Tag Archives: sleep schedule

Geniuses with Polyphasic Sleep Schedules

A lot of people look at polyphasic sleep, and Uberman as an oddity, and not something that could actually be done. As it turns out, this belief is unfounded, and some of the greatest minds followed polyphasic sleeping schedules. These well known figures throughout history slept polyphasically. They would all leave their mark on the world, their contributions given between short naps.

A significant number of geniuses and inventors adopted odd sleeping schedules very similar to Uberman.

Nikola Tesla

One such inventor was Nikola Tesla, who is responsible for a large amount of the everyday conveniences we use today.Nikola Tesla polyphasic sleep schedule

If you haven’t heard of Nikola Tesla yet, you probably will soon. Tesla is getting a lot of recognition for his accomplishments lately, and we owe much of our modern world to him. Tesla is responsible for the development of alternating current (A/C) which runs through most homes today and powers just about everything that isn’t run on a battery.

He even developed a way to transport electricity wirelessly over 25 miles, lighting 200 lamp.

Light bulbs were said to glow, even when turned off nearby his lab.

How did he find the time to do all this?

Nikola Tesla slept less than 2 hours a day. He did admit to taking naps from time to time.

He followed a polyphasic sleep schedule.

Picture:  Unknown, circa 1939

Leonardo Da VinciVitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

Known to sleep about 1.5 to 2 hours per day, da Vinci had an astounding career, leaving his mark on nearly every scientific, engineering, and artistic form there is.  Between painting the Mona Lisa, creating weapons of war, and designing some of the very first flying machines, Leonardo took short naps.  The official “da Vinci” sleep schedule is a 10 minute nap every 2 hours, though some do 20 minute naps every 4 hours like the well known Uberman sleep schedule.

Pictured:  Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”

Salvador Dali

Famed painter Saldvador Dali was well known to hold a metal key over a plate while seated in a chair and nod off. Upon falling to sleep, the key would drop, striking the plate.  The resulting noise would re-awaken Dali, inspiring him to paint yet another masterpiece. He felt that sleep was a waste of time, except for the dreaming, which he utilized throughout his career.

Dali was known to call this method “slumber with a key” and described it quite artfully in his book, “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.”

Salvador Dali 1939 Library of CongressExcerpt:  “In order to make use of the slumber with a key, you must seat yourself in a bony armchair, preferably of a Spanish style, with your head tilted back and resting on the stretched leather back. Your two hands must hang beyond the arms of the chair, to which your own must be soldered in a supineness of complete relaxation. Your wrists must be held out in space and must have been previously lubricated with oil of aspic. This is intended to facilitate the benumbing of your hands at the moment when slumber approaches, inducing the tingling that is produced when one of your members goes to sleep—a tingling which is in reality a counter pitch, the physical ants, antidotes of the psychic ones of your redoubtable impatience to paint.

“In this posture, you must hold a heavy key which you will keep suspended, delicately pressed between the extremities of the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Under the key you will previously have placed a plate upside down on the floor. Having made these preparations, you will have merely to let yourself be progressively invaded by a serene afternoon sleep, like the spiritual drop of anisette of your soul rising in the cube of sugar of your body. The moment the key drops from your fingers, you may be sure that the noise of its fall on the upside-down plate will awaken you, and you may be equally sure that this fugitive moment when you had barely lost consciousness and during which you cannot be assured of having really slept, is totally sufficient, inasmuch as not a second more is needed for your whole physical and psychic being to be revivified.”

Photo: Carl van Vechten

Buckminster FullerBuckminster Fuller by Dan Lindsay

Buckminster Fuller was known for quite a few things, one of which was a new word that he coined, Dymaxion. Dymaxion was said to be a combination of the words “Dynamic Maximum Tension.” Fuller would use this to help distinguish his work from other peoples. There was a Dymaxion car, dymaxion house, and Dymaxion award.

Buckminster Fuller slept polyphasically for about two years, per a TIME magazine article published in 1943.

He, however called it “Dymaxion sleep” and differed significantly from Uberman. Dymaxion sleep seperated the day into 4 parts, with 5.5 hours of wakefulness and then a 30 minute nap. He reported that the only reason he stopped sleeping this way was because it conflicted with his associates schedules.

