FAQ: Polyphasic sleep

Do you have a question about sleep and learning? Write to Dr Wozniak
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Most of the questions below refer to the article: Polyphasic Sleep: Facts and Myths, and to its followup: Polyphasic Sleep: 5 years later

Polyphasic sleep will not improve your cognitive performance
(anonymous, Jul 19, 2002)
I read about polyphasic sleep. Apparently it is excruciatingly hard to get it started, but once people did, they got higher average scores on cognition and recall tests. It makes sense. It's how animals sleep. Just watch a cat or dog. It's how babies sleep. I heard it is how Buckminster Fuller slept
You read only one thing right: polyphasic sleep is excruciatingly hard. It is not only painful to start. It is even more painful to sustain when your hopes of gaining a few extra hours per day lay down in ruins as you keep on your struggle with the natural sleep mechanism. Buck Fuller, Edison, Tesla and others might have had very strange sleep habits, but they certainly did not go far against their natural sleep needs. If they tried, we might still be a few years back with industrial development. You cannot follow animal sleep. Each animal has its own sleep pattern. You do not want to follow a nocturnal rat. Nor will you be able to sleep with one hemisphere on like a dolphin. Or sleep in a standing position or in flight (like some birds). The oscillator changes also as we age, hence we convert from polyphasic babies, to biphasic or nearly monophasic adults. Laboratory experiments consistently indicate that normal humans are unable to consistently sustain polyphasic sleep. What is worse, their cognitive performance in polyphasic sleep experiments is not better. It is dismal. Dr Claudio Stampi, who studies polyphasic sleep regimes, recommends polyphasic sleep for those who need to maximize alertness for a set condition of sleep deprivation (e.g. as in solo sailing). This cannot be confused with maximizing alertness overall. The formula for maximum overall alertness is: free running sleep. Most people are biphasic or even monophasic when they free run their sleep. Anything against the free running rhythm is bound to result in mental torture and cognitive deficit

The best way to minimize time spent sleeping is to free run your sleep
(Virgil, Monday, June 24, 2002 8:58 AM)
I've come across many evangelists for the polyphasic sleeping schedule (Uberman sleep schedule) as adopted by Edison, Da Vinci, etc. I've seen various modifications of both of their sleeping schedules: 

  1. Da Vinci method, briefly, required the person to operate on a 4-hour basis. At the end of every 4-hour wake phase, the person sleeps for 15-30 minutes 
  2. The modified version is called Cyber Sleep. The person sleeps between a half-hour to one-hour. The method also requires an extended sleep of 2 hours during the early morning period 
  3. Minors and Waterhouse (1981) proposed a method based on an 8-hour total sleep time. The anchor methods requires sleep to be "anchored" to an unvarying 4-hours of sleep every night at the same time, but allows the remaining 4-hours to be taken at any other time during the day, as the person desires. The "flexible" 4-hour portion must be used as a whole and not fragmented into component naps. 

Are these sort of esoteric and unconventional sleeping schedules good ideas to emulate or not? I would love to cut down on the amount I sleep
Polyphasic sleep is "recommended" only to those who want to contribute to the understanding of sleep at the cost of their health and intellectual performance. All forms of sleep enforced with an alarm clock will increase your overall demand for sleep. This means that: if you use an alarm clock, either (1) you will sleep longer or (2) you will feel more miserable. Artificial sleep schedules will dramatically reduce your mental capacity. A healthy individual in normal conditions will find it difficult to fall asleep 4 hours after the main sleep episode unless that episode was unnaturally cut with an alarm clock resulting in sleep deprivation. Polyphasic schedules are very appealing in theory, and many people try them out just to give up within a week or a month (depending on the ability to suffer through the mental misery). Those who try to adjust to any unnatural schedule will suffer an unspeakable torment of the mind. Polyphasic sleepers regulate their sleep with an alarm clock until they reach the breaking point. Human self-experimenting guinea pigs collapse into a sound life-saving 5-8 hour sleep towards the breaking point and then resume the polyphasic schedule with a sense of guilt. That sense of guilt is calmed with exculpatory terminology such as "weekend break", "re-energizer", "bonus sleep", etc. Polyphasic experimenters may happen to sleep less but their intellectual performance will be dramatically undercut. Some polyphasic sleep theories are based on the false premise that the body can adapt to any sleeping rhythm. Other researchers try to find a natural polyphasic rhythm that would minimize the pain of sleeping little. Scientists have studied the so-called phase response curve of the circadian rhythm, where the impact of various sleep affecting factors is shown to move the sleeping schedule forward or backward. The obvious conclusion is that we can rather painlessly move the major circadian low little by little in a desired direction. However, a healthy normal individual will not be able to chop the rhythm into a desired number of pieces. Monophasic sleep or biphasic sleep are the norm in healthy individuals. Biphasic sleep is rarely composed of two major sleep episodes. Usually it has a form of a major episode (nocturnal sleep) and a minor episode (siesta). What great inventors might have experienced is an irregular sleeping schedule in conditions of hypomanic excitement. In such conditions, sleep may become fragmented, but it will still not submit to a designer schedule. Great catnappers nap when they feel they need to. Often, they can accurately predict when and how much they will need to nap. If you want to minimize time spent sleeping and maximize your learning results: free run your sleep. Get rid of the alarm clock!

