Polyphasic sleeping can be a great way to maximize your energy, but the actual polyphasic adaptation process can leave you feeling like an extra off the Walking Dead. Every experienced polysleeper has gone through it—the dreaded zombie mode. What is it, what causes it, and how can you beat it?
Welcome to your zombie mode survival guide.
What is Zombie Mode?
Like you might’ve guessed, zombie mode has to do with brains, your brains. When you begin adapting to a new polyphasic sleep schedule (including extreme ones like the Uberman Sleep), your brain and body go through an initial stage of sleep deprivation with a range of severity. This is because your monophasic brain is used to taking more time to reach deeper sleep levels. And, like any other cause of sleep deprivation, you’ll experience notable cognitive decline, memory, and grogginess—especially when you first wake up.
Slow Wave Sleep
But it gets worse still. For sleepers still going through their polyphasic adaptation, these scheduled and necessary wake-up times often occur while their brains are still in SWS (Slow Wave Sleep), a deep and restorative sleep stage where the brain is running on its lowest power. As you can guess, forcing yourself to get out of bed during all this feels terrible at best and like reanimation at worst.
Entering Zombie Mode
For polyphasic sleepers, or anyone trying to set a sleep schedule, sticking to a routine is extremely important for adaptation. To successfully change your sleep patterns, you need to condition your body and brain to wake up and sleep at consistent times, even if it’s hard at first. While most sleepers can do this with an alarm clock and a little willpower, zombie mode turns your own brain against you.
Some sleep-deprived zombie victims will sleep through their alarms and others will hit snooze. To outsmart their own zombie brain, some newer polysleepers will think ahead and rig their alarms with puzzles, math problems, and strict wake-up apps like Alarmy. Some polysleepers even try putting their alarm in the bathroom so they have to get up and get ready. Unfortunately, while the zombie brain is sleepy, it isn’t stupid.
Once you’ve reached a tipping point of sleep deprivation, your body may do anything to get extra sleep. That means waking up, solving the alarm puzzles, going to another room to shut off the alarm, going back to sleep, and all without your consciousness or memory.
In the long run, zombie mode isn’t just a ghoulish way for polysleepers to accidentally sleep through work or classes, but it’s also game over for their polyphasic adaptation. Failing to stick with the polyphasic routine will lead to oversleeping and will prevent the body from learning new sleeping hours. Ultimately, this continues the cycle of sleep deprivation further.
Bring the Right Toolkit
While there isn’t a cure for zombification in horror movies and TV shows, there’s still plenty you can do to dodge zombie mode during your own polyphasic adaptation. Most importantly, using the right resources and strategies can set you up for polysleeping success.
Since many zombie mode sleepers return to their beds or fail to even get out of bed, it may help you to try sleeping less comfortably. On your bed, this could mean fewer blankets and pillows. Or, you could try sleeping on the floor or on a sofa. Regardless of how or where you choose to sleep, you’ll be training your body to nap in less than cozy conditions and making it easier to get up on time.
Next, while alarm clocks aren’t zombie-proof, they’re still a great way to stop yourself from hitting the snooze button or just sleeping through the alarm. In addition to the previously mentioned alarm clock strategies, you can also try setting automatic alarms so that you don’t forget before you go to bed, or you can use multiple loud devices at once.
Most of us couldn’t survive a zombie apocalypse without help, and the same applies to zombie mode. Without support, even the best, most complicated alarm system can be beat by your subconscious sleepy self. Instead, try and find a polysleeping partner who follows a similar schedule to you or a family or friend who can keep you accountable at wake-up time.
Banks, S., Dinges, D. (2007). Behavioral and Psychological Consequences of Sleep Restriction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978335
Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Here’s What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/happens-body-dont-get-enough-sleep
More energy, focus, and time each day—polyphasic sleeping, the practice of sleeping for just a few short intervals a day, promises both physical and mental benefits. Although most sleepers are monophasic (they sleep just once a day), many hyper-productive people throughout history, including Da Vinci, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin, have followed their own unique polyphasic […]