Christina and I have now been on a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule for a week and a half (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, see my earlier post Sleep Deprivation with a Plan). A lot of people have been asking how it's going and I've been slack about posting updates about it recently, so this seems like a convinient time to post some thoughts.
The good news is that the naps most certainly work to reduce the amount of sleep you need. I still feel tired during the days, but I don't feel like I've been living on 4 hours sleep a night for a week. I would compare my average level of alertness to how you feel after going to bed a couple of hours late the night before work, say 6 hours sleep. Not quite on top of your game, but not so sleepy you can't make productive use of your waking hours. Compared to days 3 - 5 where I was actually surviving on 3 normal hours of sleep (before my naps started to become effective), the difference is huge.
The first obvious benefit to the schedule is that I have around 4 useful hours before 9am (my previous wake-up time). On weekdays I attend a 5am meeting with guys on the East Coast and India, get off work around 2pm or 3pm, and often have most of the items on my todo list completed before 9am. We arrive at the fruit and vege market before the merchants have finished setting up stalls. Almost no-one is around when we go to the gym in the morning. Getting up early for things is accomplished more-or-less automatically, no matter how early something is scheduled we're almost always up well beforehand.
Another huge benefit for me is that I've gain the miraculous ability to reliably fall asleep within around 5 minutes or so. For someone who used to lie awake for at least an hour or two trying to get to sleep, I can't describe how great this is.
Our napping powers still need some work however. On Sunday we went for a day trip (left at 5am, arrived back at just after midnight) to Yosemite National Park, which was an awesome trip, but a somewhat unsuccessful experiment into how well we could nap in our car. The answer was "not very well at all". The best I managed was some light dozing during my 7:30 nap, despite choosing reasonably quiet shady locations to nap, and the weather being a perfect temperature. The lack of daytime naps has also made Monday much sleepier than usual. The park more than made up for it however, and I went through the day in a sort of dreamy bliss. More on that in another post.
The main downside has been scheduling. While we took care to adjust our daily schedules to accomodate the changes, the naps (mostly the 1pm and 7:30pm) do occasionally mean we have to forgo certain events. I'm hoping that after we've adapted a little more the ability to shift naps around by an hour or two will help remedy this.
The other disadvantage, at least at the current point in time, is that while the crushing tiredness of adaptation is over, we still experience definite lows throughout the day, which are more pronounced than previously. I often tended to be tired during the day anyway, due to needing a lot of sleep and having bad sleeping habits, so this doesn't bother me except when doing something physical like hiking or working out. Tina on the other hand doesn't generally need as much sleep as me, and is generally not as tired, so she feels the difference a lot more. We're both hoping that as we become more used to the schedule we'll gain a more stable daily wakefullness pattern.
Overall however, I'm loving it. I feel like I get so much more out of each day, and that I continue to benefit more and more as time goes on. I would say it's the best thing since sliced bread, but to be honest I'm getting much more out of this... I don't eat that much bread.
P.S. Special thanks to puredoxyk for the encouraging words last week, and for pioneering this particular brand of weirdness.