It is a myth that polyphasic sleep gives you more REM sleep
(Hermann Klinke, Feb 03, 2006, 16:17:52)
I think that you are mostly right with what you wrote in the article on polyphasic sleep. But there is one thing that you misunderstand: Ubermen try to eliminate all sleep phases but the REM phase, because that is the most important phase.
As there is no "Uberman science", one can only address a collective view of polyphasic bloggers, which is a mix of rumor, pseudo-science and misunderstood science. It is true that some bloggers claim that the goal of polyphasic sleep is to get REM-only sleep. As this goal is entirely implausible, the article addresses a more plausible variant in which the sleeper attempts to compress sleep stages through sleep deprivation and consequently gain waking time. The roots of the REM-only misunderstanding can probably be tracked back to old sleep models that have been rubber-stamped by mainstream sleep research.

Historically, the importance of REM sleep for memory and learning was documented before we became truly aware of the role of slow-wave sleep. Consequently, articles and books on sleep are peppered with an overemphasis on the role of REM sleep in learning as compared with SWS. Over time, REM deprivation studies received lots of criticism. Today, we know that the natural harmonious interplay of uninterrupted NREM and REM sleep is essential for memory, learning and creativity.  

Cruel sleep deprivation studies actually show that sleep deprived rats can live longer if REM deprived than if NREM deprived. Similarly, napping human subjects reported that it is Stage 4 NREM that feels most restorative.

In sleep deprivation induced by polyphasic schedules, REM sleep will occur faster due to sleep stage compression. Yet it is the slow-wave sleep that is the primary target of homeostatic upregulation strongly determined by the duration of prior waking. As REM sleep is far more associated with the circadian phase, its proportion in sleep will actually drop, esp. in naps initiated in the subjective evening period. You may want to study sleep models by Alexander A. Borbély and Peter Achermann, which nicely explain the mechanics of these processes. Laboratory findings seem to indicate that the drop in REM gradually recovers towards the baseline over successive days of sleep deprivation, but the reversal is never complete. In other words, you will get less REM sleep on a polyphasic schedule as compared with a free running schedule. This REM sleep diet is as much absolute (as measured in minutes) as it is relative (when compared with Stage 4 NREM). Getting more REM in polyphasic sleep is a widespread myth.

The problem of REM deprivation becomes more pronounced if you use an alarm clock when waking up from naps. By using the alarm clock, you statistically hit REM sleep more often as its proportion always increases over sleep time. This is why polyphasic sleepers often remember their dreams on awakening. That's not a sign you get more REM. It's a sign you are destroying your REM sleep. By using very short blocks of sleep, you affect REM even further by a strong homeostatic upregulation of Stage 4 NREM that displaces whatever REM you can get.

You probably know that alarm clocks are bad for sleep and for health in general. They also interrupt the natural memory consolidation and optimization cycles of sleep. This is explained in non-biological language in: Polyphasic sleep for dummies.

If you (1) do not fight sleepiness and (2) wake up from your naps naturally, the problem of sleep disruption does not occur. However, it is impossible to regularly fit a pre-planned polyphasic schedule without some help from alarm clocks. This comes from the fact that the only stable sleep patterns in healthy individuals are mono- or biphasic. Polyphasic sleep patterns may be stable and sustainable in various cases of hypersomnia. When the sleep control system is disrupted and the homeostatic sleep component works in overdrive, frequent napping may occur and be recommended (e.g. narcolepsy, infection, medication, etc.). Also a degree of sleep block fragmentation may also occur as a result of stress, social life, excitement, staying up late, etc. Those disturbances may occasionally allow for days with more than one nap occurring naturally. If you give up the alarm clock, you take away the major culprit that makes polyphasic sleep unhealthy. However, without an alarm clock, it is your body that will decide the sleep schedule, not your pre-planned "rationalized" schedule graph.  

If your goals is to get many naps with lots of REM, you might want to know that more than two naps with solid REM sleep are diagnostic for narcolepsy - a disorder that can turn the life of sufferers into a misery.

