The other day, I was reminded of my backburner fascination with sleep processes when an old acquaintance posted on Facebook “The next time someone brags about only needing 4 hours of sleep a night say ‘THAT explains how you managed to get this far!’”, which made me laugh; although I never “brag” about it, I do in fact sleep about four hours a night.
My interest in sleep as a phenomenon rather than something you just do to get rested probably began in grade school, when they showed us a film warning of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation, like possibly hallucinating. I of course went home and tried not sleeping that very night! The results were a little disappointing; I mostly just kept nodding off in class the next day. Which only fueled my curiosity; not long after, I convinced my mom to let me and a friend lock ourselves in the basement with no clocks for several days, claiming it was “space travel research”. We appeared to shift to 36 hour days within a week. Are you reading, NASA? Later in life, my personal record for not sleeping was six days. But it was hard to tell if the hallucinations were a result of the drugs keeping me awake, or the lack of sleep.
I jest a little here, but the truth is that ever since I was a child, I’ve had a pattern that goes something like: two hours sleep, fifteen to thirty minutes awake, two hours’ sleep, fifteen to thirty minutes awake, about eight hours awake, one hour siesta (or hour of exhaustion) about eight hours awake. Winse, wipe, repeat. Sound like a sleep disorder? I come from a large family, and about half of them have sought treatment for sleep disorders. I make the joke that “it’s only a sleep disorder if you lay awake wishing you were asleep”.
Not long ago, I finally felt validated regarding my weird sleep patterns when I learned that polyphasic sleep was actually “a thing”. Apparently Buckminster Fuller slept in a polyphasic pattern, and advocated doing so in his book The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller, and there are such things as the Polyphasic Society and a subreddit devoted to polyphasic sleep. The popularity of studying these patterns seemed to grow a few years ago around the time this BBC feature pointed out that our recent ancestors routinely got up in the middle of the night and went back to bed a few hours later. We’re not going to try to trace the entire path of the topic’s viral spread, but some credit should probably go to the author and internet persona PureDoxyk, who was writing about the topic in 2000, and in 2013 published Ubersleep: Nap-Based Sleep Schedules and the Polyphasic Lifestyle. But it’s not like this is really a new topic, the Wikipedia entry Anthropology of Sleep talks about how sleep is a cultural thing, and may be heavily influenced by the presence of artificial light.
I’d explore this topic in more depth, but aside from the fact that almost everything you’ll read about the topic sounds like it was written by sleepless people who are obsessed with the perfect sleep pattern, it’s time for (one of) my nap(s).
So I’ll just leave you with this, because it covers all the options visually in about ten seconds: