This page is in rough first draft form. I'll be editing this and adding notes on my current transition to a polyphasic sleep schedule and other information that might be useful to others attempting this.
Polyphasic sleep is the practice of sleeping in several small phases throughout the day, as opposed to monophasic sleep, which is one large daily chunk of sleep. The most extreme form of this (that I'm aware of) is called the "Uberman Sleep Cycle." Uberman sleepers get all their sleep in 20 to 30 minute naps at 4 hour intervals around the clock. Yes, your math is correct--that adds up to 2-3 hours per day.
A less drastic variant called the "Everyman schedule" is a 1.5 to 4 hour 'core sleep' period at night, plus 2-4 20 minute naps spread throughout the day.
That's how I sleep.
Why would anyone want to do this?
I'll start at the beginning....
About 5 1/2 years ago my kids were 9, 7 ,5 and 3yo twins. I was exhausted and suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. My body's rhythm was messed up. Every day by around 5 or 6 pm I would be yawning and feeling waves of fatigue washing over me. But it was dinner time and I didn't have much choice but to get through dinner and then work on getting all the kids to bed. By the time everyone was asleep, around 9pm, I'd be running on adrenaline--jittery and unable to sleep. I'd lie down in bed and be awake for hours.
In the morning I'd be up by 530 or 6am, make Dave breakfast and pack him a lunch, then back to bed where I'd sleep restlessly (yes, with the kids bouncing on me, talking to me, etc) till 9 or 10 or 11 and finally drag myself out of bed to try to get through the day somehow. I was irritable and impatient with the kids, and just plain tired all the time.
Finally, in desperation, I started searching the internet for information about sleep cycles. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I knew I had a problem, and I was hoping to find something to help.
So I ran across an article about Uberman sleep schedules and thought, "This sounds nuts." But being desperate, I gave it a try.
I decided to do a less drastic variant: four 20 minute naps, with a 4 hour 'core sleep' session at night. Crazy. "Can't get enough sleep? Just sleep less!" LOL But the theory I read seemed to make sense.
They said your brain can be trained to sleep more efficiently--and that resonated with me. When I was a college student I slept about 6 hours a night--sometimes less. I woke up at the same time every day, and my body 'knew' when to wake up. After I married and started having kids, I couldn't just sleep all night and wake up at a specific time. My sleep was getting interrupted, and not getting back on track. My body didn't know what it was supposed to be doing, and my sleep patterns continued to destabilize till I felt like I was sometimes on the verge of seriously going nuts.
So I started. The first 3 days I was only sleeping the 4 hours at night. At naptimes, I would set my alarm and lie down, but I never got to sleep before the time was up. But, still, it was restful to lie down, and I was sleeping deeply during my core at night. Surprisingly, I felt about the same as usual, in spite of spending a lot less time in bed.
The 4th day I actually fell asleep during a couple of my naps, and from there on it just got better. I was fully adapted to my schedule by the end of the second week.
And I was feeling better than I had in a long time.
I should note here that my transition was extraordinarily easy. I attribute this to the fact that I was already accustomed to interrupted sleep at night. Starting the polyphasic schedule for me meant that I was adopting a regular sleeping pattern. It isn't surprising that I could step into so easily.
Doing this with little kids in the house is not easy. I did get lots of interruptions. It takes them awhile to understand about naps. I had kids come in many times and whisper to me, "Mom, can I get a snack?" or some such thing. LOL They're trying to be quiet since I'm sleeping .....
But that actually works out ok with a core sleep schedule; I found I really only needed to get 2 or 3 of my naps to be fine, and I tended to wake before my alarm after only about 15 minutes, instead of the full 20.
As time went on, I gradually moved into occasional 'Uberman' periods for several days at a time, but couldn't keep it up all the time because of my difficulties with consistent napping.
I really enjoy being able to drop off to sleep so quickly, but a side effect to be aware of is that when naptime comes around, sleepiness can come on very suddenly and irresistibly. I've been driving down the highway with a car full of kids, and find myself with no option but to pull over somewhere and close my eyes for a few minutes of sleep.
I kept up my Polyphasic and sometimes Uberman schedule for around a year or a little more before I became pregnant with our 6th child. I don't think Uberman's possible during pregnancy. At least it wasn't for me. But the skill of napping was very helpful.
After he was born, I tried to get back into Polyphasic, but I sleep with my baby in bed, and I was nervous about sleeping so deeply with a little one next to me, so I backed off.
Now my little guy is 3 1/2 yrs old, and I'm ready to get back into the swing of things! I'm going to record my transition here--with all it's hitches and imperfections--since I know many people get discouraged during the transition phase, or try to transition too quickly and fail.
I don't think it's a good idea to try a cold turkey transition to an Uberman schedule. I know some succeed at it, but when I was on an uberman yahoo group, there were many more failures than successes. I recommend beginning with an Everyman schedule and working from there into Uberman.
Sudden onset of extreme sleepiness
George Saunders on How to Tell a Story
3 hours ago