Some reading on the subject of the link between sleep stages and learning:

It's a pity that polyphasic sleepers, instead of studying the subject, prefer to dig "wisdom" from fellow bloggers and engage in a stultifying game of gossip that does not advance our understanding of sleep hygiene

Adults cannot emulate baby sleeping habits
(Alex Gordia, Feb 05, 2006)
Why all this rant against polyphasic sleep? Don't babies sleep polyphasically? There is even a saying about good sleep: "to sleep like a baby"
First of all, babies sleep for far many more hours than the alleged polyphasic sleepers (say, 16 hours instead of 3). Secondly, the polyphasic sleep pattern is lost gradually as soon as in the first year of life. Try as you might, you cannot possibly keep sleeping polyphasically, nor for 16 hours, unless you are seriously sleep deprived. Thirdly, babies do not use alarm clocks to shred their sleep to pieces. Last but not least, polyphasic sleepers (despite a widely circulated myth), lose REM sleep in the first order. Babies, on the other hand, may get as much as 60% REM, without which their cerebral cortex would not even develop correctly (as evidenced in sleep deprived kittens). The origin of the rant comes from the potential damage that may result from further dissemination of the myths surrounding polyphasic sleep

Caffeine levels won't affect instability of polyphasic sleep pattern
(Aigars Mahinovs, Feb 06, 2006, 11:21:01)
Could avoiding caffeine beverages help in adaptation to polyphasic sleep?
Because of a relatively slow elimination of caffeine and its impact on adenosine receptors canceling homeostatic sleepiness, ingesting caffeine later than 5-7 hours before a nap will make taking a nap more difficult (except cases when ingestion takes place directly before a nap).

It is true then that avoiding caffeine shall make taking multiple naps somewhat easier. Yet it won't remedy the problem of grogginess when waking up in  subjective night. The problem with polyphasic sleep is the asymmetry of the circadian cycle (which is only marginally affected by caffeine), and a slow build up of homeostatic sleepiness. Even complete abstention from caffeine will not generate sufficient homeostatic sleepiness without a degree of sleep deprivation. Reversely, taking drugs that would activate adenosine receptors would result in sleep patterns that would rather resemble narcolepsy than polyphasic sleep. That would go precisely against the goal of polyphasic sleepers, which is to sleep less. Polyphasic sleep pattern is inherently unstable, and changing levels of caffeine will have no bearing on this fact whatsoever

As for normal healthy sleep (which polyphasic sleep is not), abstention from coffee is not necessary, but all caffeine drinks should be optimally taken only within the first hour after awakening

Vegan diet will not significantly change your sleeping habits
(Aigars Mahinovs, Feb 06, 2006, 11:21:01)
Can vegan diet help entrain polyphasic sleep? It is well known that herbivores sleep less
The short answer is: No. Vegan diet will not help you sleep polyphasically. The long answer is:

Your family doctor will not instantly spot the damage resulting from polyphasic sleep
(H., Feb 03, 2006, 16:17:52)
I know bloggers who adapted successfully to polyphasic sleep. One is also doing regular checkups with his doctor to make sure polyphasic sleep is not harmful. No damage has been found.
Your family doctor's ability to detect trouble on polyphasic regimen is not much different from his ability to see trouble in a novice smoker. The damage is not done instantly and it is not obvious. Moreover, a big part of the damage is the opportunity cost. It is not only what you have done to your health, but also what you have not accomplished as an individual due to your reduced mental capacity. Even less so, can your GP detect long-term effects of possible damage at the neural level and neural function to your long-term growth and intellectual accomplishment. Things you do not learn today may change the entire course of your life. No one can estimate that cost. Even substantial neural damage in Alzheimer's disease is not easily diagnosed, and it does not become obvious until you are in advanced stages of cells loss. 

Visiting your GP for a checkup is always a good idea. However, it is pretty useless in hope of preventing damage done by polyphasic sleep. 

Most of bloggers who claim success with polyphasic sleep seem to have trimmed their standards of satisfactory alertness and creativity. When statements such as "my successful experiment" and "groggy" come together, you can be certain that "the experiment" does not effectively maximize their alertness and productivity. There might be also many other explanations; however, none of these is the disappearance of the natural circadian rhythmicity that makes polyphasic sleep impossible.  