Probably the most recognizable structure inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s work is the EPCOT “ball” at Walt Disney World.  The ball is actually a geodesic dome, which Buckminster Fuller popularized.  The ride inside Disney’s iconic monument is called “Spaceship Earth,” the name also inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.”

Photo: Dan Lindsay

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt PealeThomas Jefferson regularly woke with the sun, but also stayed up late, frequently working late into the night, leading to an average much shorter than the 7-9 hours recommended by doctors. Depending on how late he was working, he probably averaged 4 to 6 hours per day.

Besides being one of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson was apointed to the 5 man committee to write the Declaration of Independence, and wrote the first drafts.  He helped solidify America’s resolution to seperate from Great Britain and form the United States of America.

Showing remarkable foresight, Thomas Jefferson had a paragraph in the Declaration of Independence blaming slavery on Great Britain, particularly King George III, and naming it an “abominable crime.”  The paragraph was subsequently removed by his constituents. Despite Jefferson’s abolishionist feelings, he did own slaves, though there is evidence that he had a romantic relationship with, and fathered 6 children with Sally Hemmings, a slave at Monticello.

Portrait: Rembrandt Peale


Napoleon BonaparteNapoleon Bonaparte

Known for frequent nap taking, Napoleon supposedly slept in 2 hour chunks at night, with a 30 minute nap in the afternoon, even during battle. 

Napoleon would have a 10 year reign as Emperor of France before becoming dethroned and sent to Elba, an island off the coast.  While housed there, he would sleep late into the day, even remaining in bed after being awoken.  

He would subsequently escape Elba and regain control of France for a short period of time.

Portrait: Jacques-Louis David

Thomas Edison

 Thomas EdisonKnown to sleep very little, or even not at all when inspiration struck, Thomas Edison worked tirelessly for days, only to crash afterwards and sleep for long stretches, sometimes longer than a day.  Thomas Edison is one of the most prolific inventors in history, with over 1,000 United States patents to his name.  The “Wizard of Menlo Park” would help to revolutionize the world.  Edison and Tesla, two great minds, would come into conflict during the “War of the Currents,” with Edison backing direct current and Tesla supporting alternating current.  You can still see DC in use today with batteries of all kinds, while your home and all appliances that are “plugged in” are powered by alternating current.

Photo by: Louis Bachrach, Bachrach Studios, restored by Michel Vuijlsteke

Winston Churchill

Probably one of the more documented polyphasic sleeper, Winston Churchill was a fairly standard biphasic sleeper. He would sleep at night, about 5 hours, then again between

Winston Churchilllunch and dinner, for an additional 1-3 hours. He was known for very long nights.

Winston Churchill would end the “appeasement” policy of Neville Chamberlain and pit Great Britain against the axis powers during World War II.  He was elected as prime minister twice, from 1940-1945 and 1951-1955.

Picture: J.Russel and Sons, Library of Congress

The Polyphasic Sleep Schedule and You

Nap TimeThe Polyphasic Sleep Schedule and You

The Polyphasic sleep schedule is a departure from anything you’ve ever known about sleeping.

Most people sleep and night and work during the day. They’ve been told to try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, but no nap. Most people know someone who really likes naps, and takes one almost every day, at about the same time. This is the beginning of a polyphasic sleep schedule.

Polyphasic sleep has been studied and found to provide many of the benefits of a full night’s rest, but at a fraction of the time. Polyphasic sleep practitioners have been able to decrease their sleep requirements down to 2 hours with some practice.

Uberman Sleep Schedule

The most extreme schedule is known as the “Uberman” sleep schedule. Uberman provides in 2 hours what most people achieve in 8 hours. By sleeping only 2 hours per day, you are, in effect, adding 6 hours of usefulness and productivity per day. This means that, over a week, you are adding 42 hours of productivity.

The Uberman sleep schedule is 3 hours and 40 minutes of wakefulness followed by a 20 minute nap. This means you will only be sleeping 2 hours per day, with 22 hours of wakefulness. While it sounds like this is nearly impossible, many people throughout history have adopted similar schedules quite successfully.

