Never enough sleep

A few weeks ago, I took some interest in sleeping, sleep cycles, and things like polyphasic sleeping.

There are a ton of different theories out there as to what is the best way to get the highest quality sleep. This is of interest to me, as I’m someone that generally stays up late and hates getting up in the mornings. I seem to get a lot more work done at night, and maybe that’s just a mindset but it’s been true for a long time.

For many years, I’ve gotten just a little amount of sleep during the week (say, 5-6 hours), followed by a lot of sleep on the weekends (10-12 hours) – when I can, anyways. For the most part this seems to average out and work well, though apparently it’s not supposed to. I do notice that if I don’t get a lot of sleep on the weekend, I am tired all the next week and usually end up going to bed a lot earlier on one or two days.

So anyways, after deciding that I don’t want to become a polyphasic sleeper, or drastically change my lifestyle, my research led me to the conclusion that the best thing to do is try to live with sleep cycles.

Simply put, a sleep cycle consists of five stages of sleep. You go from a light stage, to a couple deeper stages, to the deepest stage 4 and stage 5 (REM) sleep. The whole cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes, and occurs constantly while you’re sleeping. If you wake up during the deepest stages, you feel groggy and tired, like you just want to go back to bed.

The best time to wake up is during the period where you’re in a light sleep between cycles, and in fact, if you were to not have an alarm clock or any other outside stimulus to wake you up, this is when you’d wake up naturally. Of course, most alarm clocks don’t know when you’re in this cycle, so they just wake you up with their .. ahem, pleasant .. noises whenever they are set to do so.

There are alarm clocks that actually monitor your sleeping, and I’d be interesting in trying one, though I’m a bit skeptical of how well they’d work. They all work on the basic idea that they go off during your last light sleep cycle before the time you’ve set to be waken up at. For example, if you set the alarm to get you up at 7:30 am, and you are in a light sleep phase at 6:20, it will wake you up then, as your next light phase should be at 7:40, which is past your wake time.

One of these devices is a watch that monitors temperature, body tension, etc, and statistically determines your cycle based on that. I’ve read complaints that the beeping is too quiet, and while the theory is you’ll be in a light sleep when it goes off (and thus easy to wake), if for whatever reason you aren’t, then it isn’t loud enough to really wake you up.

Another is a wireless headset that you wear, that connects to an alarm clock. The headset actually monitors your brainwaves to watch for the proper part of the cycle, and then the alarm goes off. This sounds a lot more reliable, but is apparently pretty uncomfortable.

It seems to me that the two would make a good combination – a watch to monitor your physiological functions, that connects wirelessly to an alarm clock that actually wakes you up.

So back to the sleep thing. I’ve been conscious of my sleep cycles for the past few weeks (though lately I’ve not been as diligent). I try to set my alarm to some multiple of 1.5 hours from when I’m going to bed (plus a bit, depending on how long I think it will take me to fall asleep). I have to say, I generally do feel better when I sleep 4.5 or 6 or 7.5 hours (note too, that the 8 hours that is supposed to be the proper amount of sleep is actually interrupting a cycle). I’ve even noticed that I feel better after getting 4.5 hours of sleep vs 5.5 hours (though, this could be concidental and caused by other outside factors – it’s not like I’m doing a controlled experiment here!).

Of course, when it all comes down to it, I really do enjoy my morning sleeping in and no amount of sleep research will change that :)