Polyphasic Sleep for Jetlag

Most recommendations for recovering from Jet-lag involve avoiding sleep at your destination until night time. Here is an alternative: Polyphasic sleep to pro-actively catchup on the sleep you are about to miss.

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.
  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.

Important: You are not trying to reduce sleep. You are trying to catch up on sleep you have already missed 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 go for it. 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)

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Polyphasic Sleep for New Parents

Polyphasic sleep is the practice of replacing 8 hours of sleep per day with multiple shorter naps. If you’re a new parent, here is how to leverage polyphasic sleep to catchup on missing sleep.

Polyphasic sleep is the practice of replacing a single 8 hour sleep with multiple shorter naps. This is done maximize your “awake” hours: The claim is that you can achieve the same level of rest with less sleep, and have more hours in the day to do stuff.

When my daughter was born, I was forced into a polyphasic sleep routine (i.e.: I was woken up at night a lot). So I decided to try and continue the polyphasic sleep pattern during the day (i.e.: take power naps). Unlike traditional polyphasic sleepers, my focus was NOT on maximizing my awake time.  My focus was on maximizing sleep time.

My plan was to try and sleep as much as possible during the night (with the expectation that I would be frequently woken up). During the day, I would take regimented power naps to catch up the the sleep I’ve missed.

Prerequisites

  • There needs to be at least two parents
  • You need a flexible work schedule
  • You need a private place to take naps during the day

My Polyphasic Sleep Routine

Nightime (~10PM to ~7AM)

  • Try to get as much sleep as possible
  • Don’t force yourself to stay awake
  • Don’t force yourself to wake up at a specific time

Daytime (~7am to ~10pm)

  • Adopt an Uberman sleep pattern during the day (or a modified Everyman)
  • Take a 20-45 minute power nap every 3-4 hours. If you wake up at  6AM, you take a nap at 10AM, 2PM, 6PM. If you wake up an hour earlier or later, the schedule gets shifted appropriately.
  • Capitalize on nap opportunities: If it’s only 3 hours since your last nap, but you have an opportunity for a power nap now, take the nap. Don’t wait another hour.
  • Don’t oversleep.  Once that 45 minute alarm goes off, get up!
  • Don’t forget to nap.  If you skip a nap, try to nap at the next opportunity and reset your nap schedule from that point.
  • Carry an “instant-anywhere-nap-kit”: a blanket, inflatable pillow, eye blind, and ear plugs to allow for instant naps anywhere.

Did it work?

Yes — it actually worked really well for me. I got into a routine of taking two power naps at work, and then another power nap shortly after I got home. How much or little I slept during the night didn’t really affect my day-time productivity, as I could catchup on the missing sleep.

I only followed this routine for 2-3 months, as our daughter started sleeping full nights very early on (which I am very grateful for).