Another Self-Experiment Goes Wrong

Ok. I’ll come right out with it.

Last month, I got my ass handed to me, in an inglorious lesson from the school of hard knocks.

It started out innocently enough.  I embarked on a Do-Something-You-Fear-For-30-Days challenge. Just another 30 day challenge, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing out of the blue.

But all you, were decieved.

For another challenge was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of my brain, the dark lord Sauron, forged in secret, a master challenge, to control all others. 

One challenge… to rule them all.

In other words, I had a gnawing desire to try out polyphasic sleeping.

Polyphasic sleeping? What the hell is polyphasic sleeping?

What you and I know as normal sleep – sleeping in one big block – is monophasic. (Single phase). Apparently, it’s pretty wasteful. Much of your eight hours is spent on useless phases of sleep, so the theory goes. In eight hours, you get only one and a half hours of the most important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. What the hell are our bodies doing?!

Enter stage left polyphasic sleeping. By depriving yourself of sleep, your body promotes REM sleep to the top of the pack. So when you take a nap, 100% of it will be REM. Thus, if you nap six times a day, for 20 minutes a piece, you’ll get two hours of REM sleep – the same, if not more, you’d get with monophasic.

This is the “Uberman” schedule. Six equidistant naps of 20 minutes, for a total of two hours of sleep a day.

Two hours of sleep a day?! Holy smokes! That would mean you’d gain an extra… 

Six hours a day, or two days a week, or three months a year, or three years every decade.

Imagine what you could do with an extra six hours a day… All the books you could read, all the languages you could learn, all the soufflés you could perfect….

The possibilities.

If you’re like me, you’re now thinking,

That is IN-SANE! I’ve GOT to try this!!

(Cue responsible brain)

Wait.. two hours of sleep a day… won’t I, like, die or something?

I can’t really say if you’ll die or not. Sleep is a huge question mark. No-one knows why humans need eight hours of it, but giraffes need only two. No-one knows 100% what happens during each phase of sleep. The land of slumber is a mystery.

But I can point you to people who’ve successfully lived on polyphasic sleep.

Like Matt Mullenweg. He built wordpress while on polyphasic sleep, and called that year the most productive time of his life. Steve Pavlina, a success coach, also pulled it off. Afterwards, he said he could go on indefinetely, only reverting back to monophasic because of his wife. Then there’s the founder of the Uberman schedule, “PureDoyx”. Tim Ferris has also used it when his schedule gets crazy.

People also say that Da Vinci, Napoleon and Thomas Edison were also polyphasic sleepers. Though having read the biographies of the first two, I call that BS. Napoleon was an incredible catnapper – taking 20 minute naps in the middle of a battle – but nothing says he planned it that way.

Point is, people have pulled it off. And they didn’t die. In fact, they felt waay better than normal. If they can do it, why not us?

Thinking along these lines, I had one main concern. How would two hours of sleep affect physical performance? You go to the gym to break down your muscles, but then sleep to build them back stronger. Plus, testosterone levels (good for muscle-building pursuits, risk-taking, and general downstairs functioning) are strongly related to sleep. Unfortunately, there were no examples online of people on Uberman who did lots of physical exercise. Even the 4 Hour Body was sparse. However, Tim Ferris says the following of his own sleep experiments:

The higher the percentage of deep-wave sleep, the better your subsequent physical performance.”

The higher the REM percentage, the better the recall of skills or data aqcuired in the previous 24 hours.”

It would seem, then, that the Uberman schedule (100% REM) would decrease physical performance, but send mental capacities into overdrive.

Deciding I didn’t want to become a shrivellep-up version of myself, I wanted to go for the tamer “Everyman” schedule. (Specifically Everyman 3). As you can see from the diagram (credit 4 Hour Body), it has a 3 hour core sleep (for Deep-Wave sleep), and 3 naps of 20 minutes during the day.


Ok, but wait.. Iain, you’ve already got a 30 day challenge. That’s going to be tough as it is. Let’s just wait until next month. Start small, my man. Start small.


F*!k it! Let’s do it!

And so, polyphasic sleeping had begun.

My schedule looked like the following:

Core sleep: 21:00 – 0:30   Nap 1: 4:10 – 4:30  Nap 2: 8:10 – 8:30   Nap 3: 2:40 – 3:10.

So, I was sleeping for only 4 1/2 hours a day, giving me 3 1/2 of extra time, or an extra 1 day a week.

What I couldn’t figure out was how to combine this with my morning routine. I’d now be waking up 4 times a day. Should I meditate, Tabatan and cold shower after every nap? Or just one? Or maybe two? Or three?

Deciding that 5 minutes of meditation after every nap would be too much, too soon, I opted for 1 minute of meditation every time I woke up. Tabatans and cold showers…. I’d figure it out as I went.

