This is a presentation that I gave at the New York Quantified Self Meetup. I talk about how I started to sleep polyphasically and also how I used self-tracking to make sure that I wasn’t killing myself.
This is a presentation that I gave at the New York Quantified Self Meetup. I talk about how I started to sleep polyphasically and also how I used self-tracking to make sure that I wasn’t killing myself.
Most of the habit gurus agree, when it comes to habits, the only way to succeed is to do one at a time. We have limited willpower and need all of it to invoke a habit change. I think they all got it wrong.
Ever since I started reflecting daily I’ve been experimenting with the idea of “slow habits” and I think it’s a far more natural way to form habits than the current paradigm. I’ve been an order of magnitude more successful with it that I have been with the normal methods.
So what’s the different?
Pick a habit then invest between 28-60 days concentrating on making sure you apply that habit.
Apply a variety of different techniques (triggers, rewards, starting small etc) to make sure it sticks.
After a certain amount of time (1-2 months) and willpower application, your habit is effortlessly set for life (yeah right).
Pick as many habits as you want.
Track how often you perform each one.
Watch as you slowly start to do them more and more often naturally.
The reason I think that the slow (not relying on every day) technique is a more natural way of doing things is that it’s the way most of our current habits have formed. Hit the snooze button 3 times EVERY morning? Regularly eating food that is killing you even though you know you should not? Procrastinating work by checking Facebook, Twitter etc daily? None of these habits are things that you spent 30 days developing triggers and rewards for, or applying all your willpower to. They just happen to you.
The idea with a slow habit is to have that same natural process happen to you, but for good habits.
How to form slow habits:
Step 1: Get Lift (or a spreadsheet).
You can do it without Lift, but this is what the Lift app seems to be designed for. It lets you track your habits, keeps track of streaks and provides your with frequency graphs for the habits. If you don’t have an iPhone you can do this with a spreadsheet (I did before I switched to iPhone) or an Android clone (Lift will be on Android and the web some day soon as well), but it’s much less fun.
Step 2: Form the tracking habit – Learn to use Lift every day.
This is the one and only time we need traditional habit theory to form a habit. It is the step that so many of my friends who have tried to use Lift have missed. People use it for a few weeks then forget about it. This tracking habit step is critical for success.
All the traditional habit theory applies here, so it’s up to you how you want to form this habit. The way I did it was to pick an easy habit that I was committed to doing every day. I used meditation, but flossing, “drink water” (don’t even worry about 8 glasses part) and “use Lift” are all viable candidates. Then pick a time (I use my reflection time before bed) and log that habit. Do this EVERY day for 30 days (if you break the streak, start over).
Step 3: Line up your slow habits.
Now that you’re using Lift daily start to add other habits to it. You should be doing this during the first 30 days. Add anything that you would possibly like to have as a habit. As you go through your day notice anything you would like to( or not) do and add it (I’ve added three while writing this post). Don’t stress about ticking them off, just have them there in case you accidentally happen to do them. Have a good mix of easy and hard habits. If you do perform one of these habits, be sure to tick them off at the same time as your first habit.
Step 4: Keep going, enjoy your streaks.
After the 30 days just keep your habit of using Lift (it’s a habit, you can’t stop). By now you should have enough little habits that there will be something to log every day. There is no work left to do. You will naturally start to do your habits more as you anticipate the reward of ticking them off in Lift. If you start to develop big streaks you will perform the habit in order to stop losing the streak.
How well does this work?
Since January 15th when I started seriously applying step 1 in lift (less than 3 months ago) here are my stats:
I have 16 real habits in lift (not including the 3 I just added).
Over the last 8 days I’ve ticked off an average of 12 things a day.
I have 7 habits with streaks of over 2 weeks (not all of my habits are ones that I want to do every day anyway).