Taking more than one nap per day quarrels with productivity goals
(Placebo, Feb 09, 2006, 04:57:04)
I am experimenting with polyphasic sleep (blog). You claim that having more naps adds no benefit. This I believe to be patently wrong, as adding extra naps is what eased my difficult stretches.
You are right that in polyphasic sleep, every extra successful nap will be preciously helpful in restoring your mental energy. Even in a normal sleeper who is not sleep deprived, an additional nap is likely to bring increased alertness and improve mental performance. What is not true is that we should strive at having many naps during our working day. If your goal is maximum productivity, and if you sleep well in the night (i.e. you are not sleep deprived), then any nap attempt at times other than the siesta time will be wasteful. More often than not, you will not even manage to fall asleep. Resting with your eyes closed does not yield a fraction of benefit of an actual successful nap. Moreover, even if successful, an extra nap forced in in the morning is likely to interfere with your afternoon nap. Similarly, an evening nap may result in shortening the night sleep. Those extra naps may bring incremental improvement in performance, but will reduce the overall efficiency of sleep. Our biphasic nature makes it quite clear, we should take a single nap in the afternoon. For some people, even this will be too much, and monophasic pattern is their optimum

Your polyphasic sleep experiment is doomed to fail
(Placebo, polyphasic sleep blog, South Africa, Feb 09, 2006, 12:35:49)
If you could convince me somehow that everybody fails at it and I cannot be any different then I might give up [my polyphasic sleep experiment]. One thing I've learnt about science is that theories can and often are wrong. I respect science, and part of science involves attacking a theory. I can do this by testing it. It's about reward and risk. At worst it takes me some time to correct my sleep patterns again. The reward is far greater than the risk in my opinion, and leads me to be a human guinea pig :) I've already shown that polyphasic can be successful for a short period of time. But it is by no means plain sailing. Now I would like to see if I can turn that around.
Your willingness to change the dogma is praiseworthy. The willingness to become a human guinea pig led to numerous discoveries in the past. Yet you should always look for areas where you stand a reasonable chance of success. If a number of areas of science "conspire" to tell you that your effort is doomed, if a number of researchers in controlled conditions produced discouraging results, if you have evidence for the whole concept to be a product of human love for myth-making, if your background equips your poorly for the job (knowledge of sleep physiology would dramatically improve your chances), if you know your plan is injurious to your health, your choice may only be explained by insufficient study of the subject. With the right attitude, your potential discoveries will not be undermined if you devote a few months of intense study to this issue. Without some prior investigation, we might all live in a dreamland of efforts directed exclusively at telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation or levitation. The world of "dreamland science" would stagnate. Nobody would work on mundane aspects of food science or material chemistry. We do need crazy researchers ready to waste their lives for a dream. Those people produce paradigm shifts and they will teleport objects one day. Some great discoverers avoided priming their brains with current research in fear of becoming biased. Yet statistically, knowledge is beneficial. And the status quo, makes it easy to predict that your efforts will bring no fruit. 

Please use SleepChart to track your progress. It would be highly beneficial for your experiment if others could see and comment upon your SleepChart data and your homeostatic sleep graphs (note that circadian graphs are useless in polyphasic sleep due to the fact that you regularly interrupt sleep with an alarm clock). 

Link to your site will be published at supermemo.com (Feb 15, 2006).

Polyphasic Sleep article is biased
(Hong Sio, July 25, 2006, 16:30:24)
From your article on polyphasic sleep I would say you are somewhat biased. Perhaps what drives this view most strongly is the humor section, where you isolate bloggers' comments. It may serve to ridicule, but not for someone who is searching for empirical evidence which is quite scarce. The "for dummies" section did not help that impression one bit. Perhaps another approach toward your argument would be to agree with polyphasic sleepers that those naps go straight to REM sleep. And from that point, provide evidence as to how non-REM sleep is important to the growth and maintenance of the body
The article is as biased against polyphasic sleep as you would expect an article written by an oncologist to be biased against smoking. 

The article emphasizes the fact that extracts from blogs are added for purely comedic reasons. The simple reasoning that demonstrates that polyphasic sleep cannot be entrained is presented much earlier in the article (starting with "To sleep or not to sleep polyphasically"). You do not need "for dummies" nor "excerpt" sections to understand "the evidence" you are looking for. The evidence is not exactly "empirical" as there have been very few attempts to study polyphasic sleep in a lab (sleep researchers are rather interested in "serious" matters, not "teenage fads"). Yet a few simple facts of chronobiology will help you understand that the concept of "refreshing polyphasic sleep" is just an urban myth that spreads like wildfire in sleep-deprived and phase-shift maladapted community of young students and programmers.

The articles explains that "going straight to REM" is a myth (see also this FAQ). As for the importance of NREM for learning, you will find a plethora of scientific and popular scientific articles on the net (at supermemo.com, you can have a look at Good sleep, good learning)

Polyphasic sleep looks different before you begin your trial
(kuactet, USA Educational, Wednesday, August 16, 2006 2:10 PM)
Having read your article about polyphasic sleep, I am totally unconvinced. The only thing that all of the people who failed at polyphasic sleep have in common is this: they did not follow the procedure. They either a) fell asleep when they shouldn't have, b) overslept, or c) did something completely unexpected and irrational. For example, I quote, "I thought... I'd try by starting to gradually redistributing my sleep to 6 periods throughout the day". If there is a procedure which works, you should follow the procedure instead of going ahead and doing your own idiotic thing because you think it might be better. The procedure is go cold turkey, and follow the sleep schedule. If you want to demonstrate people that have failed at polyphasic sleep, you have to show me people that have followed the procedure and failed, not random people that failed at whatever they wanted to do instead of polyphasic sleep.
The argument against polyphasic sleep is entirely biological. Knowledge of chronobiology tells us polyphasic sleep is impossible. Personal stories included in the article were added for comedic effect only. They are obviously no proof one way or the other. 

