GTD Experiment: Biphasic Sleeping

Biphasic Anyone who knows me (or follows me in Twitter @robcthegeek) knows that I am a really interesting in keeping my productivity up. This has involved research into many topics:

All of the above are under constant review. I have now reached a point where I feel like I want to take another “big step”. I am at a point in my life where I have a ton of stuff I want to do, and relatively little commitment to honour.

Sleep? Seems Kinda Lazy..

OK, so sleep isn’t “lazy” per se, but I often awake wondering if we really do “need out 8 hours”. I have previously heard of great success with alternate sleeping patterns. Sure, I have heard of complete “epic fail” stories too, but in those cases it often seemed that the subject was either undisciplined, was obviously doing it all wrong or just simply had underlying mental issues.

In terms of my previous experience with lack of sleep/non-standard sleep:

  • Insomnia due to stress/external pressures – Always fun, especially when the hallucinations start.
  • General lack of sleep due to “work needing to be done”, often then leading to caffeine highs and crash-and-burn lows.
  • Huge sleeps due to pure exhaustion, mainly caused by overtraining.

Obviously, none of these are good – but they all fall into one or both of these categories:

  1. External factors that are outside of my control.
  2. Me not personally taking control.

As with ANY form of physical training, when done properly (i.e. dependent on your goals), the results can be highly beneficial.

The main goal for me here is to have more time to get things done. So I am just thinking “why not?”.

Sleeping Patterns Defined

First, lets begin with a run-down of the terms used:

  • “wake time” - time spent awake (collectively throughout the day).
  • “nap” – a short sleep. I will also say that when I use the term, it also means a sleep “on” not “in” (i.e. I sleep on the bed but do not get too comfortable in the bed).
  • “long sleep” – in the biphasic sleep pattern, this is the longer of the two (which will be “in” bed).

So, what are “alternative sleeping patterns”? Let’s first go through a “normal” sleeping pattern.


Regular people sleep for one solid block a night (normally 8 hours). This is a monophasic pattern, which could be considered to have the following pro’s and con’s:

  • Allows plenty of time for recovery from fatigue with training etc.
  • Works nicely with the rest of the world since it is “the norm” (e.g. people are awake at the same time).
  • People simply love their bed!
  • You enter deep sleep, and can often find it hard to wake.
  • If your sleep is interrupted, it can really affect the effectiveness of the sleep.
  • It’s long! Time asleep is time that could be spent doing stuff!


The opposite end of the spectrum to monophasic. Polyphasic sleep means many short naps at fixed, regular intervals.

  • The most efficient in terms of squeezing the most “wake” time out of the day.
  • You never get into deep slumber, so always awake fresh and alert.
  • Naps are harder to interrupt since they are smaller
  • Severely impacts normal working schedule. The regular naps will directly clash something, somewhere.
  • Naps are real short, so will likely not provide enough recovery time for any fatigue caused by training etc.


Biphasic is the “happy medium” between monophasic and polyphasic sleep patterns.

  • Does not affect schedule of working day since no naps are required during business hours.
  • While not returning as much wake time as polyphasic, it’s still pretty damn good.
  • Centres wake time in the middle of the night, where everything is quiet (can be excellent for doing those tasks you do not want interrupted).
  • Can affect some early-evening social events.
  • Those with spouses/partners may dislike going to bed on their own.

My Plan

Keep it short, simple and a little flexible:

  • Wake up at 0600.
  • Go to work. Possibly have a small power nap at about 1230 if required.
  • Come home from work, eat dinner etc.
  • Take a short nap from 1930 until 2100 – this gives me a bit of time if I need to expand the sleep for any reason.
  • Wake until 0300.
  • Sleep until 0600.

Total Sleep Time: 4.5 Hours
Total Wake Time: 19.5 Hours.
That’s an extra 3-3.5 hours per day, at a productive, quiet time!

The experiment is to take place for one month (whether I like it or not!)

Other Points

Here are some snippets of information that I learned while on my travels and thought I would just make a note of them here.

