Polyphasic Sleep

I got a note from an entrepreneur (Steven Livingstone) who is pondering polyphasic sleep and asked the question: I’ve just blogged something looking for advice from successful people on sleeping patterns as an entrepreneur. I haven’t read much (if anything) on this and wondered whether you have an opinion on it.

Being clueless on what polyphasic sleep meant, I was fortunately that Wikipedia exists.  Stephen’s post pointed me to Steve Pavlina’s site where he’s 80+ days into a polyphasic sleep experiment.  I was immediately intrigued because I’ve always been fascinated by sleep.  Pavlina has a bunch of great writing on this – start on his Day 60 post and go to the older diary posts.  Wacky.

I have no idea if there are sleeping patterns for successful entrepreneurs, but I do know that many successful entrepreneurs like to brag about how little they have to sleep.  As someone who loves to sleep, I usually think this is bullshit and – while I can go for three or four days on relatively little sleep, I eventually crater and need 10+ hours.  Given my fascination with sleep, I’ve ready plenty (online and offline) and my personal conclusion is that everyone has to figure out their own patterns for themselves. 

Now that I’m running marathons regularly, I accept the importance of sleep as part of my overall routine and make sure I get enough.  I love to get up early, so I’m usually up between 5 and 6 in the morning, which gives me plenty of time to catch up on email, writing, and get a run in (if I want) before the “normal day starts.”  On normal days, I’m toast by 10 pm and try hard not to operate any heavy machinery after 8 pm.  I sleep until I wake up (often 10 or 11 am) on one of the weekend days; the other is my long run day and I usually get up at 6 to have an hour or two in order to wake up, eat something, and take a crap before the run.

After pondering it, I know that polyphasic sleep is not for me – I enjoy lying in bed with Amy too much.  It’d be interesting to find out if there are any real patterns among successful entrepreneurs, although I suspect there will be too much “ego-bias” in any actual study (e.g. “I don’t need sleep”) to generate anything that’s statistically correct.

  • Scott Moody

    One of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with had determined that his personal body clock worked optimally on a 25 hour day. He’d get a normal amount of sleep, 8 hours or so, but he’d get into the office one hour later each day than the previous day and stay at the office one plus hours later. So, a bit over a week into his cycle, he’d be getting to work as other people were leaving and later would leave as other people were arriving.

    As first-hand witness, I can tell you that it really worked in his case.

    Imagine what Jack Bauer could have accomplished with one more hour each day — Stay tuned for “25”

  • As an entrepreneur, I can definitively say that the meaning of entrepreneurs bragging about their sleep boils down to the fact that, there is so much to do and so little time – you just have to cram.

    I try and spend time during the week cramming, and then spend the weekend veging. Sometimes the veg bleeds through to monday.

    Scott – if only 25 hours were enough……. 🙂

  • We’re too similar.

    Yes, Pavlina’s experiment is interesting (I blogged it in mid-December http://ben.casnocha.com/2005/12/polyphasic_slee.html).

    Yes, polyphasiasc sleep is not for everyone, but for those who completely control their own calendar, it sounds pretty compelling.

    Yes, sleep is absolutely essential, and the second most asked question i get is “do you sleep” and the answer is always 7-8 hours baby!!

    Redefining Entrepreneurial Lifestyle (w/ sleep!): http://ben.casnocha.com/2004/11/redefining_the_.html


  • Interesting. I notice that there are creatively intense times for me “entrepreneurally”. Intensity around concept creation, and then eventually business creation stages cause me to go in to a very frustrating sleep pattern wherein I fall asleep pretty early – say 9PM-10PM – then wake at 1AM for a couple of hours. During this couple of hours I simply must work and falling back to sleep is futile because I can’t shut off my brain. I’ve tried mind trick, warm milk, watching infomercials (usually a sure-fire cure), brain-dead late night radio, wine, even scotch. Nothing works – so I get up and work for a couple of hours. I then fall back to sleep intensely until 6AM when the alarm goes off. I go for months at a time like this until that creative phase is on to the “build” phase. During this time I sleep better, but still awake very early 4AM-5AM and start my day. Is that entrepreneur sleep, polyphasic sleep, or just plain ole’ insomnia – beats me. YAWN!

  • Actually there are a lot of people that have sleep issues. Apparently I’ve had sleep apnea all my life and didn’t realize it.

    Some people can dive into REM right away and stay there.

    I’d kill for that capability.

    Anyway… polyphasic sleep has its problems. The inflexiblity and clash with the real world being major problems.

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