I don’t get it. You go to bed late, wake up early, and still have so much energy! I kind of hate you
With these words, she turned off the lights and kissed me good night. I then went into the living room, did some sit-ups, wrote the next blog post, did some editing and watched a few tutorials on YouTube. The next morning I woke up fresh and full of energy, smiling at her grumpy face as I handed over a cup of coffee. This got me thinking.
I might have just found a quick and simple way to squeeze more time out of every day.
The fight against sleep
Ever since I was a kid I’ve disliked sleeping. Back then it was because my parents made me do it. Lately, it’s because sleep is stealing time from me.
Time is a scarce and precious resource that I want to use how I want. And sleep is this annoying thing that is getting in my way every day. Sadly, sleep is also something I need to function properly. My body is so sensitive to lack of sleep that 2-3 sleepless nights will inevitably cause me to catch a cold.
But I wasn’t prepared to give up 1/3 of every 24 hours without a fight. I was determined to find a way of controlling my own time. So I started researching sleep cycles and patterns, looking for a way to have more time at my disposal every day.
Massage and mojito anyone?
Your sleep is just a repetition of the basic sleep cycle. One such cycle lasts about 90 minutes and typically looks like this:
Phase 1: transitioning into sleep ~ 1-7 mins.
Phase 2: first stage of true sleep ~ 10-25 mins.
Phase 3: deep sleep ~ 20-40 mins.
Phase 4: dream sleep a.k.a. rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
REM sleep is the one you want. And not just because it’s the only time when you get to sip mojitos under a palm tree surrounded by 20-year-old blondes that are only interested in your personality. It’s also because this is when your brain is doing maintenance work. So while you’re enjoying an imaginary Thai massage, your brain is improving your learning skills and consolidating memories.
Can I have some more of that?
I found several studies showing that a high REM/total sleep ratio gets you a lot of benefits (cognitive, executive, creative, and more). So that’s my aim — more of the good stuff! And less of the long and unnecessary foreplay. (This idea refers to sleep, don’t go applying it to other bedroom activities)
I’ve tried different approaches, but the most effective one was polyphasic sleep. This means that you don’t have just one large chunk of sleep per day (monophasic sleep), but break it down into several short episodes of sleep. This way you will get more REM sleep in less time.
Think of it like comparing The Big Bang Theory to The Hangover: you get the same amount of laughter, just faster and in smaller bits.
More massages, less foreplay, and improved memory — who can say no to that?
Getting back control over your time
Here’s the key to designing your own polyphasic sleep schedule and taking control over your own time:
1 nap = 1 sleep cycle (90 mins. of “normal” sleep)
So for every nap you take, shave off 90 minutes of your night sleep. Let’s say you normally sleep about 7.5 hours per night. For starters, reduce that to 6 hours and add a nap during the middle of your waking period. So if you’re awake between 6 AM and midnight, take a nap around 3 PM. To get an idea of what this looks and feels like, you can read my sleep log.
Cutting your normal sleep by 1.5 hours will result in self-imposed sleep deprivation. But don’t panic, this is exactly what we want. It will jump start your afternoon nap: you skip the foreplay and jump straight into the sweet dreams of REM sleep.
This way the benefits of 90 minutes of sleep are crammed in ~20-30 minutes of napping. After that, you should wake up refreshed and full of energy, ready to kick ass during the rest of the day.
Need even more time during the day? No problem! It’s surprising how much time you can win by just following the rule mentioned above: cut 90 minutes of night sleep and insert one nap during the day. Here are some popular schemes of polyphasic sleep:
Monophasic: 8h asleep / 16h awake
Biphasic: 6.3h asleep / 17.7h awake
Everyman: 4h asleep / 20h awake
Dymaxion & Uberman: 2h asleep / 22h awake
The good, the bad and the zombie
Are you ready to take control over your time? Good. But there are a few things you should keep in mind when using polyphasic sleep
The good part is that you can design your own sleeping schedule (and call it “the mojitoman” if you like). You’re not limited to the schemes above. Tweak them to your liking, as long as you follow the main rule: 1 nap = 90 minutes of night sleep. I have a personalized triphasic version called “The Nightshift Doctor” (4.5 hours of night sleep + a nap after the night shift + a full 90 min. cycle in the afternoon before entering the night shift).
The kind-of-bad part is that you have to find your ideal nap duration. It varies with every individual but should be around 20-30 minutes. It depends on how tired you are and how fast you can fall asleep. You will get better at this as you practice. Set your alarm clock for 30 minutes and see how you feel. Play with the duration until you wake up refreshed and full of energy. That’s your sweet spot! Take a note and use that nap duration from now on.
There has to be a cost for all those massages and tight bikinis, right? Well, there is. And it’s not in $ or €, but in discipline. You must never nap for 40 minutes or more. After 40 minutes you’re in the deep sleep phase and waking up will make you feel like you’ve had far too many mojitos.
Also, the more fragmented your schedule is and the more naps you introduce, the more discipline you need. You must take your naps at approximately the same time every day. And whatever happens, do not skip a nap if you’re on a scheme with 3 naps or more. It will make you feel like a walking zombie and you will wish you had never tried this stupid program. That’s why I would reserve Dymaxion or Uberman as an emergency solution and only use them for a limited time.
The final problem
Now that you know how to take control over your sleeping schedule, go out there and make the most of it! Don’t forget to let me know how it went and what cool stuff you did with all that extra time. Write it all in the comments below, I promise to read them all.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us – Gandalf the Grey
This post originally appeared on Optimize My Life