Biphasic Sleep For Musicians

I first read about Biphasic sleep after becoming interested in Polyphasic Sleep patterns.

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You would probably remember this from the Seinfeld episode where Kramer decides that he wants to try the sleep schedule that Leonardo Da Vinci practiced. This involves sleeping for 20 minutes every 4 hours, which leads to a total of 2 hours of sleep each day.

But doesn't that, uh, you know...kill you? Or at least cause massive sleep deprivation?

Well it does cause sleep deprivation, at least for a week or two while your body adjusts. Once your body realizes that you aren't going to give it the sleep that it needs, you body will start to put itself into REM sleep (which is the most important part of your sleep cycle) immediately upon falling asleep.

You see, your body only needs 2 hours of REM sleep each night to function at a very healthy level. I'm sure you know where I'm going with this.

The concept is that you can train your body to only fall in to REM sleep, and forget the rest of it. 

Initially, this was a very appealing idea to me. An extra 42 hours of life every week (that's 168 hours a month, and 84 extra days of life you live a year!)

The biggest resource on this topic easily comes from StevePavlina.com, where Steve does a polyphasic sleep pattern for over 5 months. He speaks about feeling more alert, being able to get more done, and feeling more energetic in general. 

This of course, is after the first week or two while his body still adapts to the process.

Now although I was very interested in this for a long time, there were many reasons that I didn't think that I would be able to actually get in to such a sleep schedule:

  • Diet: At this time, my diet is not tremendously incredible. Steve described very clearly how much his vegetarian/vegan diet contributed to his ability to feel less drowsy. Having a light, no meat diet can make a big difference to how much sleep you need.
  • Discipline: Steve is a master at discipline, and already wakes up at 5am everyday. I on the other hand, have trouble even going to bed on time. As a musician, I love staying up late, working on a project, or being creative. I tend to get bursts of energy around 10pm, so going to bed early is quite difficult for me to do.
  • Difficulty: This type of polyphasic sleep is known as the "Uberman" sleep schedule, and it is easily one of the hardest sleep schedules that you could ever live by. Knowing that I don't have a lot of the mental tools to even go to bed on time, it's quite reasonable to believe that I would give this type of thing up very quickly until I build more discipline. 

So for now, I decided not to do an Uberman polyphasic sleep schedule.

But then I heard about something different, from Steve, called "Biphasic sleep". As I read on and on, I realized that (if this thing works and is sustainable), this is the perfect sleep schedule for musicians!

Here's how this type of biphasic sleep works:

You head to bed around 1-2am, and you sleep for 4.5 hours. This generally has you up at about 6-7am, so you've woken up quite early along with the rest of the non-creative types. 

The second part of your sleep comes in the evening, where you nap for about 1.5 hours. This brings your total daily sleep up to 6 hours.

The time you nap could be at 6pm, or it could even be at 4 or 8pm. It depends on what works for you, and it requires some experimentation.

Today, I decided that I would commit to this type of schedule for the next 2 weeks, and see how it works for me. I fully expect to be fairly sleep deprived for the first week or so, but if I start to see some improvement in my alertness and sleepiness, then I'll keep on it for the whole month.

It's the perfect sleep schedule for musicians because we always tend to be creative after 10pm. Staying up late is a big thing for creative people!

The only problem is, waking up at 10am-noon every day can be very demotivating. It's been recorded quite consistently that high-earners and productive-workers tend to wake up early.

As I refer to him over and over again, you can learn more about why you should be an early riser from StevePavlina's website.

I know for myself, I always feel more alert, and more conscious about how I spend my time if I wake up early. I don't want to feel lazy by sleeping in, but I also  value my "night-owl" time very much.

I'm going to record how each day goes for me, and at the end I'll be able to tell you whether or not this is a sustainable way of living, and whether or not I'm able to operate at an = or greater level of awareness as before. 

To be clear, if I do this for a few weeks, but I still find I'm very tired all the time, I do not plan on continuing it. I only see this as a sustainable effort if I'm able to feel awake and alert for most of my day, or at least not feel any worse than before.

I like naps, so I'm looking forward to trying this, although I'm also quite afraid to see how it goes too. It could be terribly difficult, especially considering that I HATE being tired. This is an especially big personal challenge for me.

Growing up as a teenager, I had this very intricate fear of being sleep deprived. I don't really know what caused it, but I eventually got to a point where I realized "hey, you are seriously afraid of not getting enough sleep".

It's a weird fear right? Not even on a "oh, you're afraid of balloons and mustard" kind of weird, but on an even deeper level that I can't describe.

I hope that helps you understand why it's such a big challenge for me though. Not only am I going to push through a somewhat difficult task (all while doing my online marketing jobs and writing articles), but I'm also facing some fears here too.

I'm going to choose to push through that fear though, because I feel that this is a really worthwhile experiment.

So let's move forward to today, my first day of the experiment!