The first 3 days were amazing. I felt like I was on a mission waking up at 0:30. (The James Bond theme tune I was using for an alarm also has to take some credit.) Knowing that you’re the only one up is an ungodly unleasher of creative juices. The tranquility is great. There’s no drama. No-one to give you looks of dissaproval. No ungrateful audience when you play air guitar in front of the mirror.

Pure. Bliss.

And the extra time. Damn, you notice those extra 3 1/2 hours. Usually, I feel harried to finish things, to squeeze in a bit of reading there, to optimise the life out of everything.

No, you’re not on a relaxing walk in nature, Iain. You’re stretching out hip flexors, absorbing knowledge from a podcast, and sponging up Vitamin D. No leisure to see here.

But now… life adopted such a leisurely, gentlemanly pace. Playing some basketball here, obliterating people at chess there, going for a stroll. And the best thing? Despite the extra-curriculurs, I had more time than usual to work. It truly was an idyllic place.

That was the first few days.

Then the cracks started to appear.

I slept through my first alarm. I woke up 4 hours later, and didn’t know what to do. So, I did what an amateur does in that situation – nothing. I was out of sync for the rest of the day.

From then on, everything went tits up. I couldn’t stick to the schedule. I slept through alarms. I woke up at different times each day. Some days 0:30, some days 4:30, some days 8:30. Meditation, journalling, tabatans and cold showers fell by the way side.

When I woke up, I knewshould meditate and Tabatan. But I didn’t. Maybe my alarm wasn’t loud enough, maybe my subsistence diet of maize tortillas and rice was partially to blame, or maybe waking up to 4 different James Bond theme tunes didn’t help.

Then, I caved. My alarm woke me up at 0:30. I reached my arm over to the bedside table to switch it off. (Alarm clock next to bed? Rookie mistake…) And in that brief moment of Am I going to get out of bed? my mind went from “Hell YEAH! I’m on a mission!” to, “N-o.”

Next thing I know, I’m being woken up by my 8:30 alarm feeling crappy.

And as my attitude went out the window, everything else followed suit. Two weeks in was the higlight of my no-fear challenge, when I put my most disgusting selfie as my Facebook profile picture, but after that…. flat-lined. Making the bed for a small discipline win at the start of the day? Gone.

Procrastination went into overload. The reason? No will power. Everytime I didn’t know what to write, instead of persevering, I’d give up and go play chess, watch lame videos on YouTube, or eat rice. What should’ve taken me two days would take an entire week.

I tried reading some of my favourite books to break the cycle. But they all left me feeling more cycnical about the world. My success-filled facebook feed… “5 Habits of Ultra-of the Ultra-Successful”? Bullshit. I was picking flaws in everyone around me, getting livid at the tiniest things, trashing my room, destroying my journal..

I then took a three day break from Everyman. To try and piece back some semblance of routine.

And it was scary.

Usually, I wake up, and I’m excited. I want to start the day, I’m raring to go. Now, it was the opposite. I woke up, and would lay in bed for hours, trying to go back to sleep. Not because I felt tired, but because I didn’t want to do anything. Likewise, I’d go to sleep at 5pm. Not because I was tired. But because I wanted the day to be over.

Despite the glorious Mexican sunshine streaming through the window, I felt like I was in a deep dark hole. I knew what I should do –  start the day afresh! Do your 1 thing! Act happy, then you’ll feel happy! But I  couldn’t find a way to do any of them. The simple act of getting out of bed led to an inner conversation of why I couldn’t get out of bed.

Now, I expect pretty high standards in myself. I don’t let myself off the hook easily. My self-talk doesn’t hesitate to call me when I’m underperforming. But now, my self-talk was verging on psychopathic. It felt like I was two people. One part was screaming abuse, telling me to man the f up, and get my sorry ass out of bed. On the recieving end, was this total loser, trying his hardest to ignore the drill sergeant.

It was pretty weird. I didn’t know which was the real me, if any.

After some heavy sleeping, I tried Everyman again. I failed worse than before. My body ignored alarms.

A week later, I pulled the plug entirely.

The month ended, and I was relieved. I woke up (metaphorically) and observed the carnage around me. There was not an inch of my room that wasn’t covered in torn up paper or something else.

It was a shitty month. And here’s the gems I’ve gleaned the following gems from this mess.


1. To Feel Amazing, You Have to Deserve It.

To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.” ~ Charlie Munger

I had a budhhist flatmate not long ago. He routinely asked me things in a negative way. One day, I told him that if he wanted my help, he had to ask me with a smile.