Natural Sleep Cycle

The body’s natural sleep cycle works is 90 minutes. This is why sometimes you awake feeling fresher losing 30 minutes sleep rather than gaining any. Therefore, any changes to the schedule (e.g. I need extra sleep to recover) should be added at 1.5 hour increments.

Movement of “The Nap”

A few other people that have conducted the same experiment have reported that they can move the early-evening nap by as much as three hours with little side effect other than perhaps some yawning. This is useful to know, and I am sure I will end up moving it at some point.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep

Many people who have alternative sleeping patterns have noted an increase in their creativity and general alertness. Upon looking in to this, I came across some interesting points. REM sleep is the state of sleep where the dreams start to kick in and the creative juices start flowing. REM sleep occurs within 90 minutes of falling asleep (see previous note on sleep cycle) and interestingly those that practice alterative sleeping patterns get to deeper into REM sleeping state faster. I definitely recommend reading this article on it: “Sleeping on it - how REM sleep boosts creative problem-solving

Wrap Up

Right, I think I have covered enough.. I will be starting this experiment very soon. Of course, I will be blogging my progress and noticeable side effects :)


  1. Hey Rob,

    Nice article! Keep us posted on how your biphasic sleep experiment turns out. I heard of polyphasic sleeping but dismissed it cause it's not compatible with my work schedule. But this actually is doable. I'd already be happy if I could go from sleeping 8 hours a day to about 6, 4.5 hours seems very short though.

    One thing I'm also curious about is how to optimize these sleeping patterns by tuning them to when you eat/exercise/drink caffeine etc.

  2. Good luck with that - 4.5 hours of sleep per day sounds like very little. I'll be interested to hear how it goes.

    You're fortunate to be in a situation where you can experiment like this - I sleep when the kids let me :)

  3. Published on Behalf of Craig Murphy due to Live Writer inadvertantly double-posting.

    Craig Murphy said...

    Great post, thanks - it saved me researching sleep patterns to arrive at a similar summary (and thanks for prompting me to look at biphasic sleep in the first place!)

    I'll certainly be following your 30-day trial - very keen to understand how quickly you can get to sleep "on demand" for the shorter sleep cycles.

    Whilst 4.5 hours seems to be the normal pattern, it does seem a little low to me, however once evidence starts to appear, I'm happy to change my mind.

    Good luck with the challenge, hope you get more done!

  4. Good luck Rob. How are you going to measure your productivity? I guess in pomodori achieved. Following you on twitter and seeing this I do worry about you seem to be ignoring the 'sustainable pace' guidelines. (see Beck's XP book and Cirillo's article.

  5. @Mendelt,

    Diet, exercise and caffeine intake are all on the "to log" list. This will be kinda informal, but I will make a point of mentioning impact etc.

    4.5 hours of sleep a day is a small amount, but I am always keen to aim high and then adjust as necessary (this tends to actually be easier to maintain once past the inital pain). If I need an extra 1.5 hours or the odd power nap here and there, I don't see it really causing problems.

    Thank you for the concern, I really do appreciate it. In terms of measuring producivity, it is likely to be number of tomatoes achieved. However, I am very aware that I am really sailing close to the wind on the "sustainable pace" front so I am actually thinking of not following the Pomodoro technique in the midnight hours purely because I would have been running at full pace all day. TBH, I am not sure what I wish to do, and will likely try both (e.g 1 week Pomodoro technique to see how I feel etc.)

  6. Pomodoro is a great way to measure your pace, what you do with it is up to you. If you want to lower your pace just do less pomodoro or add longer breaks. Just make sure you don't turn it into a competition.

  7. You are A CRAZY MAN.

    I will be watching to see how this one goes, I may even post about it myself in the event that it is okay with you!

  8. Rob, you're going to be fubar inside a week :p

    (Good luck with it mind.)

  9. This sounds like a very interesting experiment. Something I am interested in trying myself. But unfortunately, as @IanNelson pointed out, it just doesn't work out for some people. I'm currently on a babyphasic cycle which leads to nearly 0 productivity, poor eating and little exercise.


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