As you can see, this is way better than the theoretical maximum of 3 habits that I should have been able to form. And I am someone who has often struggled with and failed at the traditional methods of habit development despite working really hard at it. I’ve also used the traditional method to form many habits that I lost later on. This way you never lose your habits as breaking the streak after a large number of days would be heartbreaking!
Bonus, because the lovely Paulina asked, here are my “slow habits” in Lift and why I do them:
Hopefully that provides a good start. At the moment, this works in a lab of one, so I can say that I’ve disproved the “one habit theory” by way of counter-example, but there is obviously a long way to go before knowing if this will work for the majority of people. I have a strong hunch that it does though and I’m sure the great team at Lift will back me up with numbers soon enough.
One of the reasons that polyphasic sleep is less well know is that many of the people who try it fail to adapt. It’s supposed to take around a month to fully adapt (get to the point where you have consistent energy and alertness levels) and can have 1-2 weeks of zombie-like hell where you need ridiculous amounts of willpower to keep going.
Because that sounds like it sucks a lot, I decided to try a hack called a “naptation”, or “exaptation“.
The basic idea:
The theory is that after missing one night of sleep, your brain goes into massive sleep deprivation mode. This forces it to reset quickly and it learns to use the 2o minute naps as a reasonable source for REM sleep. After 48 hours of sleeping every 2 hours, you actually have more than enough sleep, so will not have any sleep debt left.
Here’s what my adaptation looked like:
8AM Wednesday: Wake up.
Thursday: Don’t sleep.
Friday: Felt great. “All nighters” are pretty easy if you are excited about what you are doing. I was able to work just fine all of Friday.
Saturday: Sleep at 1AM for 2o min and then again every 2 hours for 2o minutes.
Sunday: Sleep at 1AM for 3.5 hours and then again 20 min at 6, 8, 12 and 6.
Monday: My planned polyphasic schedule: 12:30AM – 4:00AM, 8-8:20AM 12-12:20PM, 6:00-6:20PM
Tuesday: One extra sleep to counteract any residual sleep deprivation (idea is to put in sleep to get rid of the deprivation, while still keeping the brain on a tight leash).
The Saturday was tough, between 3am and 11am was hell. I was cold all the time and had to fight to find things interesting enough to keep awake. Video games worked for a bit, so did some shows and movies, but I would get bored of each one relatively quickly. I was just counting down the minutes to my next nap.
Then when I woke up at 11:20 I felt better. I made myself a half a cup of coffee and the rest of the day went quite well. I was even awake enough to code a bit. I was feeling so awake at 11pm that I skipped that nap entirely.
Sunday morning I was super tired when I got up at 4AM and after the 6AM nap. By 8 I was feeling more myself and the rest of the day was fine (about the same as a normal day where I’ve slept 6 hours.
From then things have been working well. Most days, getting out of bed at 4 is really hard (I feel like i will never wake up) but after making my cup of coffee I feel good and ready to work. The fact that my coffee ritual involves manual labor and math (I use a manual grinder, Chemex and scale to make sure I pour the right amount of water) helps a bit with the waking up I think. It’s amazing how hard the problem of (13g of coffee / 2 ) * 30ml of water can get at 4AM!
Most days since then I’ve felt perfectly functional with only minor bouts of tiredness. Meditation became very hard to do without drifting to sleep, so I use it as a measure to see how well I am adapting. There have been 2 days where throughout the morning I felt almost as sleepy as that very first day. I just resorted to napping every 2 hours on those days and was fixed by 10AM. I think that probably slows down the adaptation, but it means that I can be fully functional for at least 16 hours of that day.
Keep a list:
As per PureDoxyk’s suggestion, have a list of things that you can do when tired. There were times when I thought that nothing could keep me awake on the first adaptation day and only rapidly cycling TV shows, Movies and video games allowed me to pull through. As soon as I felt bored with one (which happened really quickly) I would switch to another.
Get two sleep masks:
One for home, one for the office if you are going to be napping there. It really helps with getting to sleep and being able to leave the lights on is a big bonus for waking up. I love this one. It even fits nicely with my Zeo headband and makes me feel like I am wrapping my world in a cozy cocoon of sleep.