A couple of days later, he told me that he doesn’t smile because he’s not naturally a happy person. He had lots of anxieties, lots of worries, was depressed etc… Whereas it was easy for me to smile, he went on, because I’m naturally a happy, social, outgoing person.

His comment was the red rag to the bull. I flew off the handle.

A naturally happy, social and outgoing person?! You’ve got to be kidding me.

In high school, I hated every social situation. People, especially new people, terrified me. School dances? I could think of nothing worse.

As a Sports Ambassador, I had to go to conferences, where there would be hundreds of new people, ice breakers and the likes. They were the embodiment of hell itself. I wish the Earth would swallow me up and be done with it. One time, the car broke down on the way to one of these conferences. I pretended to be dissappointed, but I was celebrating on the inside. Christmas had come early, or so it seemed – the car was soon back on the road.

When I went to university, everything changed. I wanted to change myself. Since then, I’ve put myself in uncomfortable situations, thanks to books like The Alchemist, my best friends, and people like Elliott Hulse.

Now, going on crazy adventures and living with people I hardly know sounds awesome! Going to conferencesm, making speeches? Sweet! New people, new country? Amazing! Let’s do it!

Naturally happy? Naturally sociable? That is complete BS.

And last month proves it.

I present Exhibit A:


The former, my Tabatan calendar for January. The latter, for last month.

In January, I felt incredible. I was what said-Buddhist called “naturally” happy, sociable and outgoing. In February however, I felt miserable, stressed out, and angry.

In January, I did Tabatans, meditation, gratitude meditation and cold showers every single day. In February, I only did Tabatans 60% of the time, and on the off-cance I meditated, it was for 1 minute. Cold showers? Nope. Gratitude? Nope.

“To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.”

In January, I deserved to feel freakin’ incredible. In February, I didn’t.

Naturally sociable? Naturally happy? That is utter Bullshit. It’s cause and effect, no more, no less.

Feeling great is simple. If I invest a little time at the start of the day to meditate, work out, journal and take a cold shower, I feel like a million bucks.

Feeling satisfied at the end of the day is simple. I have to plan, I have to think, I have to perseverence when the going gets tough. I have to know myself, I have to reflect.

Feeling happy is simple. I have to make time to connect with people, to fuel my body properly, to be grateful for the things I have.

If I don’t do some of these things, I feel average. If I don’t do any of these things, I feel shitty.

Man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creatures of men.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli.

Amen to that.

You want something? Frustrated you’re not getting it? Ask yourself: Do I deserve what I want?


2. To Get More Time, Prove That You Already Use The Time You Have.

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste alot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements, if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life, but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied, but wasteful of it.” ~ Seneca

For the rare being that does pull off Uberman, there’s another thousand people that achieved great things sleeping 8 hours a day. Che Guevara, Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander The Great… they didn’t need extra hours, so why should we?

Before asking for more time, prove that you need them, first. Prove that you’re capable of using the 16 hours awake you have already.

Would Elon Musk, owner of three multi-billion dollar companies benefit from more time? Probably.

Would Joe Bloggs, who spends his an hour a day playing Farmville, surfing trash on facebook and watching TV? No.

3. Focus on one thing at a time.

The No Fear Challenge, Everyman sleep schedule, new daily routines, freelancing for multiple people, trying out different Tabatans….

I moved a millimetre in every direction, so I got nowhere. But when I put my eggs in one basket, and the success spills over into all the others. When you try to improve every area of your life, it doesn’t work. When you try to improve only one, you end up improving them all. The irony…

4. Self-Loathing is probably counter-productive.

They say “talk to yourself like your best friend.” I’ve never done this, so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness.

But I don’t think self-talk of a psychopathic drill sergeant is particularly productive.

Self-talk has to get you pumped up, AND tell you what you need to hear at the same time. It should be focused on behaviour rather than inherent traits. E.g You’re acting like a total loser vs. You ARE a total loser. The first is what you need to hear, and is constructive. The second is wrong, and unhelpful. The first is growth mind-set, the second is fixed.

More on this coming in the future…

5. Having Routine is Epic.


I love doing the same things everyday. I love slowly adding things to my routines. I love tinkering with optimal performance.

When you have routine, it’s easy to link cause and effect. It also grounds your day: giving you a foundation to operate from.

People who brag that they can work in their pyjamas, any time of day that they want? I could think of nothing worse. (This is coming from someone who can  do this.) Routine keeps me inspired, keeps me creative, and keeps me on my game.

I heart routine t-shirt, coming soon.


Post-Polyphasic: Would I Try It Again?

You’re damn right I’ll try it again. 1 extra day a week?! That’s INSANE!

But I’ll make sure I show it the respect it deserves next time.


As Always,

Dream Big Start Small!

Mucho Amor,