Day 1 - Tired, But Still Productive

I had my friend Michael try this whole experiment out with me. After reading some stuff about biphasic sleep, he became quite excited about the whole thing and was insistent on being able to be a part of the experiment.

So he slept over at my building last night. We were both up until about 2:00am, and then went to bed.

I set my phone alarm to count down from 5 hours. I knew it would take me a decent amount of time to get to sleep, so I set it for half an hour longer than I needed to sleep. I was right! It ended up taking me about 30 minutes to fall asleep.

The alarm counted down, and ended up waking us up at 6:45am.

I immediately was not ready. If I didn't have the expectation of doing this together with Michael, I probably would have just gone back to bed. I was very tired trying to wake up, but once I got up and washed my face, I was ready to go.

I felt it was important to get some energy, so we both started the day with fruit smoothies (yogurt, fruit, water, & honey).

Once we had adequately woken up, we felt that a bike ride would be a good invigorating & energetic activity. It was decent enough, and I even worked up a sweat. 

The rest of the day was mainly working on the computer, and doing some more occasional exercise.

I found myself getting drowsy fairly often throughout the day. Occasionally I would forget that I was doing this whole thing, and I'd think to myself, "I think it's time to take a nap!". 

I would promptly be reminded that I can't take a nap until 7:00pm, so that got tough.

Timeline Of Feelings & Experiences

Here's a bit of a breakdown of my feelings & experiences throughout the day:

  • 10am - Tired, but easily bearable.
  • Noon - Feeling quite drowsy, tempted to nap at least 1 or 2 times.
  • 2-4pm - Still drowsy & wanting to nap. Moving around helps quite a bit to fend off the drowsiness though. Small walks make a big difference.
  • 4pm - The drowsiness seems to have lifted off a bit for me here, but...
  • 4:30pm - ...not for long! It's back and I'm as drowsy as ever!
  • 5-5:30 - I started working on an engaging web design project, so I was able to spend this time with a minimal amount of tiredness. Actually, until I took a break to go make dinner, I didn't even remember that I was tired.

I had to make dinner for the 25 people in my building (we all take turns, twice a month), so I really feel that I couldn't have picked a worse time to start this project! I don't think I've reached any real sleep deprivation at this point, other than being drowsy and a bit "out of it", so it's not too big a deal.

  • 5:30-7pm - While I was active and working through dinner, I didn't really notice very much fatigue. As I finished eating my food, I felt a very quick onset of drowsiness that I was able to easily fend off. It was very similar to when you finish a big meal, and feel the need to take a nap, just quicker than usual.
  • 7-9pm - I set my timer for 2 hours, because I figured it would take me a bit to fall asleep. I was right, and I got about 1.5 hours of sleep. It was a bit interrupted by outside noise, but I definitely had dreams while I was asleep, so I see that as a good sign.
  • 9pm - When my alarm went off, I felt like I could sleep for another few hours, but I needed to stick to the schedule so I woke up. I was groggy for the first 5-10 minutes, but after that I felt fine.
  • 9:30pm - I felt not particularly drowsy, but I could definitely tell that I was not operating on all the sleep I needed. It's kind of like the point when you stay up all night, and you get so tired that you don't even feel tired anymore, just really weird and awkward in your own body.
  • 9:30-11pm - I've not been feeling too tired in this time. I occasionally have a bit of drowsiness, but most of the feeling involved has been that cloudy-headed feeling. It feels like there's a fair amount of pressure on my head, but I don't have a headache yet. One thing I did notice though, was when I started to get hungry, my stomach ended up actually feeling more gross and somewhat pained, rather than just hungry. It was easily bearable, and I just ate something and was fine. But on a normal sleep schedule, I wouldn't feel that way.
  • 11:30pm - It's a bit hard for me to be tired, as my downstairs neighbours are actually a night-club with incredibly loud music. On most nights, this would bother me to at least some degree, but I'm thankful now that I have it to keep me awake and alert.
  • 11:30pm-1:30am - I still didn't end up feeling drowsy much. I could tell that something was pretty weird in my mind, but it wasn't drowsiness. Getting to sleep was easier than it was the night before. I suppose being very tired can have that effect on people.

I can say that the first half of the day was easily 2x as hard as the second half. Once you have that nap in the evening, things get a lot easier.

I should also mention that I find myself being more able to do things that freak me out when I'm overtired like this. 

For example, I normally would be very apt to take my time to plan out an article like this. I might ponder it for a while before even getting started. But in the midst of the experiment, I just decided to start writing and make it happen.

I don't think it hurt the quality of the article at all, because I usually have trouble getting started out of procrastination and ego (worry that it might not be good enough), rather than actual careful planning (which I also try to do).

I'll also be sending some updates about it via email, which once again is a task that I normally would have a lot of resistance towards doing.

I'll continue updating each day about my experience, although I'm mainly going to start mentioning experiences that happen each day that are new, rather than continually mentioning the same things. You can expect my future updates to be considerably shorter than this one.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.