Don’t feel guilty if other things slip:
This is a one month test of willpower. Willpower is a finite resource, don’t waste it on keeping other good habits that you could start again after adapting. If ever contemplating “to snack or not to snack…” go make some food. Write a blog post or play video games? Just play the games. After you have adapted, you will have time to put your house back in order!
Don’t let your guard down:
The biggest mistake that I made was thinking that he adaptation would be a linear process. After I got over the first few days I had a couple of days where I felt great and woke up from all my sleeps easily. So I stopped setting extra alarms. The next day I turned off my alarm with a lame excuse of having left my glasses at work (and not wanting to put contact lenses into sleep-deprived eyes) and slept 6 hours. A few days later I overslept a nap by an hour because again I had been so good at getting up straight away from naps. There are going to be good and bad days, and you will not be able to predict them. No matter what, stay hyper vigilant for the first month.
No less than three alarm clocks:
Every time you oversleep, you set yourself back. Your subsequent naps will probably be bad and you will end up feeling like crap the next day. I’ve never chosen to oversleep, have have a few times due to alarm malfunctions. Get three! I have one next to my bed (which at this point is useless after my core, I turn it off without waking up almost every morning) my iPhone alarm and (after the last oversleep) an extra loud one from RadioShack which I keep in the living room, so I have to run to turn it off before it wakes up all my neighbors at 4AM (I think the guy upstairs is a 240 pound boxer, not pissing him off is great motivation).
Spend a lot of time thinking about it. Your schedule is your new brand new polyphasic life, so come up with something that really works for you. You should not change it in the first month, as part of the adaptation is creating a new circadian rhythm for yourself.For me I love having 4AM-8AM. Ideally you want to go to bed as early as possible as that maximizes deep sleep. My 1AM bed time was way too late, so I’ve changed it now, but I still had to wait a month to make the change.
I’ve been waking up with a cup of coffee ever since I was 6 years old (the idea that coffee is bad for children didn’t really exist in South Africa). Not just from a chemical, but from an emotional level (I love the ritual) I could not give it up.
I did cut down how much I drink, so now I’m doing 1 cup when I wake up from my core (the process of simply making the coffee, is the thing in the morning that brings me out of my 4AM haze). I also will often have a cup of caffeinated tea after I wake up from my naps. Because of my history with caffeine, it really doesn’t affect my sleep much at all though, so your milage may vary. Cutting down the amount you drink is always a good idea, because that leaves you the option of using larger doses to boost mental performance when absolutely critical.
One does not get to sleep in on the weekends anymore. This is actually a great thing. Normally I have things to do on the weekend that I don’t want to do, and those can all be shoved into the graveyard hours before anyone else has started their day. Then you get to have the whole weekend to yourself to do whatever you want to do.
I haven’t noticed any particular extra hunger. I generally eat a very Paleo diet, so my body is less susceptible to blood sugar swings. That being said, I made the conscious decision to put away my scale and to not worry about how much I eat (as long as it is still healthy) during this adaptation. Again, the less other drains you have on your willpower while doing it, the better.
My Zeo has been invaluable. I have the bedside and the mobile pro. The bedside was great when monophasic, but for polyphasic sleep I like the mobile one as I can track all my naps and core sleep. Knowing what’s going on while you sleep is key to making the small adjustments necessary to good sleep (even if you’re sleeping normally). 18, 20 or 30 minute nap… which is better? It depends on your body and then only way you know what to do is to test it with the Zeo and see how your body reacts.
Well, I’m actually well into month 2 already. While everything has gone well, the one degradation in performance that I saw in the first month was that my flexibility needed longer recovery periods after Taekwondo. I think this is because I wasn’t getting enough deep sleep during my core sleep (thanks Zeo). I’m playing with shifting my schedule earlier and taking some supplements (valerian root, magnesium and melatonin) to see if that fixes it. The other goal of the second month is just to guard against laziness, making sure I set all my alarms and that I don’t let my guard down and snooze longer just because I think I’m adapted.
