So I mentioned a while ago that I adopted a polyphasic sleep schedule but it had to be abandoned because I had a gargantuan photo gig and unfortunately, "polyphasic" and "functional" do not belong in the same sentence. Now that that's squared away, I'm back to trying.
Normally, when you crash out, your body goes through a couple of phases of sleep over and over again. The fourth stage is the most famous and, as near as we can tell, most useful: REM. It's during this stage of sleep that the restorative effects of sleep take place. ... We think...
You go through these cycles several times a night. At first, it can take up to 90 minutes to even get to REM and the duration is fairly short. As the night wears on, it takes less and less time for the brain to arrive at REM and when it does, it stays longer.
Polyphasic sleep is based around the idea that REM is the only useful part of sleep and seeks to bypass the other phases. How the heck do you do this? I'm glad you asked.
Simply put, you'd just sleep for twenty minutes every four hours. At first it'll be hard to even get to sleep within those twenty minutes but once you do, the fun has just begun. Remember, your brain normally takes more than an hour to even begin REM so when you start sleeping, you won't be in REM and so you won't get the restorative effect. In other words, you'll be effectively getting no sleep at all for a few days.
Eventually, your brain realizes "hey, if I'm going to get any REM at all I'd better skip the useless stuff and start dreaming right away." Actually dreaming is kind of the light at the end of the tunnel when you're trying to adapt to this schedule.
The final effect is that you fall asleep within perhaps a hundred seconds, spend the next 18-ish minutes in REM and you do this 6x every 24-hour period. That's two hours of sleep per day. By day 7 one should be reasonably acclimated, capable of functioning at a nominal level, and by day ten you should be feeling pretty much normal. You'll wake from a twenty-minute nap feeling completely rested.
I'm currently on Day 7 but I'm not really on Day 7 because I've had a bunch of oversleeps. Some due to technical mishaps (such as being too tired to set the alarm right), some due to just saying "hell, I need to sleep."
At this point I'd say I'm around Day 3 or 4. Dreamful sleep now comes within seconds and as the days wear on, each nap is better able to keep me going for the next couple of hours.
You can cheat a little. For example, I switched to naps every three hours instead of four with the goal of scaling back to four once I'm doing a little better. Perhaps this will help me avoid the oversleeps. I wouldn't suggest extending the sleep periods themselves past thirty minutes, however, since that may cause the brain to actually get into REM sleep and therefore not be forced into adaptation.
The induction phase SUCKS.
Dreams are incredibly vivid and can sometimes seem to take much longer than the time I actually spent asleep.
Don't even think about trying this unless you've got a full week to be utterly useless.
Days stop being discrete units, they all just kinda ...blend...
It feels kind of strange, too. If you've ever hyperventillated in a pool and then held your breath underwater, you know there's this strange "wow, I should have needed to surface a long time ago" feeling. This is kind of similar.
If you're a person who gets stuff done, you'll have a HELL of a lot more time to get stuff done.
If you're a person who procrastinates, you'll have a HELL of a lot more time to procrastinate.