Perversely, one could say that there is another thing all polyphasic beginners have in common. Before their trial, they all subscribe to your reasoning above. Once they read wild claims of the power of polyphasic sleep and blogs with (untrue) claims of success, they build a model of the adjustable body clock. Depending on the sources, beginners will choose a polyphasic schedule that is said to have been working for someone or allegedly for everyone. Needless to say, no such sleep schedule can ever succeed. The next step is the transition attempt. Again, depending on the sources, a polyphasic adept may believe going cold turkey is better, or gradual adaptation is better. Whichever the path, the outcome is inevitable: sleep deprivation, problems with oversleeping, problems with the adherence to the schedule. No wonder, all those who tried polyphasic sleep will inevitably look for errors in their approach and look for possible modifications to the schedule. At that point they become cannon fodder for those who are at the beginning of the road. After all, for the believers in the adjustable body clock, those struggling individuals may appear weak, and their experimentation, as you say "idiotic". 

In other words, you can either study the biological argument against polyphasic sleep and give up, or you can plunge into your own time-wasting experiment and soon begin your own experimentation that others will call "idiotic". In the end, the outcome is preordained

You cannot improve your mental output by sleeping less (#12668)
(David C., Dec 24, 2006, 10:10:54)
I generally agree that you should not try to sleep less, but even you will agree that sometimes less sleep is better (i.e. wake-up at the end of a cycle versus wake-up later (more sleep), but in the middle of 90 min REM-NREM cycle)
It might be better to have one sleep interrupted at the shallowest sleep stage as opposed to a deeper sleep later on. However, it does not affect the simplest sleep optimization strategy: sleep as much as your body needs.

In normal healthy conditions, you will always naturally wake up at the end of the last natural cycle of sleep. Healthy conditions include absence of stress, correct sleep hours, quiet and comfortable sleeping environment, etc.

Polyphasic sleep article is non-scientific (#23135)
(David Nelson, Jan 24, 2009, 01:02:27)
I just read your article on polyphasic sleep and found it to be fairly non-scientific in its claims. You state "It is possible to shift the sleep phase, but it is not possible to change the length of the healthy sleep block without inducing sleep deprivation". This statement is factually incorrect. You make so many assertions with little evidence to back them up. I'm not convinced. Have you heard of the Pirahã people? From Daniel Everett's field reports, every member of the tribe rarely sleeps more than 2 hours per day. I personally know several people that demolish your standard of required sleep. Thus I think you should research the subject further and re-think your criticism of the subject. Otherwise know that you will be ridiculed just as badly as the people whose failed accounts you supply in your article
It would be more precise if an article stated that: "scientists do not know any natural biological mechanisms that could be practically used to reduce the length of sleep blocks without a detriment to health". In this case, obviously, the absence of proof is no proof of absence. Such mechanisms can be found at any time. If you believe you know scientific facts to the contrary, please list them and they will be promptly referred to in the article. We can hormonally reduce the length of sleep blocks (e.g. by stress). We can use an alarm clock (including the natural brain clock based on the release of ACTH). We can sleep in a wrong phase. We can reduce the homeostatic sleep drive (e.g. with coffee, reduced learning, limiting exercise, etc.). All unnatural ways of shortening sleep time, will induce sleep deprivation, which is a function of the degree of the interference with sleep. The net is buzzing with anecdotes that "demolish" the above claim, but no established scientific fact can be used to the same effect. Piraha people example should certainly be of interest for sleep science. However, the inaccessibility of the tribe leaves little room for research beyond speculating on a report by a missionary. A report could be a simple exaggeration. It could also be an example of the dominance of culture over physiology (as is the case with the "polyphasic sleep" crowd). We know of many mutations that affect circadian cycles, and it is conceivable to see a strong prevalence of a specific gene in an isolated population. However, this would make Piraha sleep depart far away from the standards well established in our primate group. In short, sleep habits of a westerner would have to be further from a Piraha member than from an orangutan.