Initially it will be difficult to follow this schedule, especially with the very short naps that you must take frequently, but your body will adapt to your demands. Normally, the body takes a long time to get into REM sleep, and the first few days are difficult. Scientists found that REM sleep is the kind of sleep that gives rest, and is actually consists of only about 2 hours of the 8 hours most people sleep. By forcing your body to follow your schedule, you will get nearly 20 minutes of REM sleep every nap (20 minutes, 6 naps), which is equal to the 2 hours a monophasic (that is, someone who sleeps for 8 hours straight) sleeper gets.

With Uberman, your body will realize that it will only be getting those 2 hours of sleep and slips into REM sleep almost immedietelly. This allows you to stay awake much longer with much less rest.

What are some other sleep schedules?


With biphasic sleep, about halfway through the day a nap is taken. This nap can be long or short. Generally, a short nap means a longer “main” sleep while a longer nap means a shorter main sleep. Usually this will lead to about a 6 hour main sleep, saving you about 1-2 hours from your sleep requirements per day.


Segmented sleep was widely considered to be “normal” before the 20th century. In segmented sleep, users would sleep for about 3.5 hours, then wake for a short period of time, then sleep again for another 3.5 hours.  See this post for a more information on the “natural” sleeping schedule.


Everyman is a sleeping schedule where there is a relatively large main sleep followed by 2, 3, 4, or even 5 naps spaced evenly throughout the day. This allows for a large main sleep while still maintaining many of the benefits of a polyphasic sleep schedule.


Buckminster Fuller followed this schedule for about 2 years, but stopped it because it conflicted with everyone else’s schedules.  Dymaxation is about 5 hours 30 minutes of wakefulness, followed by 30 minutes of sleep.  It will net you the same time saving qualities of Uberman, but with fewer naps per day.

What you should understand before starting any Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

Darkness is critical to achieve restful sleep.

Why Darkness is Critical to get a good night's sleep

This may seem contrary to the goal of this site, to stay awake more, but it is actually the crux of everything we’ve done here. Quality, restful sleep in as little time as possible. Polyphasic sleep, and the uberman sleep schedule are all based on the idea that frequent sleeping on a schedule can achieve similar results to a traditional monophasic night’s rest. Darkness, or rather the absence of light, is extremely important to achieve that rest. More on that later. Before you attempt a polyphasic sleep schedule like uberman, you should figure out how to get a real night’s rest normally, without having to go to extremes sleeping schedules.

Melatonin is a very important in the process of going to sleep, as it increases drowsiness and lowers body temperature. Melatonin does a lot more than help you sleep. Melatonin deficiencies have been linked to autism aging, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. So, to say that we, as humans, have a vested interest in understanding melatonin, how it works, and how to emphasize its benefits is an understatement.

Why is light, or rather the absence of light important for sleep? Light of all kinds inhibits the release of melatonin. The worst offenders were the colors with shorter wavelengths, like blue and green. Red had the least effect on melatonin secretion. So, dimming or turning off all your lights around your house is very important. You knew that, but you are probably forgetting about quite a few lights around your house.

The invention of the lightbulb was one of the worst things for humans, as far as sleep is involved.

Dark Room bright TV screen

Artificial light has been wreaking havoc with our internal clocks since the 19th century, unbeknownst to most of us. The common light bulb enabled us to stay up later for both work and play, but also get up earlier. No longer were we tethered to the rise and fall of the sun for illumination. While this did benefit us in many ways, still to this day, no other invention has had such an all-encompassing assault on our natural sleeping patterns.  Before the lightbulb, only candles were used, and only the very rich could afford to have enough light to regularly stay up late into the night.  Most people slept when it was dark out because there wasn’t much else that could be done with the lights out.  Today, unless you have blackout curtains, light from outside of your bedroom, from your neighbors, is leaking in around your mini-blinds, wrecking your sleep, and keeping you from a good night’s rest.