I’ve got some cool statistics on the effect of all of this on my live, which I will publish as soon as I’ve made some pretty graphs and charts. Spoiler: life got way more awesome.
This week I started sleeping polyphasically.
Seeing as I’ve had explained this to a few people lately, here’s a quick FAQ to explain my craziness.
What is polyphasic sleep?
A polyphasic sleep pattern is one where your regular sleep pattern is broken into three or more sessions per day. This is opposed to monophasic (normal, 8 hours straight through the night) sleep.
Why would you do such a thing?
One reason to have a polyphasic sleep pattern is that it can radically reduce the amount of sleep that you need. Another reason is that it means that your energy can be more consistent throughout the day.
How does it work?
The two most popular patterns are:
Uberman: 6 naps of 20 minutes (one every 4 hours exactly) for a total of 2 hours of sleep per day.
On Uberman your brain becomes very sensitive to sleep. If you miss a nap by half an hour, it is supposed to feel like you haven’t slept a night. It also requires you to have a very specific lifestyle, most people can’t find a way to get out of whatever they are doing every 4 hours to nap.
Everyman 3: 3 hours “core” sleep and 3 naps of 20 minutes, for a total of 4 hours of sleep per day. (This is the schedule that I am trying).
The Everyman schedule is much more reasonable than Uberman. You sleep for 3 hours (meaning that you can actually go to bed like normal people) and then just wake up much earlier than most. After the 3 hour sleep, you just need to make sure that you get three 20 minute naps in throughout the day. My schedule is: Sleep from 1AM-4AM, and then 20 min naps at 8AM, 12PM and 6PM.
How is this possible?
The theory on why it works, is that as we sleep we go through 3 basic stages, light, REM, and deep sleep. There are lots of theories on what each one does, but the prevailing (simplified) version is:
REM: Restores cognitive function.
Deep sleep: Restores physical function
Light sleep: (nobody knows for sure)?? safety ?? energy conservation?? ??
Polyphasic sleepers believe that the light sleep is actually just filler sleep, or if it did serve functions (like saving energy so that we don’t have to hunt so much or by making it easier to wake up to danger) it is a function that we don’t need anymore.
My theory is that the brain finds it difficult to sustain REM (maybe we would go insane if our dreams were 4 times longer) or deep sleep, so it needs something to do while it rests.
By getting your REM and deep sleep in different chunks throughout the day, polyphasic sleepers can reduce the amount of light sleep they get, while not being deprived of the very important REM and deep sleep.
Don’t you NEED 8 hours of sleep to be healthy?
My take on this is that if you are not feeling tired, then you are getting enough sleep. If you’re sleeping only 4 hours a day and you have lots of energy and don’t feel tired, then clearly your body is getting enough sleep. Lots of people sleep less than 8 hours naturally, there seems to be a large genetic variation already on how much people sleep, so the 8 hours is really one of those made up numbers (kind of like the 8 glasses of water a day one).
What do the SCIENTISTS have to say?
There was one study, like 25 years ago and although deeply flawed (only one participant, non-optimal polyphasic schedule) had promising results. Then… nothing.
Many sleep scientists think it’s an internet hoax and not worth looking into. I think the problem is that it is just too hard to study.
How am I doing?
I feel fantastic. According to all my reading, I’m supposed to feel a lot more tired at this stage than I do now. Waking up from my naps is super easy. I still have stages where I feel like when I normally had around 6 hours and getting up at 4 AM still feels like getting up at 4 AM but hopefully that goes away when I’m fully adapted.
I’ve always really thought that habits were important and have spent much of the past few years reading about and working on changing habits.
I’ve even given a few presentations where the central theme was that if you create good learning habits, then you will learn well. The only issue is that despite all of this, I’ve been terrible at actually following through and creating good habits.
