The Uberman sleep schedule is a method of organizing your sleeping time to maximize your REM sleep and minimize your non-REM sleep. The goal of the sleep cycle is that you are actively in REM sleep within a couple of minutes of falling asleep and remain in that state until you awaken. I originally read about the schedule on everything2.
In essence, someone utilizing the Uberman sleep schedule is actively modifying their sleeping habits so that they can immediately jump from waking to a few minutes worth of stage 1 sleep straight to stage 5 REM sleep, as described in this discussion of sleep stages.
It is important to note that there are no studies as to the long-term physical or physiological impact of this sleep cycle. I really don't know if this cycle is causing long-term damage to myself or not, and if this concerns you, I wouldn't attempt the cycle. However, the benefits are fantastic.
The Uberman's Sleep Schedule
The Uberman's sleep schedule revolves around forcing yourself to rely on six twenty to thirty minute naps spread throughout the day for your daily dose of sleep. I stuck to thirty minute naps, currently having them starting roughly at 2 AM, 6 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, 6 PM, and 10 PM every day.
How & Why It Works
Over the course of a normal eight hour sleeping period, your body moves through a continuous cycle of five distinct sleep stages. Of these, stage 5 REM sleep has been found to be the part of the cycle that provides the benefits of sleep for your mind.
Essentially, the trick of the Uberman's sleep schedule is to trick your mind into entering REM sleep as soon as you drift into a sleeplike state. Unfortunately, the only real way to do this is through sleep deprivation of sorts.
Adjusting To This Schedule
Adjusting to this schedule (as you might imagine) will make you feel like you've put your body and mind through a blender for a few weeks. Here are some general tips for adjusting that I found to be greatly helpful.
- Do the adjustment when you are in complete control of your schedule. I converted to the cycle during a three week vacation; it would have been impossible to get through a normal work day while adjusting to this cycle. I was by and large a zombie.
- Find a large project to work on while adjusting. If you don't keep busy, you will revert to a normal sleep cycle. In my first failed attempt at switching (on vacation more than two years ago), I didn't have an ongoing project to keep me focused.
- Use physiological "tricks" to teach your body the cycle. I found that using a dawn simulation trick worked nicely. Every time I went to lay down, I set my monitor to wait thirty-two minutes, then begin running a program that had a strobe effect along with some excessively loud music. I also used two alarm clocks, and during the day I would adjust my blinds such that the sun would start shining in my face roughly a half an hour later. These would force me to become somewhat conscious for a while, which was all I needed to keep going.
- Days 3 to 10 are the hardest and least productive. I spent the adjustment period working on two projects, one involving programming and another involving writing. At the start of day three, I stored a backup of these projects because I knew that my thought processes were starting to become nonsensical and bizarre. For the next week, I continued to "work" on the projects, but utterly failed to make any sensible progress (interestingly enough, the fiction I wrote in this period was entertaining in a Thomas Pynchon meets The Electric Company kind of way). Don't expect to be hugely useful during the actual forced adjustment to compressed REM sleep.
- Convert to a more nutritious diet. I've found that drinking a great deal of orange and apple juice makes the Uberman schedule easier to follow, as does eating plenty of vegetables and avoiding fatty foods like the plague.
You will discover that after day ten or so, you will automatically begin waking after about thirty minutes. Quite often, I find that when a dream ends, I just awaken automatically. Although I still use an alarm clock, I now do my 10 AM, 2 PM, and sometimes 6 PM naps at work on my breaks without an alarm and have no problem waking up from them, feeling utterly refreshed.
The obvious first benefit is more free time. I currently clock in between two hours and fifty minutes and three hours and ten minutes of sleep per twenty four hour period. Compared to my previous sleep cycles (roughly nine hours a night), I have an incredible amount of time to do things that I wished I had time to do before I switched.
Although the first benefit is pretty much the only reason you need, I also found that switching to this cycle makes me feel generally healthier. As I noted, I started off this "experiment" by switching to a more healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. After my body finally adjusted to the quick batches of REM (about day eight or nine), I began to feel truly GREAT! I actually feel more energetic at this point than I did before this started.
One drawback is that I hit a wall if I stay up for more than about five hours without a twenty to thirty minute nap. My concentration and energy seem to vanish in a matter of minutes and I absolutely have to go take a nap. This can create some problems in social situations, but one can somewhat shuffle the naps around to adjust for this.
Another drawback is that my appetite is substantially larger and I will often crave strange things that I don't recall craving in the past. One great example of this is grape juice; I now drink this regularly, but before I switched I don't recall ever wanting it. My speculation is that my body isn't producing enough of some chemical that it would normally produce in stages 3 and 4 deep sleep.
One particularly noteworthy effect (I consider it a benefit, but others might consider it a drawback) is that all of my dreams are very intense and I find myself remembering them as well, down to minute details. Personally, I don't have any difficulties handling the imagery that my dreams produce, but many people have difficulties with their dreams in a normal sleep schedule - if that is the case, Uberman is simply not for you.
Uberman's sleep schedule is a potentially dangerous way to increase your waking hours. Although I found success with it to this point, there still may be physical and psychological dangers that I have not yet met, and there may be grave difficulties for others attempting the cycle.