I've had Timothy Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Body on my to-read list for a while. But it wasn't until someone mentioned that he has a "surefire" method of getting by on just two hours of sleep a day that I finally picked it up and started reading. As someone who suffers from insomnia, if I could find a way to live on just two hours of sleep a day and not feel like a zombie, I'd be all over that.
When I first heard the idea, it triggered something in my brain, like maybe I'd heard his theory before, and the thought niggled that it had something to do with short naps throughout the day, but I wasn't sure. It wasn't until I actually read the chapter "Becoming Uberman" that the wheels clicked and I remembered where I'd heard about this idea of polyphasic sleep. Before I tell you where I heard about it, let me explain what polyphasic sleep is.
The idea of polyphasic sleep is pretty much just as I thought. It's all about spreading your sleep out. According to Ferriss we really only need rapid eye movement (REM) sleep; all those other stages are basically a waste of time. He says that since we only spend about two out of eight hours in REM sleep, we should just bypass the other stages altogether. To do this, Ferriss suggests tiring yourself out to the point that when you fall asleep you jump straight to REM.
Ferriss presents several options, all focused on taking 20-minute naps throughout the day. The differences in the options come down to how many naps you take. You can take just one nap during the day and cut 40 minutes off of your normal sleep time. The options range from there, allowing you to cut your total sleep time with each 20-minute nap that you take.
The extreme "uberman" option requires you to take a 20-minute nap every four hours, getting a total of just two hours of sleep in each 24-hour period. Sounds awesome, right?
This brings me back to where I heard about the "uberman" polyphasic sleep method. It was in the book The Game by Neil Strauss. Don't judge me! I was just curious and it turned out the book was pretty good. In case you aren't familiar with The Game, it's a nonfiction book about picking up women. In the course of the book, Strauss and a couple of his buddies decide to try this "uberman" sleep method. In the end they find out that the catch isn't quite worth it.
Yes, there's a catch! There's always a catch. So, what is the catch, you ask? Let me explain.
There are actually two catches. The first is that you have to follow a very strict schedule of taking a 20-minute nap every four hours. Any delay throws your whole schedule out of sync. The second is that it takes a good three weeks to get your body and brain used to this sleep pattern, and in the meantime you are a walking zombie.
Catch 1 is hard enough to overcome for the average person, but Catch 2 could be downright dangerous!
For me personally--and I'm guessing for those who already suffer from insomnia and fatigue--I don't think I'd make it the full three weeks. I'm sure my husband wouldn't survive three weeks of me without sleep.
This brings me to one very important question about this whole theory: Is it true that we only need REM sleep?
REM is the fifth out of the five stages of sleep. The third and fourth stages are called "deep sleep," and this is when Delta waves occur. Delta waves are one of five types of brain waves. They are responsible for helping the body and mind heal.
Delta waves are pretty important and something we want to encourage, especially if our bodies are already suffering from any sort of acute or chronic illness. The fact that these waves decrease overall as we age would make it even more important that we not do anything to decrease them further, like eliminating stages 3 and 4 of sleep. REM sleep is definitely important as well, as it's believed that during REM sleep our brain organizes information, aiding in memory and learning.
All in all I'd say that Stage 4 sleep is more important than REM for our bodies and our minds, but REM is certainly important too. I wouldn't want to do anything that decreases either of these stages. I think I'll stick to my typical nine or so hours of sleep a night and hope I'm hitting all the stages.