Nobody yet mutated into a monster as a result of using an alarm clock (#23046)
(Kop, Jan 13, 2009, 14:43:22)
In your polyphasic sleep article you write that "Alarm clock is bad for you". The vast majority of people in developed countries (I would say more than 95%) uses an alarm clock regardless of their sleep schedule. An alarm clock is as needed for monophasic sleepers as it's needed for polyphasic sleepers. Take the alarm clock away from a typical person and they won't just wake up on their own at their desidered time and they will miss work, school, or whatever. An alarm clock can't be THAT bad for you because of the simple fact that most people use it and I never noticed any problem with them :) Everyone in my family has been using one since they were children, and no one suddenly went crazy or began to mutate into a monster (yet)!
When you use an alarm early in the morning in order to get to work or to school, you cut off the later stages of sleep. If the intrusion into natural sleep is not large (e.g. from minutes to an hour), the damage may be limited. Alarm clock will do far more damage in a polyphasic sleeper who is disrupting sleep at unpredictable points in both circadian and sleep cycles. You can compare the use of alarm clocks to smoking or eating hot dogs. The harm is not great enough to be instantly noticeable. It took the public many years to largely accept that "smoking is bad" or "fast food is bad". It is hard to quantify the degree of damage. However, as we move to knowledge society where our intellectual performance becomes increasingly important, the effects of sleep deprivation will come under closer scruity and alarm clocks are bound to gradually fall out of favor. Unlike hot dogs, they are already universally hated by their users. Note also that the actual regular use of the alarm clock in the population is closer to 50%. Many people are able to adapt their sleep to their schedules if their routines are regular enough. Those people rarely or never need to resort to an alarm clock.

Chronobiologists cannot be neutral towards polyphasic sleep as a lifestyle
(Scott, Feb 03, 2010, 05:21:18)
My main problem with your article about polyphasic sleep is the way you demonize polyphasic sleep so entirely. You are the first to admit that no real scientific study has been performed on a human subject, so the scientific viewpoint should be one of agnosticism.

If a physicist was asked about the possibility of teleportation through the exercise of human will power, he would not remain agnostic either. There is no need to take on a fruitless study of mental teleportation if it totally defies the ABC of physics taken from the primary school. If your physicist heard of people jumping off bridges in an effort to teleport, he would go a step further and issue a loud warning.  

By analogy, ABC of chronobiology should tell one that polyphasic sleep is not feasible without incurring sleep deprivation and possible serious health effects in the long run. The article does not paint polyphasic sleepers as evil or diabolic. It only attempts to sound a clear warning to those who become interested in the concept.

Incidentally, there has been quite a deal of research done into sleep deprivation, shift-work and even polyphasic sleep itself. You might have picked a statement from the Comic Relief section: No researcher could ethically subject that many individuals to the mental torture of polyphasic schedule (many readers skip "meatier" portions of the text and focus their criticism on the part that was included for a humorous illustration of how painful polyphasic sleep can be). That statement was to emphasize that even if regular sleep interruptions might be interesting to investigate, there are ethical limits to research that is likely to be harmful to human subjects in the long run.

Polyphasic sleep: Constructive Criticism
(superborred, Apr 10, 2010, 12:18:50)
In reference to "Polyphasic Sleep: Facts and Myths": From what I have read of it, I have concluded to myself that you have in fact tried polyphasic sleep, but did not last very long in the process. I think that, not to be rude or disrespectful, your opinion is very biased and your blog is not fit to be read. I think that you are bashing everyone who would like to try or has already tried polyphasic sleeping. Your blog is not aptly named. I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you, and I hope you will consider rewriting this blog from an unbiased point of view or even trying polyphasic sleeping. I await your reply paitently
No. I have never tried polyphasic sleep, and I will likely never try it. I consider polyphasic sleep a very dangerous lifestyle choice. Luckily, due to its unsustainability, the habit is self-extinguishing. Trying polyphasic sleep would be similar to trying "lemon juice diet", which is also a fad backed up by pseudoscience. ABC of biology tells me both are seriously unhealthy. There are no plans to rewrite the article, however, a followup will address some of the confusion generated by the original article.

Triphasic sleep
(Brrr Cold, Sep 20, 2010, 10:02:17)
What are your thoughts on triphasic sleep? One main phase approx 6 hours with two 30 minute naps after meals: 00:00-06:00, 12:00-12:30, 18:00-18:30
Like most of artificial ways of making the sleep system work to your design, this schedule is not likely to be efficient in the long run. Most people are strongly biphasic, and only biphasic or monophasic sleep works well for adults (see Optimum napping times for an exemplary graph). However, if you throw away the second nap, you will be pretty close to a natural biphasic rhythm. You will do far better on 0:00-6:00 and 13:00-14:00, even though, designer schedules should never be recommended. If you can sleep at your desired times, you could best download SleepChart, plot your natural sleep propensity, and figure out your optimum sleep hours. The suggested biphasic schedule with an hour-long nap at 13:00 could be your starting point. However, the schedule determined by SleepChart, would be the ultimate destination.

