Leonardo's sleeping tactics

I remember reading somewhere that Leonardo da Vinci developed and adopted a sleeping rhythm where he slept only like 15 minutes a pop several times / day and managed to create marvellous art and inventions with only a couple hours’ total sleep. Then some 400 years later a scientist adopted the Leonardo Method with excellent results and only stopped following it after he realized he had nothing to do with all those extra waking hours.
Does anyone have any details about this, and, of course, is the whole thing a hoax?

Well, when Kramer tried it, he woke up in the East River, so I’d say it’s not such a good idea.

I remember Kramer trying it, with hysterical results.

Crazy as it may seem, I tried it! After going through that I’d have to say… it’s a myth (note: not a hoax, a myth).

After 3 days I just HAD to sleep for more than those 15 minutes. I just couldn’t go on! But it was an interesting experiment nonetheless. You can ask me for details if you want.

After those 3 days I kinda “adjusted” the sleeping pattern and managed to reduce my sleep from the regular 8 hours to around 3-4 hours, segmented around the day. I went on like that for 3 months…

Overall I’d say that the Leonardo experiment may be helpful for a short period of time if you really need that extra work output. But not any longer than that.

Still, that’s my personal experience.

If you would care to take the trouble to give those details, I would love to hear your story. I’ve always been intrigued by this Leonardo myth, but never went as far as to try it. So, what happened?

Gimme details! I know nothing anout this beyond what I wrote above. Where did you learn about this? Who was the scientist? Are there any books about this? Thanks in advance.

Supposedly Edison did the same thing. Cat-napped whenever he needed it, then woke up and went on inventing.

In college I worked full time and went to school full time and so I used to sleep 4 hours only and then take 20 minute naps through the day. It actually worked well for me and I would do it now if it were feasible.

I actually carried out this “experiment” between April and July 2002.

I don’t remember exactly where I heard about the experiment, but then I did some web research and got to know the supposed underlying theory.

I don’t know if it’s really scientific or not, but the whole thing is based upon the following premises. I’m not claiming that any of this is true (though some of it is), just that this is the theory put forward:

  • Our sleep cycle is regulated by a certain “biorhythm”; we progress through NREM 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM etc.
  • NREM 4 sleep is considered “restorative” (i.e. a “good night’s sleep”).
  • If you time your sleep well, you can drop directly into REM, then NREM 4 sleep, without going through the entire cycle.
  • Just a little bit of NREM 4 sleep (70-90 minutes a day) is enough to get you rested.
  • You hence eliminate the need for NREM 1, 2, 3 sleep which the theory considers “useless”.

Now that’s the concept, but the implementation is something else!

My motivation to start with this “experiment” wasn’t particular intrigue with the theory, but rather that I needed more time! I was working on the business plan for a start-up at the time, and I was on a very tight schedule. So I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a shot…

I’ve gotta run now, I’ll be back for more details soon…

Do you mean ‘feasible’ or ‘necessary’? And if the former, why is it not feasible?


I mean feasible. Napping during the day is frowned upon in every place I have ever worked. So to sleep 4 hours per night and then nap every few hours through out the day is just not feasible. I would be chastised, at the least, fired at the worst.

Is it possible to go into a deep enough sleep to dream in such a short time? And, if not, wouldn’t that have some adverse psychological effects?

well, being a narcoleptic, I can definitely state that it’s most certainly possible to drop into dream sleep in a short period of time. When I was being tested to determine if I had narcolepsy or not, one of the tests they conduct is called an MSLT (Multiple Sleep Latency Test). After a complete night’s sleep hooked up to electrodes (a polysomnograph) to eliminate sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and the like as issues, I stayed hooked up to the 'trodes. I was then made to take a nap every two hours for twenty minutes.

On average, I was asleep in 3 minutes and in dream sleep in 6-7.


Well, in a post above I talked about the supposed theory. The first day I started with the “experiment”, the one thing I noticed most is that I have just way too much time on my hands! Were I not already busy at the time, I think I may have gotten bored with nothing to do.