Your cell phone has a light in it, and probably produces the worst kind of light for sleep, blue. So does your computer monitor and television. Most older flat screen televisions use fluorescent light bars to light the screen, which emit very short wavelength light, plus some ultraviolet light. Newer LED based screens have two ways of creating white light. One is by combining red, green and blue, the second by using a blue or UV light and converting it to white light. The light from these devices can suppress more than 65% of your normal amount of melatonin secretion. Even the LEDs on your VCR can be bright if you leave them on.

Even once you are asleep, light can prevent true restful sleep. Someone driving through your neighborhood shines their lights inside your window, briefly lighting up your room. You groggily look around, realize it is a car, and go back to bed. Seems innocuous, if annoying, but this actually disturbed your normal brain wave pattern for sleep. Your significant other watching television after you fall asleep is not okay. The light (and sound!) from the television disturbs your sleep patterns, even if you can snooze through Craig Ferguson.

Steps to take to create a house that will help you get to sleep:

Computer and iPhone/iPad: Get f.lux. F.lux is a program that adapts your computer screen based on what time of day it is in your area.. It will be brighter in the morning and darker at night. It is touted that it makes your computer screen look like the room you are in. You shouldn’t be looking at screen the color of daylight late at night. F.lux is free, and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPad/iPhone

Lighting: Start dimming your lights around dinner time. With the advent of compact fluorescent lightbulbs or lamps (CFL – the ones that look twisted) and LED lighting, you might consider having a “normal” incandescent light bulb around to use before bed.

Windows: Pull your curtains to stop outside lights from coming through. Most street lamps are sodium vapor lamps, and produce yellowish light, but it can still effect your sleep.

TV: Move the television out of your bedroom and into the living room. Flat screen televisions use either LED lights or fluorescent bulbs, which both give off blue light, suppressing melatonin secretion, keeping you alert

Finally, consider buying a sleep mask or some other sort of eye covering device to block out any and all remaining light.

Streetlight photo: Wyn van Devanter

Screen Photo: Chris Dlugosz

Polyphasic Sleep: The Natural Sleeping Schedule

Man SleepingWith all this information about sleeping and the myriad different sleeping schedules, you might wonder what the natural or normal sleeping schedule is. As it turns out, it isn’t as simple as “we are awake during the day, sleep at night” – not by a long shot.

Newborns practice a form of polyphasic sleeping. They are awake for short periods, and sleep for nearly two-thirds of the day. Most people will point to the “circadian rhythm” when talking about sleep schedules, indicating that the normal 24-hour period is “normal.”

Altering the circadian rhythm

As it turns out, the circadian rhythm is remarkably adaptable. Humans have been trained to both shorten and lengthen the time their bodies expect a day to last, according to this.  Studies have been performed to both shorten the circadian rhythm to 23.5 hours as well as lengthen rhythm to 24 hours, 40 minutes (incidentally, the length of a day on Mars). Studies have also been done which eliminate all external lighting cues for sleep and found that humans will slowly adapt a 25 hour “day” given no stimulus.

Sleep Schedules before the modern world

In the 1600s, it was widely considered normal to have a “first sleep” and “second sleep” with a 1 to 2 hour period of wakefulness between. People might wake, use the restroom, converse, and perform other activities, according to this article.  By the 1700s, this first/second sleep idea had mostly disappeared. The take away from all this is that humans are very adaptable, and that different sleep schedules are very possible. Over the course of human history, many different sleep schedules evolved naturally, and that how and when you sleep can be modified as you would like.

Photo: Chad Fitz

Newborns Follow Polyphasic Sleeping Schedules

Baby SleepingFrom birth to 3 months, most babies sleep for two thirds or more of a 24 hour period. The problem is, they don’t sleep all the way through, but instead wake up about every 3 hours for nourishment. This is actually perfectly normal. Babies follow a polyphasic sleep schedule, but will slowly begin to sleep longer at night and awake more during the day. It is quite normal for a newborn to wake up every 2, 3, or 4 hours to eat, unfortunately. If you are using formula, consider putting all the pieces together so that you won’t have to think too hard in the early morning hours. A vented bottle system helped my wife and me to keep gas to a minimum. We also used simethicone (Mylecon) quite a bit as well, for those hard to produce gas bubbles in babies’ belly. Source: “Typical Sleep Pattern for Newborns”