How to sleep less

Do you want to sleep less? Many people feel that sleep is a waste of time as you don’t achieve anything useful whilst you sleep. Training yourself to sleep less is a task which will take much planning and preparation, though it could leave you with more productive hours in the day.

There are two ways of sleeping less; the first is to cut the amount of sleep you have in a single session; also called monophasic (single stage) sleep. This might involve sleeping five or six hours instead of eight. The second is to switch from monophasic to a polyphasic mode of sleep. A polyphasic mode of sleep involves sleeping in more than one session, such as having three two-hour naps every day.

For this article I regard using caffeinated “drugs” such as pro plus or large amounts of tea and coffee as cheating. I do this because consuming these only has short-term effects and over long periods of time they will cause damage to you. Becoming reliant on a drug, even legal ones, is not a good thing.

1. Training to sleep less on a single sleep

The aim of this is to reduce your normal 11 PM to 7 AM, eight-hour sleep down to six, five or even four hours. You should understand that if you are a teenager or young adult then attempting to sleep less might be harmful to your health. Young adults and teens require around nine hours of sleep per night. You may be able to sleep for fewer than five or six hours, but you will build sleep debt that at some point has to be repaid. You may wake up feeling very awake but over time you will become irritated and tired.

A lot of studying about the amount of sleep you need focuses is on REM cycles. Each REM cycle takes about an hour and a half, but they only start when you actually fall asleep. So if you go to bed at 12 midnight and wake up at 6am, you may only have had two REM cycles. Two cycles isn't enough as the ideal is three REM cycles. Therefore to sleep less and keep up your energy levels you need to get to the REM cycles more quickly. This may be achieved by meditation, altering your sleeping environment or cutting down on caffeinated food and drink.

2. Surviving on polyphasic sleep

Polyphasic sleep is the practice of sleeping in several sessions, rather than one large one.  It is common in animals but uncommon in human societies. One easy idea is to break your sleeping into three two-hour sessions. This would achieve 6 hours of total sleep but  could give you the equivalent of eight hours in a single phase sleep pattern.

It may take several weeks or months to achieve polyphasic sleep. The most important thing you have to do is to keep to your nap times. Sleeping more or less could revert you to the monophasic sleep mode. That could be difficult, so make sure you set alarm clocks or get someone else to wake you up. You can also help yourself by following the tips below.

Top tips

So how can you actually sleep less whilst not compromising on your waking hours? I recommend doing the following to train yourself to sleep less whether you are using a monophasic or polyphasic sleep patterns:

  • Make your sleep environment more relaxing. The aim of this is to cut the time it takes you to get to sleep, so you spend more time in the REM cycles.
  • Reduce your consumption of coffee or other caffeinated drinks. These drinks will affect how quickly you can fall asleep, increasing the amount of time before you start the all important REM cycles.
  • Change your sleeping patterns so that you fall asleep when it is dark, and wake up with the light. This will make you feel less tired over the day and so can help make up for less hours of sleep. Although this mainly applies to monophasic sleep, you can time your polyphasic sleep times to coincide with this as well.
  • Keep a diary, this is perhaps the most important tip of all. In the diary rate how energised you feel throughout the day. Also write what time you went to bed, woke up, what you ate, exercised etc. Use this to find out what you do that makes you feel energised.

A word of caution: trying to change your sleep patterns may result in temporary or permanent tiredness. It can affect your mood; sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. You may find that you cannot function on less than 8 hours of continuous sleep. This is fine and you should accept it.  

Also you should ask yourself why you want to sleep less; if it is to be more productive you should try to make your day more efficient.  By reducing the “lost time” in your day such as when you commute or lunch breaks, you will be able to afford the “time” to sleep more.

Have you ever tried experimenting with your sleep patterns? Got any tips or tricks to share? Write them below in the comments.