Of course there’s also disorientation when it comes to day/night. We’re used to counting a “tomorrow” as “when I wake up from my night’s sleep”. With this sleep pattern you really confuse your todays and tomorrows.

The second day I actually felt more alert and more energetic. For some reason sleeping less made me more alert rather than less. I made sure to avoid things that would make me sleepy (heavy food, warm milk, warm showers, etc.)

A difficulty of the experiment is that you HAVE to sleep for those 20 minutes every 3 or 4 hours. Even if you’re not sleepy, you have to sleep. And it has to be JUST 20 minutes. No snoozing – just getting up as soon as the alarm rings.

By the third day things went a bit awry. The first thing I noticed wasn’t sleepiness, but rather body aches. I seems that eventhough the sleep was “clearing my head” it wasn’t resting my body enough.

Part of you that never pain start to pain (e.g. my fingers and toes!) Add to that, I already had pretty bad RSI problems with my back and shoulders (coz of too much computer usage).

Towards the end of the third day I started getting sleepy, really sleepy. I just had to get more than 20 minutes of sleep, so I just went to bed and guess what? I slept for just 2 hours and got up on my own. (I expected to sleep for the regular 6-8 hours).

After this I re-adjusted my sleep timings and went by for another 3 months with 4-5 hours of sleep a day… but that’s another story and a different “experiment”…

I managed to get into “Thomas Edison Sleep Mode” for a couple of weeks during exam week at school, and years later during big projects at work.

People (at least me) really do have two different sleep modes. After staying awake almost around the clock for way too many hours, I found that I could sleep from 1 to 20 minutes and be fully rested. Sometimes major sleepyness would come on suddenly and I’d have to stagger out to my car, only to feel a “zap” and wake totally after only a few minutes of sleep.

It took me many days to get out of this “mode.” I could go to sleep at 11pm and then wake up one or two hours later, filled with energy and with a head full of ideas to write down. This wore off over weeks until I was waking up at 8AM rather than 2AM.

One major down side of all this: the “Edison Sleep Mode” seems to greatly resemble the triggering of a manic episode (as in Bipolar Disorder.) Think about it: high energy, high creativity, and sleeplessness. The three times I’ve done it, it was followed by months of mild or not-so-mild depression. It was as if the “high” state uses up some sort of brain resource, so it’s followed by a “low” state where this resource is lacking. The sleepless “high” state is also self-limiting. It feels great so I’d prefer to stay that way forever, but after a few weeks I hit a wall and start seeing the edge of classic sleep-deprivation psychosis, where dreams start to invade waking reality and my normal assumptions of what other people are thinking about starts to slip towards paranoia.

I suspect that all human brains are capable of the behavior normally called Biploar Disorder. With most of us it doesn’t happen by itself, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be triggered. I can see how this would be extremely valuable evolutionarily. It’s the “hunted, on the run” state, perhaps common during warfare over the millenia. You have to think yourself out of tight situations to survive, and you can only grab bits of sleep occasionally. There seems to be a brain switch which, once flipped into that mode, persists that way without effort.

Yes, IF you’ve been deprived of that level of sleep for a while. Your body kind of prioritizes that Level 4 sleep above the other ones, and if you haven’t had that kind of rest in a while, you go through the other kinds much faster (or not at all).

Maybe it’s me, but it often takes me a long time to fall asleep. If I only had 15 minute periods to sleep in, I’d probably still be trying to get comfortable when I was supposed to wake up. I’d end up passed out on a desk or something.

bbeaty: I went to doctors about 5 years ago to try and determine why I was having insomnia so bad I could barely function. My regular cycle was, go five days without a wink of sleep, start hallucinating, and then pass out for 20 hours.

Each of the five days I would try to sleep, which amounted to me sitting in bed thinking about all sorts of things, not at all close to real sleep. When I took a sleep study to determine that I wasn’t narcoleptic, I went to a psychologist and was diagnosed as bipolar. The feeling of getting fully rested from a few minutes of sleep is exactly the feeling one gets while in a manic state.

By “to determine I wasn’t narcoleptic”, I meant “to determine I didn’t have sleep apnea”.

Even I can’t explain that one. :slight_smile: