polyphasic sleep? worth it?

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[The below was a response to an email list thread about sort of the cost benefit of polyphasic sleep.]

>> I’m more interested in total lifetime subjective experience than productivity per se.

Some thoughts that have vomited out of me: Metacognition, meta-executive control, meta-working memory. Not micromanagement but meta-management.

Example: Making a deliberate choice to allocate working memory between task-at-hand and reason-for-doing-task, in order to more flexibly disengage from task-at-hand if it becomes a dumb idea, versus letting task-at-hand consume all working memory but setting a trigger to reload higher order goals and goal-reflection later in the day.

Example: Operating off of index cards like an air-traffic controller’s slips of paper (because of the so-called “affordance of paper”) to push my working memory to the absolute limit of its capability and just generally viciously minimizing all cognitive burden in my environment.

Example: Viciously (again with the viciousness) making time for ambling, purposeless walks outside while staring off into space in order to let my default-mode network kick things around and consolidate without me getting the way.

Example: Viciously creating pure downtime, even if just 1-6 hours/week where I have no “protective agentic impulses” and I can just go with the flow. That shit’s a privileged luxury, but it’s restorative. I want more. Much more.

Importantly, none of this is “theoretical” in the sense that I’m guessing based on stuff I’ve read. I make choices about the above based on direct phenomenal contact with referents in my awareness. Evolution has given consciousness a lot of subtle hooks, some of which have been studied, such as “judgments of learning,” “feelings of knowing,” and so forth. (The textbook, Metacognition, is limited but good.)

For whatever it’s worth, and this is coming from someone who’s never tried it, I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever experiment with polyphasic sleep based on my current priors. But, then again, I’ve had awful sleep issues in the past–I can tell the difference between REM and stage-4 deprivation. And when I nail a good night’s sleep, the difference in who I am and what I know is so palpable the next morning, that a few extra hours a day at the expense of fucking that up seems not really worth it. Effectiveness versus efficiency, doing the right things versus doing things right, etc.

Re my priors, check out this fucking awesome reddit comment on acute vs chronic sleep deprivation that I cannot vouch for:


TL;DR: For very short term sleep deprivations (a few days), the recovery of sleep debt is rapid. For chronic sleep restriction on the timescale of weeks to months, the recovery of sleep debt is much slower. On timescales of months to years or longer, we don’t know whether chronic sleep restriction can be repaid or whether it causes more permanent damage that cannot be easily reversed.

Aside from meaning/emotion/memory/belief work, meditation and “getting things done” type-stuff (i.e., all those “metas” up above) have been the most important investments of my life (so sez I , YMMV, etc.).

In terms of life investments, sleep hygiene comes in right behind–complete darkness, no blue/white light after sunset, white noise, fiddling with my carbon dioxide tolerance to reduce night restlessness, etc., etc., etc.

If I had more free time and the proper supporting culture, though, I would love to do that thing before electric lighting where people were awake for a couple hours between their two sleep blocks. The rainforest tribe thing where people kind of nap and socialize all night seems pretty cool, too.

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