The Ecstasy of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep Deprivation

What is adventure?” is the first question that you have to think about before you ask, “What the hell has sleep deprivation got to do with anything else on this site?”

I think that I should point out that as I write this, I have not slept for over 40 hours (except for a possible half hour cat nap on a bus). The ‘day’ before, except for a one hour sleep in the evening, I was again awake for a similar amount of time. As a result, the past four days of my life have only involved one proper sleep (although I will shortly be having another one). This is what happens when you go to visit your brothers in university and book morning buses that you board without sleeping.

My head feels cloudy, but in general, I feel rather excellent. I do not suggest that anyone tries it themselves, but sleep deprivation is a quite a fascinating feeling. Once you overcome the difficulty of staying awake, you bounce up to cloud nine. I feel a sourceless happiness and dissociation from the world, but find myself very unable to concentrate on anything. As I type, I make mistake after mistake, then have to go back and try to understand what I was trying to say. But in short, I feel good.

Back in december, I defined adventure (to myself) as an exciting and unusual activity. Thus by doing something of interest that is new to you, you are having an adventure: there is nothing that is too small to be an adventure. In the search for adventure, I have tried to push myself to do more things in different ways and that is not only related to exploring different parts of the world.

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I typed the above text a few days ago, under the effects of sleep deprivation, then lost concentration and began playing with a dog. At this time, I also wrote an unusual post about rafting at night. One thing that I find frustrating in life, is that we spend so very much time being tired or asleep. Up to a third of our lives, we are simply in another place and unable to do anything. Imagine what we could do if we were awake for every hour of the day.

A few years ago, I heard of a polyphasic sleep cycle while reading The Game. A similar sleep cycle was supposedly also used by Ellen McArthur during her around the globe, record breaking solo sail. During this sleep cycle, you sleep for very short periods of time, multiple times a day. As a university student, my timetable was flexible, so I chose to sleep four times a day, for only half an hour each time. Thus I would be sleeping for a total of two hours per day.

The first few weeks were mightily difficult, but after I adjusted to the schedule, the world around me became amazing. At sleep times (04h00, 10h00, 16h00, 22h00), I would be asleep within seconds of lying down and I would wake up seconds before my alarm went off, thirty minutes later. My body knew exactly what to do.

It was the first time in my life that I felt constantly awake and alert: I read multiple books and I finished all of my coursework days in advance (something that I never did before or after). What surprised me more, was how good I felt. I was in a constant state on ecstasy, as if I was the happiest person in the world. During this time, I kept a short video diary, however, after watching the videos when my experiment had ended, I deleted them all. I actually appeared as if I was constantly on drugs (but very happy about it). A close friend who lived with me recently (upon prompting about my sleep experiment) remarked, “I do remember. All too well. It made you so productive and not strange at all. I would type more, but my eyes are rolling too much to focus on the screen” [note dry, sarcastic British sense of humour].

This is something that I would like to try again and document properly. But there was just one problem at the time I tried it: it doesn’t fit socially. Other people sleep and it is quite unusual to be awake all night, full of energy when the world is empty, only to find yourself feeling exactly the same during the day, but with a busy world around you. It means that you live through four very different days in every twenty-four hour period. And when you try and work around other people’s lives, it gets difficult (ideally, to make this work, there would be sleeping pods all over cities where you could rest for your required period of time). On one occasion, I was on a date and had cooked a girl dinner when 22h00 rang up on my clock. “Excuse me, but I just have to sleep for thirty minutes. You can amuse yourself, right?” It is very hard to be with someone when one of you doesn’t sleep, but the other one does!

The experiment ended when I went to a gig one evening. I missed my 22h00 sleep and then stayed out until the early hours of the morning, missing my 04h00 sleep. When I did finally sleep, I had been awake for three ‘days.’ I then slept for over three ‘days,’ close to twenty hours and woke up dazed and confused. My sleep cycle was broken.

This was an experiment designed to push myself and I may, at some point, try it again in the future. If I was to do it again however, I would try to find someone to do it with me for moral support. Those eight hours of quietness are wonderful, but the initial challenge of adjusting to the sleep schedule would be made easier with company.

Imagine how much you could do if you were awake for twenty-two hours a day…

Disclaimer: I do not advise that anyone tries this sleep experiment: I am merely reporting my experiences and feelings during the time.

4 Comments

  • I’ve been researching this sleep thing today since I am as well annoyed by all the time I spend sleeping instead of doing things. I came across polyphasic sleep as well, but the author of the article said that it had a huge impact on his endocrine system and ended up damaging his adrenal glands and it took him ages to get back to normal. I wonder if you have any research or articles about it? I want to try it, but I want to be sure I’m not doing something bad …

    • When I undertook my polyphasic sleep cycle, there was a considerable lack of material available on the internet – this was about seven years ago though. Thus I am not sure of the actual effects, but I enjoyed the feeling of constant alertness and having 22 hours a day of wakefulness. However, my housemates said my behaviour was very unusual and after I finished my experiment, my sleeping patterns had changed significantly.

  • I’d be up for giving that a go, ideally at a time when I’m not responsible for 800 children. Though I do frequently get 30 min naps in at school (shhh)I also get about 8 hours a night too, though I used to get 12-14 (doctors labelled me a hypersomniac) it’s very frustrating having over half the day wasted on sleep. I have at other times lived years on 3-4 hours of sleep a night and have stayed up for days at a time. But then I have also once slept for 24 hours straight. I am always trying to straighten out my sleep, and yet no matter how much I sleep I’m constantly exhausted. Maybe this is worth a shot.

    • Sleep deprivation and looking after children sounds like FUN. When you’re on your bicycle, hopefully the endorphins will keep you pumping… then we could meet halfway (Kazakhstan sounds nice) and try the sleep experiment!

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