Polyphasic Sleep for Jetlag

This is a modification on something similar I did when my daughter was born: Trying to catch up on sleep as a new parent. After having great success with that experiment, I tried the same schedule to recover lost sleep due to jet lag (also with great success).

Most recommendations for recovering from Jet-lag involve avoiding sleep at your destination and trying to stay awake as long as possible (until night time). Usually taking a nap is a bad idea because of the tendency to oversleep. What I am recommending is highly regimented naps in both frequency and duration.

The Plan

  1. Follow traditional best practices for avoiding Jet Lag.
  2. 20 minute naps every 4 hours: As soon as you land go on a dynamic “everyman” sleep schedule (20 minute nap every 4 hours) until night time and then either
    1. Sleep as long as you can (if you can); or
    2. if you cannot sleep, take another 20 minute nap and try sleeping again in another 4 hours.
  3. Repeat on the second day: When you wake up, record the time and plan on another 20 minute nap in 4 hours (and continue the cycle).
  4. Stop the nap schedule once you feel you are onto the local rhythm, but I recommend to stick with it for at least 2 days (or more if you enjoy it!).
  5. Start on the plane: If you are on a really long flight with multiple connections, you can try starting your nap schedule early by napping at airports during connections or on the plane before you land.

Very important: You are not trying to reduce sleep. You are trying to catch up on missed sleep (and future sleep you are about to miss). So don’t purposely stay up all night — if it’s night time and you can get an entire night’s sleep in, then do so. But if it’s day time then be strict with your nap schedule.

Tips

  • Take wind down time into account. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, so I usually schedule my nap 15 minutes earlier and set my alarm for 35 minutes.
  • It is ok if you don’t actually sleep. Lying in a comfy spot with your eyes closed for 20 minutes will refresh you enough to help push you through another 4 hours of awake.
  • Plan your day around your sleep schedule to make sure you can get your naps in
  • Carry ear plugs and a night mask (and an inflatable pillow?) to maximize your “anywhere / anytime” nap opportunities.
  • Use the website JetLagRooster.com to prep your sleep schedule even before you leave and get tips on how to adapt once you land (note: They do not have naps built into their schedule)

Polyphasic Sleep for New Parents

Polyphasic sleep refers to the practice of sleeping multiple times in a 24-hour period (vs monophasic once per 24-hour sleep).  There are some that use polyphasic sleep and alternative sleeping schedules to try to achieve more time awake each day (in the most extreme case – The Uberman – you sleep only 20 minutes every 4 hours for a total of only 2 hours of sleep). Polyphasic sleep recently got an uptick in popularity due to Tim Ferris‘ book “The 4-Hour Body“.

I’m a big fan of stupid human experiments and so I was itching for an opportunity to try Polyphasic sleep.  My opportunity to try came with the birth of my first child — It seemed to make sense (in an insane kind of way): When you have a new baby you are kinda forced to adopt polyphasic sleep (i.e.: You get woken up a lot).  So what better time to give it a try?

However, unlike traditional polyphasic sleepers, my focus was NOT on maximizing my awake time.  My focus was on the reverse: Maximizing sleep time.

Here was my modified sleep pattern:

  • Try and get as much “normal” sleep between 10PM to 7AM.  Don’t force yourself to stay awake, don’t wake yourself up at a specific time, etc… If you can sleep uninterrupted the whole way through, go for it!
  • Once you wake up, you adopt a modified Uberman sleep pattern during daytime hours: Every 4 hours, you take a 20-45 minute power nap.  If you wake up at  6AM, you take a nap at 10AM, 2PM, 6PM, and go down for the count at 10PM.  If you wake up an hour earlier or later, the schedule gets shifted by the same amount.

Tips:

  • Seize napping opportunities: If it’s 3 hours since your last nap, and you have an opportunity to take a nap.  DO IT!  You probably won’t have the chance right at 4 hours.  If you go past 4 hours, take a nap the next opportunity possible.
  • Don’t oversleep.  Once that 45 minute alarm goes off, get up!
  • Don’t forget to nap.  If you skip a nap, it’s very hard to catch up again.
  • Carry an “instant-anywhere-nap-kit”: a blanket, inflatable pillow, eye blind, and ear plugs to allow for instant naps anywhere. (Maybe this is a product idea for someone? The instant nap kit?)

I’m not claiming there is a scientific basis for this, but it worked great for me. I followed this routine for about 2 months (until our baby awesomely decided to sleep 12 hour nights), and I barely felt any effects from the sleep deprivation.