Is there a way to sleep less?

In today’s classic column repost, Cecil discusses D.E.'s dream of getting less sleep. One thing I’d love to see him look into is polyphasic sleep patterns. I’ve seen some discussion of that on these boards and elsewhere, but all I ever seem to see are anecdotes from allegedly successful users, and research studies that didn’t actually study polyphasic patterns specifically (just sleep deprivation in general). Does anyone know of any relevant research? Is this an interesting enough topic to attract the attention of the World’s Smartest Human?

I sleep 5 to 6/12 hours on weekdays and usually no more than 7 1/2 on the weekends without an alarm clock or other things (like kids or pets) waking me. I function just fine. If I dip below 5 hours one night, I’m OK during the day but tired earlier the following evening.

Not sure polyphasic or even biphasic sleep would work for me–when I occasionally take naps during the day I do not wake refreshed but am dragged out for the rest of the day. Maybe this is something that has to be developed. Anyway, agree that it is a topic worthy of the Great Mind.

Purely anecdotal, but this column reminded me of the boss I had for my work-study job in college.

Jack had been in the Navy during WWII, and learned to get by on 6 hour of sleep or less per night. As he told the story, after the war (and his discharge), he thought to himself, “I wonder how little sleep I can get by on, and still function well? After all, time spent sleeping is time wasted.”

So, he started to experiment. He started with a regular routine of 6 hours of sleep per night. He then cut back to 5:45 per night, and still felt good during the day, so he cut back to 5:30. He gradually cut back on his per-night sleep, noting that he was still feeling good during the day, until he got to 4 hours per night. At that point, as he he told me, he felt that any less sleep would be “pushing it,” so he didn’t try for less than that.

When I worked for Jack, in the 1980s, he’d been doing this for over 30 years. His routine was that he and his wife would watch The Tonight Show, then turn in (11:30pm, as this was in Central Time). He’d then wake up at 3:30am (apparently, his wife had learned to sleep through his alarm), go downstairs, make a pot of coffee, and start working.

By the time his wife got up, around 7am, he’d have gotten in 3+ hours of work already. He’d have breakfast with his wife, get dressed, and head in to the office.

Jack was, undoubtedly, an unusual case…and I suspect that, in part, he was chemically fueled. The man would have several pots of coffee during the day, as well as a 4-pack-a-day cigarette habit (switching off between Lucky Strikes and unfiltered Camels). :eek:

Didn’t Kramer on Seinfeld once try to start sleeping twenty minutes out of every hour?

I’ve been doing polyphasic sleep for several years now, due to my shitty graveyard schedule. I just can’t sleep during the day, so I take several hours long naps throughout the day. I normally sleep about 2-4 hours in the early day, then 2 hours just before I go to work. I sleep a half hour at lunchtime since it’s so dead I just eat lunch during work.

On my weekends I revert back to a normal sleep schedule and sleep around 9 hours a night. Hey, it works for me.

I was reading up on polyphasic sleep recently. I’m sorry I don’t have a list of cites, but it was basically summarized thusly:

  • Popular strategies are biphasic (7ish hours of anchor sleep, 1 hour afternoon nap), triphasic (go to bed early, wake up in late evening for a little while, go back to bed), dymaxion (30 minutes of sleep every 6 hours), uberman(20 minutes of sleep every 4 hours)
  • 2 or 3 sleep phases per day is OK. More or less than that and you are compromising mental function at some point during waking, Basically you have the option of experiencing the midafternoon crash once a day for an hour, or spreading it across multiple waking phasese
  • More than 3 sleep phases is not sustainable for most people and requires engaging activity in order to keep it up (military operations, for example). Even so, mental activity is degraded.

So the upshot is, it’s good to find a chance for a nap or two in the daytime, but there’s little point in pursuing multiphasic sleep unless you are involved in some sustained high-intensity activity.

The Uberman Sleep Schedule, featured here on Cracked.

See, now that’s the sort of thing that I was looking for–a research citation from a published journal.

Say, what’s Cracked’s impact factor? :stuck_out_tongue:

I learned that the key is the sleep cycle. We go in about a 90 minute cycle from wake to deep sleep back up to light sleep. As long as you wake up at the top of the cycle, you wake up refreshed. That is more important than the number of cycles.

I’ve routinely slept 4.5 hours of sleep per night for over 25 years, but occasionally do 1.5 or 3 hours, and rarely 6 or 7.5

That is also why if you take a nap, it is better to do a short nap 20 minute or less (so you don’t go too far down into the trough) or a full hour and a half. Do a 45 minute or hour nap and you wake up feeling more tired, not less.

There was a book I read early at the beginning of my sleep experiments titled the “Sleep Management Plan” which was the basis for how I’ve done it.

Benefit: By sleeping 4.5 instead of 8 hours per night, I gain 3.5 hours per day, equivalent to 4 extra days per month, 53 extra days per year.

If I live to be 100, that gives me 6 extra years of life - NOW, when I can use it in my prime, and I don’t even have to eat right or exercise!

Well, it does link to all sorts of articles who, sooner or later, will link to the Lancet, so there.:slight_smile:

While not exactly scientifically vetted, you may find this worthwhile:

Yep. He woke up in the middle of the Hudson River in a sack.

I get by on 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night with a long nap on Saturday followed by a 4-hour night. That makes for some sleep deprivation during the week, but I deal with that with a daily 7-minute ‘flash’ nap. No alarm, I’ve trained myself to awaken just after I hit REM sleep. (As soon as I realize I’m dreaming, I wake myself up). I find that I’m refreshed and alert for another 6 hours minimum. But I do notice that I’m prone to becoming very sleepy after eating bread or other simple carbohydrate foods. this may be an endocrine thing…but it’s most noticeable on my borderline sleep-deprived state.

That’s a lot more Internet-surfing and game-playing time for me to enjoy!

When I was in college, I only slept about 4 hours a night, but anytime I had 15 minutes to kill, I would take a nap. Never more than 15 minutes, though. I probably got 2 or 3 naps in per day. I felt fine. After I got out of school, I went back to normal sleeping, and I feel lousy unless I get about 8 a day.