Qua locus

Keeping both eyes on the long game.

Dodging Sleep II


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[This is version 2 of the essay I had on an old version of my other site, updated with some new insight]

Sleep is wonderful, but there is so much else (Mandarin, FiloThought, reading, dancing, thinking, blogging, writing, work, walking, exercise and more) and it’s all so wonderful too, so sleeping’s actually quite a low priority for me. A bit like house work actually – it has to be done, but I don’t want to spend more time on it than I have to. That’s the goal then: To sleep as little as is sustainably possible.

To sleep as little as possible? It sounds absurd, like it’s not worth the effort. After all, sleep feels wonderful, and what would you really gain by going from 8 hours sleep a night to 6? It’s only 2 hours difference, and it’s almost certainly a lot of work!

But the maths is convincing. Sleeping 6 hours a night instead of 8 equates to 730 more conscious hours a year. Which is 30 full 24-hour days awake, and if count the 8 hours you used to spend sleeping and the 3-4 hours you spend every day cooking, cleaning, picking up groceries, all the fixed costs of life, then those 730 hours work out to be more than 60 days. Cutting 2 hours of sleep might not sound like much, but it mean you get 14 months every single year, and whether you use it for work or play, that’s worth having!

Now polyphasic sleep’s a very interesting idea, but it’s hard to fit that around work and a normal day to day life. Still, there are quite a few other things I can do, and they all help. In no particular order:

  • Get up early. Define early as you like. For a while I got up at 6, now I find deadlines keeping me up till 1 so I don’t rise till 7:30 or 8. But that’s me being stupid, so do as I say and not as I do. The easiest way to get up early is to:
  • Get up at the same time every day. Or at least set an alarm and wake up. It’s all about making it a habit, so that you naturally come to wakefulness at the same time every day, almost regardless of when you went to sleep.
  • Use the tech. Sleep cycles from light to heavy and back. Whether it’s with SleepCycle or Jawbone UP, you can make sure you wake up at the perfect point in your sleep cycle, refreshed, energised and ready to go right then with no wasted moments.
  • Exercise. It’s true. If you exercise more you’ll sleep better, and need less of it. You’ll also be healthier, fitter and better looking. It’s win-win-win-win-win.
  • Micro-nap. Sleeping less isn’t about staying awake for longer, it’s really about having more usable time. If you’re feeling unproductive (very common after lunch) then a micronap is perfect. I set a timer for 3-5 minutes and rest or meditate. On which note:
  • Meditate. Nothing fancy, but focused relaxation makes for better micronaps and faster sleep. Which, after all, is the point – less time sleeping is no use if you spend all that saved time trying to get to sleep. Shavasana is really helpful.
  • Sugar. Caffeine is a horrible habit. Ditch the coffee. Also, ditch the soft drinks and tea. If you need to something to perk you up then natural fruit is perfect. It is exactly what your body needs, is easy to carry, and comes in a variety of shapes, forms and flavours.
  •  The sleeping habit. You’ll sleep as much as you let yourself. So don’t let yourself. Pretty soon you’ll be out of the habit. I once dated a girl who “needed” 10 or 12 hours of sleep a night, and several naps during the day. I get an extra month each year. She loses several.

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got from my own personal experience so far, but it’s helped and I definitely intend to keep pushing it. An 18 month year anyone? What do you do?

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Written by Christo Fogelberg

May 6, 02012 at 22:52

2 Responses

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  1. Christo, as you already know, reducing sleep has been a fascination of mine too. In the two years since I stopped polyphasic sleeping, I haven’t stopped learning more and more about sleep. Although I don’t have the relevant references with me right now (but can find them if you are desperate), I understand that sleeping less than 6 is a very bad idea. Also, those 6 should be good quality 6 (so no disturbance, no waking up in the middle, feeling well-rested in the morning, etc.).

    As much as the math of having 14 months/year sounds tempting, I think that one must instead focus on having a good productivity during the time that we are awake. Having reduced my sleep to 4.5 hours for 1 year, I can vouch for not really needing it if I prioritise well in life. And anyways, 4.5 hours sleep is a damn health hazard!

    Akshat Rathi

    May 7, 02012 at 01:21

  2. Good point Akshat and I think you’re right that it’s not about minimising sleep per se, but instead about using time as effectively as possible (where time spent relaxing with friends and loved ones definitely counts as time well spent!). Because sleep uses up so much time, this also means that getting all the low hanging fruit – regular sleep times, meditation, exercise, eating right – should be an absolute priority!

    More generally, I find the maths a real motivator: an hour saved each day gives me an extra 30 days of productivity every year. It also inspires the thought: “Where else can I save time in order to spend it how I want?” Mindless TV and lazily surfing bbc.co.uk come to mind. Crucially, I think effective living is really about making a habit of discipline, concentration and ruthless triage of things you don’t want to do. Thoughts on this?

    cfogelberg

    May 7, 02012 at 11:08


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