In this article I document my recent experience of one night of biphasic sleep in order to complete a project.
I’ve read a number of articles about biphasic sleep, some claiming (a) that it can be used to achieve greater productivity; and (b) that the human body naturally adopts a biphasic sleep pattern in the absence of artificial light. (Aside: these claims are misleading when presented together because the sleep patterns usually suggested for achieving high productivity are very different from the patterns the body seems to naturally adopt.)
I recently had a (non-paid-employment-related) deadline. I needed to complete a project by Saturday but I had other activities planned for the Saturday afternoon, so I needed to complete the project by the middle of Saturday.
My Usual Approach
In this kind of situation, my approach in the past has been to keep working on the project the night before until it’s complete, then sleep in as late as needed on Saturday morning. This gives me buffer time to eat into rather than being hard up against the deadline. I usually find that if I’ve got a good regular sleep pattern, one late night + sleep-in doesn’t disrupt things too much as long as I force myself to get back into my regular pattern the very next day.
I was working on the project on Friday night, but by about 11pm I was finding that my levels of focus and inspiration were low. Others I know, when faced with this sort of problem, usually try to solve it with coffee or energy drinks. I rarely drink caffeinated beverages because (a) I generally dislike their taste; and (b) on past occasions when I have had caffeine it’s simultaneously kept me awake and completely destroyed all of my inspiration and flow.
So this was my approach this time:
- I went to bed as soon as I could (by 11:15pm)
- I woke at 2:15am to work on the project
- I worked on the project for 3 hours
- I got back to bed around 5:30am and slept until 9:15am
- I worked on the project until it was complete
The reasoning was that the first sleep would refresh me enough to work well, and that at 5:30am it would still be dark enough for me to be able to sleep (it’s winter, sunrise is between 6:15 and 6:20am). I figured that after my 3 hours of midnight work I’d be able to judge how much more work would be required in the morning, and decide when to set my morning alarm based on that.
I used my Zeo mobile to measure my sleep patterns and set my alarm for 2:15am with a Smart Wake window of 30 minutes. The idea is that the device does its best to not wake you during deep sleep because that would result in sleep inertia—not a good thing when working on projects. I also used a 30 minute Smart Wake window for my 9:15am morning alarm. Interestingly, the device decided both times that it was safe to wake me at exactly the time I’d said. And I think the device was correct. The first time it woke me I must have been in REM sleep because I remembered my dreams. I don’t think I remembered my dreams the second time, but I didn’t feel too groggy, so I guess the device was right.
When I woke at 2:15am I was able to focus and work much better than I had been at 11pm. By 5:30am the project was essentially complete except for some finishing touches (I estimated that they would take 1-2 hours). I decided to give myself some buffer time and wake at 9:15am as I’d planned.
When I went back to bed at 5:30am it took me much longer than usual to get back to sleep—about 40 minutes as opposed to the usual 10-15.
Even though I’d had less sleep than usual, I noticed no adverse effects for most of Saturday. Some muscles in my neck felt a little more tense than usual, but I could think clearly, function well, and had no headaches.
By about 6pm on Saturday I started to feel quite tired. I pressed on and went to bed at my usual time. As you may imagine, I fell asleep very easily that night.
This may or may not be related, but on Sunday night I didn’t feel tired at the time I usually go to bed, so I went to bed about 1.5-2 hours later than usual on Sunday night. After this I brought my sleep patterns back to as normal as they get.
[ Left as an exercise to the reader. ]
Perhaps some of these observations will be useful to others who are playing around with their sleep patterns.