Skip to content

Writing time, naps, & so forth


First, the new-fiction total for the last 24 hours: 3054 words on Project I (there are two). That’s normally what I’d expect in 2.5-4 hours of solid work, assuming it’s a day when the words will come at all. In theory I should have had more time than that…but last night I didn’t.

I’ve talked about polyphasic sleep before, but figured I’d post an update this morning. Basically the notion is that people can (should?) sleep in multiple sessions rather than one long block. There’s all sorts of controversy, and many theories to read about, out on the interwebs–anything from “it can’t work and you’re wrecking your body to even try” to “I slept 2-3 hours a day for six months and was happy” can be found.

Here’s my experience: I could do the 2 hours/day sleep just fine–for a while. The limiting factor wasn’t so much physical/psychological as social. To get by on so little sleep, I needed to take a 20-minute nap every four hours. Missing a nap mattered…some times more than others. Trying to recover from missed sleep on that schedule could get pretty brutal. Sleeping longer than 20 minutes, for any reason, seemed to make later 20-minute naps less effective. Also brutal, in other words. Dealing with people who were not accustomed to my napping? A bit brutal.

A lot of people do the polyphasic thing a bit differently, usually with at least one “core sleep” period–this can generally be anything from 1.5 to 4.5 hours. They supplement that with naps, which are generally around 20 minutes long, on various schedules.

Okay. Two things. First, that “20 minute” part turns out to be pretty important, at least for me. Anything longer than that, and waking up can be very difficult. Some people can apparently take 30-minute naps successfully, but in my case it just doesn’t work. I might or might not wake up to an alarm, and if I do I’ll be very sleepy. Second, I think just about every schedule out there can be junked in favor of listening to your body. Some people (most?) have jobs that are not at all friendly to polyphasic sleep, so some variety of schedule is probably important for them. But I haven’t found any sort of schedule (other than the every-four-hours extreme example) that will work for me for long.

I’ve tried variations of polyphasic sleep that involve a “core” & they also don’t work well for me. They’re kind of hit or miss. Sometimes I’ll just wake up (after 20 minutes or less) and not be at all tired. Other times I’ll crash pretty hard. For a while I was throwing in longer naps of 90 minutes, but they were more trouble than they were worth.

So…these days, I have no real sleep schedule. I have a sort of sleep strategy instead. First, I generally do my sleeping in 20-minute naps. So if I’m really tired, or if I have to be awake for a long time (like…gasp…nine hours or so)? I’ll take a 20-minute nap, wake up, and do it again. I might do it four or five times–but if I do too many, my brain starts to feel a bit jet-fueled and I get worried about it spinning out of control. Yeah, I’m kidding. Sort of. It does feel a bit uncomfortable, so I generally won’t take a huge number of naps at once.

It’s usually convenient to take a series of naps around a normal bedtime–say 11:30pm or so. By 2:30am at the latest, I’m good to go. I might take another nap just before other people wake up, or just after, or whatever. Sometimes I go only two hours between naps. Sometimes, as I mentioned above, it might be nine hours. Whatever; I can be awake and alert at any time I need to be, as long as I’m willing to go take naps as necessary. It’s astoundingly liberating.

Weird? Yes. I’m almost completely adrift from any schedule. But the thing is? I can write in the middle of the night, deal with family stuff early in the morning, operate semi-normally throughout the day, and have normal-style family time in the evening too. My writing can happen any time I can be by myself. Yes, I need to take naps, and I might need one at any time. Yes, my friends and family make fun of me for it. Why wouldn’t they? An ex-foster kid has been calling them “bitch naps” for over a year now, and I guess I don’t hate him too much for doing it. Mostly.

I go longer than I’d like between writing projects. Everything works better if I write every day…generally I can do that, once I get started on a project, but getting the next one up and running can take a long time. Months, even. Stopping for a bit and re-starting is just as hard as starting a new novel from scratch. I’m working on that…but right now I’m getting ready for an influx of foster kids. And working. And I want time to write.

In other words, I have a life. I have other interests. And interruptions screw up my writing. So late night is my (current) designated writing time. If I don’t get my writing time in during the night? It means (1) I didn’t get enough naps during the day, so I was too tired to auto-wake after 20 minutes, and (2) I then slept longer than planned. So, last night was an example. I was busy all day, then had a very draining sort of foster parent class to attend for too many hours, then really wanted to spend some time by myself reading fiction. By the time I was ready to start napping–maybe midnight?–I’d been awake for nearly twelve hours. Long, for me. So I didn’t notice my phone’s battery was low. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect my phone-based alarm didn’t go off. The battery was completely dead by the time I could look at it, anyway. I slept for 4.5 hours, and woke up sleepy. I puttered around, said the hell with it, and went to take a nap around 5am. That fixed it, so I started writing. A bit late, but I had a good session. It’s now 10:30am, and I just woke from my second nap. I could in theory write more fiction, but I have family-type activities today…so I’m calling it done. (I also don’t want to burn myself out on the writing shtick.)

Some people flat don’t believe polyphasic sleep can work. Some think it can work for other people, but not them. Some find various schedules online, and try those. Some people do it for a while, and then go back to monophasic sleep, aka hibernation, for whatever reason.

I’ve done all sorts of things. Tried schedules. Gone back to monophasic for a month or more at a time. It’s now very easy for me to shift back and forth. I don’t know if this would work at all for other people, but here’s what I do to shift to polyphasic sleep: I start sleeping only in 20-minute naps. That’s it. That’s the only rule. After a few days, I don’t care so much and might sleep longer if I feel like it. But I generally don’t feel like it, and I suspect a pattern of doing that too often would screw me up.

The first time I tried to adapt to polyphasic sleep I was careful to be sure there were four hours between naps, and it took me several days to start experiencing REM sleep (assuming that is in fact what’s going on when I have these weird dreams that sometimes feel as if they last for hours but also sometimes take up less than ten minutes according to a clock), but I got past that initiation period. But now I don’t do sleep deprivation. At all, or at least for more than a few hours resulting from schedule/planning failures. If I take a 20-minute nap and I’m still sleepy? I just do another one. When my brain/body/ghost/whatever realizes that’s all it’s getting, it adjusts. Stuff like my longer sleep last night can still happen occasionally. It doesn’t seem to matter.

So, here’s the upshot: I got over-tired last night. Slept too long. It’s been about 10 3/4 hours since I went to sleep. In that time, I’ve produced over 3000 words of fiction. And this blog post. And sat around talking with family. And cooked breakfast for everybody. And you know what? I’m wide awake.

So. Now you know I’m crazy. If you had any doubt. Because, after all, it can’t be this easy. Right? I mean, not in real life. If you decide to give it a try anyway, here’s the key point: that “20 minutes” is the total time for your nap. You start an alarm, and you wake up when it goes off. If it takes you 15 minutes to go to sleep? Oh well. Doesn’t matter. If you think you were awake the whole time? Well, you can try another nap…or not. Turns out sometimes lying there for 20 minutes is all you (I?) need. Plus there’s this weird thing that I had trouble believing and still don’t understand: occasionally I’ll take a 20-minute nap, lie there with my eyes closed, and get up convinced I didn’t sleep at all. I’ll be able to repeat conversations that went on around me. But according to witnesses I was snoring. Implausible? Yep. What’s my explanation? Don’t have one. But two of my friends who’ve done the polyphasic thing report the same experience. I think the boundary between being asleep and being awake, like damn near everything else, is more complicated than we know.

All right then. Don’t believe everything you read, and have fun out there! {8′>


Published inPolyphasic SleepRandom Rants

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.