Sure, I’ve had some success. For instance, one of the key learning habits that I’ve used over the past 6 months has been reading technical books on the subway to and from work. No fiction, or fun books, just books that help me be a better programmer. The habit is deeply ingrained, as soon as I get on the subway, I reach for my Kindle and start reading a technical book.
Everything changed though, when I committed to making daily reflection a habit. Not only have I been able to make reflection an incredibly strong habit (I instinctually do it before bed each night), but it’s proved to be a keystone habit.
A keystone habit according to Charles Duhigg in “the Power of Habit” (a great book) is the following:
Some habits, say researchers, are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives. Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.
In the book, he talks about how this habit is different for everyone, but I think that the act of daily reflection is a keystone habit that by its very nature makes it a good keystone habit for many people. This is because what it does is it carves out a part of your day where you can reflect on what is most important. Once the reflection habit is in place, it will bring your goals to your attention at least once a day, thereby slowly making you more and more aware of your daily actions. This means that when you decide to change other habits, the daily reflection becomes a space in your day where you can contemplate your progress on the habit that you are changing and make adjustments in order to ensure that it works.
But how to go about starting the reflection habit? You can certainly do it wrong, as I have in the past. However, I think applying the “Seinfeld” method was the big breakthrough for me.
Simply create a table somewhere (I use Evernote) with one line for every day. I then make columns for the things that I want to note about my day. I started with just “Learning” and “Shortcuts” (as detailed here), but very soon added other stuff that I wanted to know (inspired by Andrei’s post ). I have quite a few boolean (yes/no) columns for things like “went to Taekwondo”, or “completed day’s most important task”.
With that table, the habit is “complete” if you have filled in at least something for at least 30 days in a row. You don’t have to do every column, but choose at least one column that is required (I did learning). From there it should be effortless and you can start concentrating your efforts in improving any of the columns in your table.
The next question I guess is what is this going to look like?
The course will run for 6 weeks. It will be taught in Matygo, which has some elements of an LMS (without many of the downsides). It will be limited to 9 participants, as the live, interactive parts will happen on Google Hangouts.
Hangouts will happen at 7:30 to 9:00 PM on Tuesday evenings starting on October 27th.
After the 6 weeks, if you complete all the course material that you will be able to build a great website in WordPress and have a deeper understand of how the internet works and be able to write and hack basic programs.
So if you want to learn to code (and hang out with me online over the next 6 weeks) go check out the course page!
On the surface, watching this video is incredibly inspirational:
However, as I watched it, there was a rush of conflicting thoughts and feelings. One part of me was saying, yes he is right, Andre, you need to be better. Work harder, cut out more distractions, become great. The other part was asking, is that really the way? Will I accomplish my goals in life through single-minded perseverance, or is it in the moments of relaxation, in the serendipitous conversations and in allowing the heart and mind to wonder to where it wants to go that will get me there?
Or, is it simply the right balance of both?
I’ve been in Vancouver for just over 5 years now. I came to this city and to the University of British Columbia as a result of the promise of beautiful surroundings and an interdisciplinary learning environment. On both counts, this city and UBC have more than exceeded my expectations.
The formal instruction that I received at UBC helped to provide me with many of the technical skills and the conceptual knowledge that I will need to be successful in the future. My work for UBC, with the Office of Student Development, Department of Computer Science, Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology and the Library has taught me the value of continuous learning and has allowed me to develop my passion for education.
Now however, in the spirit of continuous learning I will be moving to New York City to work with Red Rover, helping them to build out their engagement platform. I will be learning how to write code at the highest standards by working alongside some of the top developers in New York City. I will also be learning about what it takes to have a company be successful.
Most importantly though, if we as a company get things right, I will have the opportunity to create software that have an actual impact of the learning and engagement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Goodbye Vancouver, I’m off to continue my learning. Hello New York, I’m coming soon, get ready.
via LEARN on Vimeo.