Can I get more time by sleeping less without going crazy?

2010-04-04 12.07.18Last week I was reading an article on titled 5 Ways to Hack Your Brain into Awesomeness (that’s about as close as I can get to self-help without barfing). The very first tip was about something called Uberman’s Sleep Schedule, detailed here and here. You may recognize the basic concept from an episode of Seinfeld, where Kramer tried something similar. It seemed to work for a while, but then he fell asleep during sex and slept so hard that his girlfriend thought she’d killed him and had him thrown into a river.

And while I definitely don’t want that to happen to me, I can’t stop thinking about the concept. How many times have you said, “I wish there were more hours in the day!”? I said it just yesterday! At this moment I have a lot of balls in the air: I have literally 11 blog posts half-finished that I started in the past week. I have to pack for a big trip. Our house is being appraised in a few weeks and still needs a lot of work, most of which will be done by me. My daughter’s birthday party is coming up and needs a lot of planning and coordination. And the kids’ school’s biggest fundraiser is also very soon and I need to learn an entirely new system for handling the money, via some online seminars that I don’t really have time for this week. And that’s on top of all of the normal every-day stuff that also has to get done.

Well, it sounds like I could get all of that done and more, if I were willing to try a crazy experiment.

[Here’s the part of the post where I stress that I am not a doctor, try this at your own risk, it could be ridiculously dangerous, etc. I have no idea. Don’t blame me for anything that happens.]

2010-07-11 14.54.38The basic concept is this: instead of one big sleep at night, you take six small sleeps, spaced evenly around the clock. Day and night become meaningless as you go on a 24-hour schedule. You sleep for 20 minutes to a half hour ever four hours. The first ten days or so are apparently awful, since you’d be surviving on basically none of the kind of deep sleep your brain needs in order to function, and you would probably have the brain function of a zombie. But eventually your brain stops resisting what’s going on, and starts plunging you in to that deep sleep immediately. Over the course of six short naps you get more “deep” sleep than a person sleeping eight hours in a row.

My son was a really good sleeper, but for about the first eight months with Fiona I was up every few hours. I don’t know how I was functioning, but I was. If I were to try to survive on that small amount of continuous sleep now, I would be exhausted, cranky, and not very productive. But I’m guessing I was like that back then as well…at first. Those first few exhausted weeks were a blur, but then I learned how to function. Was my brain forced into a kind-of non-structured polyphasic sleep pattern? Is this how all parents of babies manage to drive cars and go to work and act like normal people for months at a time while getting far less sleep than they are used to?

CIMG0260 (6)I see two main problems with this method, aside from the initial two weeks (and having gone through an epic period of insomnia during my second pregnancy, I have some idea what it would feel like. It was hellish). First, the schedule itself. Often I leave my house around 9:30 or 10:30am and don’t get back until 3:30 or later. Where would I fit in a nap while I was out? I could almost see this working if I had an office I sat in all day, but when I’m out of the house I’m generally out and about.

Second, circadian rhythms are pretty serious. I’m not sure I want to mess with them. It sounds like it could be dangerous in ways that wouldn’t be obvious at first

And of course, there’s this guy, who lists lots of reasons why this kind of sleep schedule is a bad idea.

But still, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was lying in bed last night trying to figure out when I’d be able to start it, since that would be the hardest part. Ideally it would be a time when my entire family was out of town, but that won’t be happening again for a while. And they don’t go away for two weeks at a time, just five or six days. I could start when the kids are away at camp this summer, but then my husband would be stuck with me during that zombie period. Plus, I’m really looking forward to six weeks without having to get anybody ready and out the door in the morning – I wanted to spend that time sleeping in!

Then Jen of Dahara Dreaming tweeted a link to me that made the whole concept of polyphasic sleep much more plausible:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/daharaDreams/status/193054677980545024″]

The Everyman sleep schedule is a less severe, more workable version of Uberman. Instead of having to drop everything every four hours and sleep, you sleep for about 3 hours at night, then take 3 naps during the day. So I could sleep from, say, midnight to 3am each night, then nap at 8:15am (right after the kids leave for school), 1:30pm, and 6:45pm, then wake up and make dinner. According to the post, with this method you can shift the naps as much as one hour in either direction without screwing things up, which would allow me work around events, the kids, etc.

08 02_7441

I think a lot of the feasibility of this would depend on my ability to take a nap in public occasionally. I’m simply out of the house for longer stretches than 5.25 hours fairly often. It would take some serious scheduling. But it seems doable.

Right now between sleeping at night and taking one nap during the day, and then sleeping like crazy on weekends, I average about eight hours a night. So, on Everyman, I would gain four hours every day. 28 hours a week – more than an entire day in which to get things done. And by that I don’t necessarily mean working. That extra time could be devoted to exercise, taking up a new hobby, even just catching up on reading.

I’m seriously thinking about this.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    You know I’ve (a) got your back, and (b) am just that side of mo-fo crazy to do it.

    I’ve even worked out a tentative schedule.

  2. Jessica says

    I don’t know. I feel like this can only really work if everyone in the world was on the same schedule – or at the very least your whole family. Kid’s activities, appointments, parties, vacations would all get in the way of the nap schedule. Also what would you do from 3:30 until the rest of the world wakes up? It sounds good but I think after a couple a weeks I would be bored and angry that I have to be so quiet and have no where to go. Businesses are not open at that time.

    • says

      @Jessica: I agree with you about the scheduling, that’s would definitely be the hardest part. But fitting in three 20-minute naps wouldn’t be impossible (most days). I am worried about what would happen on the those days when I just couldn’t fit one of them in though. Would I just totally crash? The other part – the what to do part – I’m not worried about. I’m a loner at heart, so being alone in the middle of the night wouldn’t bother me one bit! I can see how for an extrovert it might be disconcerting, but I’d be fine. Plus, we have a big enough house that I wouldn’t have to be quiet.

  3. Cara Robinson says

    I think this sounds like a terrible idea!! Your time would be better spent finding out what you can get rid of in your life. Of course everyone wishes there were more hours in the day but there are probably things you could do without.

    • says

      @Cara Robinson: Of course you think it’s a terrible idea! Just based on where you live it’s obvious we want very different things out of life. My issue is, there’s so much more I want to do, but I don’t want to give up my free time, which keeps me sane. So one alternative is to find more hours. Plus, I’m just curious about if it would actually work, if what we’ve all been told all of our lives is the best way to sleep really is, or if there are other ways that work just as well. I like crazy experiments.

  4. Cara Robinson says

    It just seems like if you had one day where you were thrown off the schedule the whole thing would fall apart and you would be a mess…but hey if anyone could pull it off it would probably be you :)

    • says

      @Cara Robinson: Yeah, that has me really worried. Like, how much could I get off schedule without having to do the whole ten-day initial thing again? That would suck. Then again, on Monday a friend found me asleep in a booth in the snack area at Disney Quest, basically a Chuck-E-Cheese type place in Downtown Disney. So I’m thinking that as long as I could find a place to sit down, I could get that nap in anywhere. :-)

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