Polyphasic sleep for a 15 year old boy
(Keelan Nobrega, Sep 20, 2010, 19:57:51)
I want to know what you think about me doing polyphasic sleep. I'm a 15 year old boy who already requires very little sleep. I usually get 5-6 hours daily, and even if I try to sleep in I wake up after around 7 hours. I'm fairly smart and my creative output is very good. I tried sleeping polyphasicially a year ago and only made it 5 days before I decided to stop because of all of my friend's worries. Before I stopped though, I realized that I was getting less and less sleepy between 3am and 6am (which were the only times I had problems staying up all night). But I also felt a little weaker throughout the day. I was thinking it was because I needed more food, since I was also getting more and more hungry. I went from being able to eat 4 slices of pizza to 7. What do you mean my creative output will be diminished? Is it just hard to think like when you try thinking late at night? Or will my brain just be more stupid?
I believe that polyphasic sleep is pretty unhealthy, and should particularly be avoided at such a young age when your brain develops very fast. If you were less sleepy at 6 am on polyphasic sleep, and more tired during the day, it can probably be best explained by a shift in your sleep phase. This means that the period in which you are most sleepy simply moved to a later hour. Sleep phase will behave unpredictably in polyphasic sleep as your brain gets bombarded with contradictory information when trying to differentiate the day from the night. We have been programmed for millions of years to differentiate between the two. Polyphasic sleep makes it impossible. Your being more hungry may be unrelated to your actual energy expenditure. In sleep deprivation or in sleep phase disorders, your brain will do many strange things. Weaker immune system, problems with thermoregulation, and errors in the appetite control system are hallmark symptoms. As for your creative output, on polyphasic sleep, in poorly designed shift-work, or in sleep deprivation, you will be less able to come up with novel ideas and less able to solve problems. Your "hard thinking late in the night" and being, as you say, "more stupid" are equivalent here. It is the loss of the capacity of your neural networks to organize information that makes thinking hard late in the night. If your creative capacity is reduced, you can colloquially call it "getting more stupid". In that sense, we all get "pretty stupid" late in the night, only to wake up "smart" and refreshed with new ideas. However, to get this nice effect, you need to sleep smart. Primarily you need to sleep at the right time (as indicated by your body clock), and you need to let sleep run its natural course, i.e. without terminating it with an alarm clock.

A degree of adaptation occurs on a polyphasic sleep schedule
(Bryan Estes, Wednesday, August 04, 2010 7:15 PM)
Dr Stampi writes: "many experiments have provided direct evidence that adult humans have a surprising ability to adapt to different types —and different levels —of polyphasic sleep-wake behavior." This stands in contrast to your article about polyphasic sleep
Dr Stampi's statement is general enough to be correct. For example, compression of sleep stages is a form of adaptation. This does not imply that an individual will be able to take multiple natural naps during the day. A consensus emerges in sleep research that, in healthy adult individuals, multiple Edisonian naps require a degree of sleep deprivation. Without deprivation, initiating sleep becomes pretty hard. "Multiple naps" should be understood as "more than one after consolidation", where "consolidation" is a process in which multiple naps spaced closely together are counted as one

Twenty years after Dr Stampi's book, we now more about sleep
(Bryan Estes, Wednesday, August 04, 2010 7:15 PM)
While you acknowledge Stampi's significance in the field of sleep research, you don't explain your specific points of disagreement in the article. You do quote from Stampi's book, to show that he is a prudent enough scientist to issue a caveat to those inclined to make hasty conclusions from his intriguing findings; but this is alone is insufficient.
Specific points of disagreement are included in the article, even though perhaps not stressed enough. It needs to be said that we are now armed with 20 years of extra research into sleep models, chronobiology and the neural functions of sleep. From that advantageous perspective, the main two areas of criticism would be (1) the insufficient emphasis on the importance of the circadian component in determining the optimum sleep schedule, and (2) overemphasis on performance tests that rely on the homeostatic component of sleep. When Dr Stampi writes "the 4-hr ultradian cycle of sleep-wake pressure previously described may be an important factor in allowing adaptation to polyphasic patterns", he is not wrong; however, for optimum mental performance the optimum sleep schedule should follow the circadian cycle first of all.

3 naps schedule
(Isaac Park, Aug 15, 2011, 16:00:31)
Would three, 3 hour naps spaced evenly around the day be equally unachievable as Uberman sleep?
All designer sleep schedules should be avoided. Longer naps will probably do less damage than short naps. Fewer sleep episodes will probably work better. However, if your sleep episodes do not align with your circadian needs then they will lead to the same damaging situation as the polyphasic sleep: circadian chaos. If you want to sleep well and be productive, choose biphasic sleep, monophasic sleep, or free running sleep, whichever works best for you, and whichever you can afford. Free running sleep synchronized with the daylight cycle is the healthiest. Once you free run, you will determine quickly if your prefer to sleep biphasically or monophasically.

