since.
Everything felt infinite, impossibly huge. Insurmountable.
It’s hard to explain. When you sleep normally, days have an end and a beginning. If you’re having a bad day, get into bed, pull the covers over your head, and write. “Tomorrow is another day,” you tell yourself. There with polyphasic sleep does not another day. The days are endless. I grossly underestimated the impact of this.
I wandered through the park with a pair of dead eyeballs inside a sunken, retarded brain, empty and empty. I was walking aimlessly in the dark, sobbing and trying to hold myself back.
I didn’t laugh at jokes for days.
I knew jokes were being told. I understood the punch lines. But the synapses that connect to the required physical output are broken. I would tell my wife I loved her, out of compulsion and instinct, but it would take seconds for the words to resonate. I would look in the mirror and feel detached from my features. My body did not belong to me. I was driving like a crude puppet.
But then, on about the fifth day, I had a breakthrough.
I woke up. I felt better. That day at work I saw a joke on Twitter and he laughed out loud. I went home, hugged my wife and was satisfied. I was euphoric at being connected to my body again. I started laughing. Tears streamed down my face.
“I feel normal again,” I said. My wife shook her head.
“You forgot what normal is.”
A few days later, everything fell apart.
I was having a rough night. Physically, I was just many tired The renewed energy I felt a few days ago has evaporated. I wasn’t necessarily dealing with the psychological pain of it all, I was just seeing – on a very primitive level – the impossibility of staying awake.
There was a small gym in the basement of my old apartment building. Things got so bad that I got down there and walked non-stop on the treadmill trying to wait out the waves of fatigue. I had only one goal in mind: get to the next nap…get to the next nap…get to the next nap.
At 2 a.m. — somehow — I fell asleep again.
I was only supposed to sleep for 20 minutes, but my next conscious thought occurred two hours later, around 4:30 am.
I woke up – without even looking at the clock – with the energy of someone who knows they’re late for work. I immediately stood up, lost my mind. I looked at my phone. Three missed calls and two texts from my wife:
“Where are you?”
“Did you leave the house?”
Both texts were received while I was not consciously awake.
What happened? Did I leave the house in a state of fugue?
I began to hallucinate. I was panicking, but I quickly calmed down. I can handle this, I told myself. I can reset it. I just need to get to my next scheduled nap. I tried video journaling to distract myself.
During my polyphasic sleep experiment, I recorded a video journal every night about my mental and physical state. The video I shot that night is a tough watch. I stutter, obviously confused. I’m almost lucid and I can see myself in real time – trying to figure out what’s going on.
During the video, the alarm, which I didn’t even remember setting, went off at full volume.
Who set this alarm? Who hell build this excitement?
I closed the video magazine and grabbed my phone. That’s when I saw it. Someone – probably me for the last two hours was not conscious – I had changed all the alarms I had painstakingly set to go into my phone and track my sleep. The signals were all completely different.
It’s almost as if Tyler Durden’s secondary self was deliberately trying to sabotage me, Severance-style, to stop this stupid dream experience in its tracks.
In that moment — confused, confused, sobbing — I decided to call it quits. At 5:04 a.m., I crawled into my bedroom, curled up next to my wife, and fell into the deepest sleep of my life. I slept more than 13 hours. The comfort was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
My dream experience is over.
Never at once
In the weeks and months that followed, I often imagined myself trying polyphasic sleep again. It felt like unfinished business.
I made a few glaring mistakes that made it difficult for me to transition from my regular sleep schedule to the Uberman schedule. Back then, I was downing about six cans of Pepsi Max a day. I didn’t give my body time to handle the caffeine intake and it almost made it difficult for me to sleep on command.
But in retrospect, it all seems ridiculous. A pointless challenge driven by male ego vanity and the need for a pointless “bodyhack”. Weaponized toxic masculinity in its purest form.
It made for a good story though.
About five years into my internship, a television producer came across my live blogs and invited me on television to discuss my experiences. It was an Australian panel show. They invited people from all walks of life to discuss their strange dream experiences with experts in the field.
When it was my turn to tell my story, one doctor — a 20-year veteran of sleep research — began to shake his head disapprovingly. He put his head in his hands as I began to discuss my hallucinations.
That panel included men and women with real, genuine sleep problems. People with insomnia could not control teenagers who dropped out of school because of abnormal sleep patterns. There were people struggling with narcolepsy and night terrors. And then there was me: a LifeHack Bro who fell asleep for a laugh. I felt like a fool and a fraud.
That night, after the show, I promised myself that I would never have polyphasic sleep again.
Thankfully, I didn’t see any long-term effects from trying the Uberman schedule. Within a week everything was back to normal.
But I never always again he took the dream for granted.