This post is a part of my Personal Development Project for May 2016.
TLDR; Yes, you have to sleep for a lengthy period every day. Ideally 6-9 hours at night.
Sometimes I feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. And I like to think that I do a pretty good job of managing my time. My life is filled with valuable activities. I take my time drinking a cup or two of tea every day, I like taking walks and going for bike rides, I like meeting up with friends, I like listening to music, and I like sketching with graphite and charcoal. I also like doing productive things like reading and writing and even working.
I’ve gotten good at recognizing when I’m bored. Whenever I feel that I’m not being intentional or engaged in what I’m doing, I stop and think of what I’d rather be doing. And then I go do it. So even if I’m not doing something productive, I still make sure I’m doing something valuable in an active and engaged way.
Once I cut all the boredom and valueless activities out of my life, it was pretty awesome. I felt great because at the end of every day, I would think, “Wow, today was a great day!”
This has been going on for the past several weeks, but now I find myself thinking not just, “Wow, today was awesome,” but also, “Man, I wish I had more time to do X and Y and Z”. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do!
I’ve read in the past that “sleep cycles” typically last 90 minutes. So the time we spend sleeping should be a multiple of 1.5hours (ie, it’s better to sleep for 7.5 hours than 8 because it’s bad to interrupt a sleep cycle). Often times my sleep cycle is interrupted by an alarm in the early hours of the morning. I have a tendency to stay up late to finish my reading or writing or programming or whatever rather than just leave the work for the next day. And so because I have to get up at 6:30 every day for work, I have to fall asleep at 11. This rarely happens. My sleep cycle lately has been consistently interrupted. I feel groggy when this happens. It’s hard to get out of bed.
Despite my interrupted sleep cycles though, I generally feel most energized in the morning. I’m a morning person, there’s no doubt. And I’ve found that I’m most creative and productive in the morning up until I eat lunch at around 1 or 2pm. In the afternoon, I usually feel a bit sluggish or lazy. I can’t read in the afternoons because my focus is way down, and writing usually takes a lot longer too. It’s best if I’m “on the clock” in the afternoon, otherwise I choose to just spend time drinking tea and passively watching TED Talks. And then after dinner I usually feel a new wave of energy that sometimes extends past a decent bedtime.
So given that it’s best not to interrupt sleep cycles, coupled with the facts that 1) I feel best right after wake up and 2) I want to do more productive stuff, I wondered if it’s possible to take several naps throughout the night/day instead of sleeping only once through the night. It sounds insane, right?
Because it is insane. It’s a terrible idea.
After a lot of Googling, I’ve determined that taking multiple naps instead of a good night’s sleep is a really bad idea. Here’s everything I’ve learned about sleeping after some 5 hours of reading about it.
Monophasic vs biphasic vs polyphasic sleep patterns
So there are three type of sleep patterns. Monophasic is the pattern that most of us subscribe to — we sleep once for 5-9 hours (usually at night). Biphasic sleep is the “siesta-style” sleep pattern. You take a short nap in the afternoon in addition to sleeping through the night. And then there are several different kinds of polyphasic sleep patterns (where you take multiple naps throughout the day and/or night), but research shows that all of these patterns are unnatural and not at all healthy. Humans are only meant to engage in monophasic or biphasic sleeping. And you can’t condition yourself otherwise without ruining your alertness, creativity, or health.
I’m not going to go through all the different types of polyphasic sleep patterns that people have come up with because after all the research I’ve done, it’s clear that they’re not at all healthy or effective. If you’re interested in reading about them for yourself, go ahead and Google it.
People seem to think that you can train your body into a routine where it sleeps in short bursts every couple hours (ie, for 30 minute intervals 6 times a day like in the “Uberman sleep cycle“). That’s what I assumed too when I first started researching this. But apparently, that’s a myth. The only way that it’s possible to train yourself to take lots of short naps without an alarm clock instead of sleeping through the night is if you’re seriously sleep deprived. And if you have to use an alarm clock to maintain your napping pattern, you’ll soon become sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation impairs your alertness and ability to think critically and creatively. You don’t want to be sleep deprived. However, I learned that if you must work under conditions of sleep deprivation, if you have no other choice, then it’s best to take frequent, short naps in order to maximize your alertness, according to the Italian sleep expert Claudio Stampi. That statement by Stampi is often taken by polyphasic sleepers to mean that polyphasic sleeping is just as good as monophasic and biphasic sleeping, but that’s not true. Stampi is also recorded as saying, “There is no evidence that by playing with sleep deprivation, you can increase your creativity.”
So really, we should all be getting a good 6-9 hours a night. The only viable sleeping patterns are the monophasic and biphasic ones.
Other fun facts
We shouldn’t put off sleeping for more than an hour when we feel tired. The more tired you are, the less alert you are. That means the work you do won’t be as good as if you were alert and well-rested. So do yourself a solid and get to sleep when you’re start feeling tired!
To get a good night’s sleep, you have to feel both physically and mentally tired. That is, your energy has to be low and your body clock has to say “go to sleep”. If your body isn’t telling you it’s bedtime, you’re gonna have an awful time falling asleep (which is probably why insomniacs have a hard time sleeping). If your tank of mental energy is empty, your body is just going to sleep until it’s full again (just a quick nap). To get the best sleep, your body has to feel like it’s bedtime and your mental energy has to be low.
- Winston Churchill
I read that a lot of people claim that biphasic sleep helps them perform most creatively. It makes sense to me, especially when I think about how I feel day-to-day. In the afternoons, I’m usually low on energy. I don’t feel like doing much. My preference is always to do something passive and simple. So it makes sense to me that if I take a quick nap in the afternoon when I start to feel sluggish, I may see an increase in productivity.
What I’ve Learned
So I started looking into polyphasic sleep cycles because I wanted to find a way to increase my productivity. It turns out that polyphasic sleep is a terrible solution to increasing productivity. And also, it’s become clear to me that there is never enough time to do everything. We have to pick and choose what we spend our time on wisely. Most of the time, we can maximize our time by cutting out the bullshit (like how much we use social media). But other times, it really is a matter of “do I want to do valuable activity X or valuable activity Y?”.
Ultimately, life is too short to stress out over questions like that. Just pick something. Do something. Don’t waste too much time deliberating or worrying. And don’t do something stupid like try to take six 30-minute naps throughout the day instead of a good night’s sleep.
Another reason I thought it would be valuable to split up my sleeping is because it’s easier to organize uninterrupted periods of 90 minutes than one 7.5 hour period. That is, I thought polyphasic sleeping would make it easier to get through the full 90 minute sleep cycle uninterrupted. But since polyphasic sleep is a terrible idea, I just need to be more intentional about going to sleep on time at night so I don’t interrupt my 90 minute sleep cycles.
The last thing I’ve gotten out of all this research is inspiration to try out this biphasic sleep cycle and see how it affects me. If my schedule allows it, I’ll try to take a quick nap in the afternoons when I feel my productivity and focus dropping.
Even though it turns out my napping idea was a very bad idea, I’m still glad I thought of it and took the time to research it. I learned a lot about healthy sleeping habits and unhealthy sleeping habit alike. I’m glad I can call this post “Bad Idea Monday” rather than “I Feel Like Shit Because of Massive Failure Friday”.