Is NeuroOn a half-a-million dollar polyphasic fraud?
(Bill Andted, Thu, 19 Dec 2013 15:33:50 -0800 (PST))
I saw your article about polyphasic sleep after seeing this NeuroOn project on Kickstarter. I think the people spending money on this should see the research you did on the topic- there's tons of money going into something that is going to disappoint a lot of people after they find out how awful trying to do polyphasic sleep really is. They also list all the "historic polyphasic sleepers" that you debunk. Have a look and maybe help spread the scientific truth.
I am pretty sure, there will be dozens of disappointed supporters and users of the NeuroOn mask. Even though the goals of the project seem valid at their core, the comments at Kickstarter tell me, the perception of the project is entirely skewed. NeuroOn is a powerful generator of unrealistic expectations.

There have been a dozen of mysterious mask products in the shady area of pseudoscience surrounding accelerated learning and enhanced sleep. The appeal of those products must be visceral. It permeates our culture. From Batman and Spiderman to WWF and UFC. Marketing success of magic masks is undeniable. Recent explosion of support for NeuroOn mask by Polish Intelclinic on Kickstarter must in part be a result of the magic of the mask. The second powerful ingredient is another powerful meme: the polyphasic sleep. As I have been combating the polyphasic sleep myth for a decade now, the growth of the pledge for NeuroOn was proportionally reflected by the flow of mail in the subject with questions about the feasibility and sensibility of the mask.

In short, if the mask can play a role of a simplified portable polysomnograph, I would love to see it work well and feed data to our SleepChart software for further processing. The electronic part sounds exciting (to my uneducated eye). Moreover, if the company can truly convert the financial backing into top-notch software for processing the obtained data, and modeling sleep, the device can potentially revolutionize public understanding of sleep and circadian rhythms.

The big question is: Will it? Having spent untold hours on modeling sleep, I am painfully aware how difficult modeling is in the simplest case: natural free running sleep. The authors of NeuroOn took on a far more ambitious goal of modeling sleep in condition of chaos. Busy life, intermittent naps, sleep deprivation, sleep phase violations, playing with REM:NREM ratios, etc. This all makes it pretty difficult and if the kids from Poland can pull it off, it might be a Nobel-level achievement.

If my modeling, inspired by work of Alexander Borbely, is compared to predicting the movement of waves in a small bucket, Intelclinic aims at throwing in a dozen of toys in the same bucket, mixing in some oil and gravel, and throwing the bucket on the rollercoaster. Computing the motion of water particles in such circumstances is possible. However, it is extremely difficult. The team wants to use the tools of artificial intelligence, which seems like the best pathway for such enterprises. On their project Gantt Chart, software takes the biggest chunk of time. This is good news. However, if Intelclinic indeed succeeds in 6 months, I will personally feel dumb and inadequate with over a decade of investment in sleep modeling with just a tiny fraction of the success level charted for Intelclinic.

The project itself raises a lot of red flags that double my skepticism:

All in all, I cannot help but remain skeptical. The users will certainly be disappointed. The backers will probably regret their investment. The company will probably be successful. Even if they do not put their science right, their marketing is stellar. As for the science part, in theory, success is possible. In theory, I would love to plug in Intelclinic devices and feed SleepChart models. Sadly, I bet 4% that this will ever happen. However, one of the goals of the creators is to increase popular knowledge about the importance of sleep. The mere fact that they managed to initiate a stormy debate is a good beginning towards that goal for all those who are ready to study the subject in question

(update, Oct 2015: the expected delivery date of mid-2014 came and went, the company seems to be judiciously moving away from polyphasic sleep towards combating jet lag; this is a bit more realistic but the overall aura is not good)

GH in polyphasic sleep
(Billy Feller, Thursday, September 27, 2012 18:38 PM)

I'm 17 years old and I want to begin polyphasic sleep. I'm scared it would make me stop growing so I wanted to know if I could just take some hGH pills. And if it's possible how can I know how I should take these hormones. Please just answer my question because I really want to do that for the time I will gain and to know how it feels like, if I see it's not for me, I will stop so you don't need to tell me not to do it


Polyphasic sleep is as much likely to stop you growing as smoking. It is simply unhealthy and its impact on your biology is hard to predict. Remedying it with growth hormone would be as helpful as trying to prevent damage cause by smoking using growth hormone injections. Neither polyphasic sleep nor growth hormone are a good idea.

Note also that if someone is selling you hGH pills, they are most likely a hoax. hGH will not survive the digestive process and cannot be taken orally. At worst, you might be getting pills marked HGH that might mean an entirely different drug (e.g. hydrochlorothiazide as in this picture).