Phased Approach

from Jeremy

I'm writing this at 2:28 in the morning, which is a little early, even for me. Usually I wake up sometime between 3-5am, write for a while, then go back to sleep. Does this sound weird? Aren't people supposed to sleep for 8 hours through the night? In reality, the answer to that question is a resounding "No!" The 8 hour night, just like the 8 hour workday, is a product of industrialization (with some workers rights movements involved to limit the day), not the human body. I'm here to offer you an option: part of being Comfy is doing what your body needs you to do, not your company or boss. 

First, though, let's talk about human history. The human body, and its schedule, have been transformed by the invention of the factory and light bulb. Before both, we slept for an average of 9-10 hours a night, often in phases that were interrupted by several hours of being awake. It was common throughout human history for people to be up between 3-5 am, sometimes working, visiting with neighbors, and cooking. What changed was the requirement for workers to be at a factory when it was light out. Before the light bulb factories were not too productive at night. No one could see the machines, let alone operate them with care. Therefore, workers had to work when it was daytime. Thus, no naps! (Oh, I'll get to naps shortly!) For the sake of productivity, sleep was banished from daytime. People needed to be awake the whole day, so they were forced to get what sleep they could at night. Some of us can do that. Most of us cannot. So if you think you have insomnia, chances are you're just a normal person having sleep phases. Rather than fight yourself with drugs or other things, think about what you do every day, and if you could do some of it at night instead. 

The human body does not naturally cycle in all of its sleep at night. Each person is different, of course, but generally the body prefers to sleep when it's tired. It gets tired in periods of time that vary by person, but are on average 3-6 hour blocks. If you do not rest your body when it's most tired it will not work as well as it would otherwise. How many people go through the afternoon in a food coma? The reason for this is the body needs to rest after the morning and lunch. Your energy is focused on digestion, not working. Naps are great in the afternoon. There is a reason so many cultures all over the world have siesta's or some version of naps built into the afternoon: the body needs this! From Spain to Vietnam, and beyond, naps are the norm, even with people who work in offices. 

Beyond the nap, though, the whole sleep cycle is up for reassessment. Think through how your body operates on a daily basis. Without stimuli like caffeine, do you have periods throughout the day where you are tired, and others where you feel awake and productive? Spend a day or two taking notes of how awake you feel at different times. Chances are, you'll find that you do have these cycles. Once you figure out your cycles, consider laying down for 20-30 minutes during the trough periods. Does that help you get to the awake periods faster? Do you feel more productive during those post nap periods? I bet it does, and you do! 

When the light bulb was invented it reduced sleep patterns in people beyond the requirement of the factory. Now people could stay up late into the night, altering and limiting the opportunity to sleep. Soft natural light was replaced by hard unnatural light. Daytime was projected into the night, tricking the human brain into thinking it was day. Since the invention of the light bulb the human sleep average has gone down by more than 10% per person.  We're missing a lot of sleep! No wonder the world always seems to be getting worse. We're all more tired than we used to be. 

As the workplace democratizes and people are beginning self-employment more than corporate coghood, we're in a great place for returning to our body's natural sleep cycle. We still have to deal with the light bulb (for which there are natural alternatives from building design to blue-light blockers at night), but at least we can choose when to be productive, rather than have productive time thrust upon us by a boss. I'll offer you this way to think about what this means for each of us in our lives, and how to make yourself Comfy with how your body naturally works. First, go back to my suggestion of a few paragraphs ago: when are you tired, when are you productive? If you cycle through the day like most of humanity then an 8 hour block of time in the workday may not be for you. You have three choices if this is the case. 1. Continue doing what you're currently doing, forcing your body to accommodate itself to the culture of your workplace, with varying levels of success. 2. Advocate for change at your workplace, altering the culture of your environment and organization so that it becomes a human friendly place to work. 3. Change jobs to something that allows you to live how your body would prefer you to live. 

For me the answer to that question is #3, but the place I'm at right now is between 2 and 3. I have not fully shifted jobs yet, so I continue to be an advocate (with varying levels of success depending on the organization I've worked for [government was the worst!]) of a human friendly workplace. My goal in life is to convert to #3 within two-four years as part of my Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) plan. I know my sleep cycle, and the exact schedule that would work best for me. Here it is: 

3-5am – write or be creative in some other way 

5-9am – sleep 

9-11am – regular business (non-creative, but necessary) 

11am – 2pm – socialize 

2-3pm – sleep 

3-5pm – exercise 

5-9pm – socialize 

9pm-3am – sleep 


When the kids are older and at school most of the day, this will be my schedule.  I'll probably still have to deal with others in times I'd prefer not to, but generally, this is what I'm aiming for. 

Consider bi-phasal, or multi-phasal sleep for yourself. Could converting to this type of lifestyle and sleep schedule help you become Comfy in your own day? Will it help you achieve greater productivity, wakefulness, and health? Can it allow you to leave caffine behind? Chances are trying it out can't hurt, except with your boss and your company. Even there, though, you can make a difference by helping change the culture. Every little bit of sleep helps. Every little bit of sleep advocacy can change a mind. Every little bit of productivity gained from people performing at their most efficient can change the world into a Comfy place for us all. 

Let us know how you sleep. What kind of sleep cycle works for you? 

Some good links to read for more information on sleep alternatives include: