No day is so bad that it can’t be fixed with a nap. – Carrie Snow

There are times when our regular sleep pattern gets thrown out of sync, but we still need to function. While researching how best to off-set sleep deprivation and toying with polyphasic sleep, I wrote up a “how to” guide.

The criteria were:

– No fixed schedule possible

– Minimal adaptation period

– Least amount of effort required to maintain

– Potential long term sustainability

For two weeks I tested carbohydrate cycling to hit mild ketosis and increasing the amount of naps I took without making an effort to reduce core sleep. On none-training days, I averaged 6.5 hours of total sleep, but depending on intensity on training days I would sometimes hit 7-8 hours of sleep again. However, as soon as I reintroduced higher doses of carbohydrates to my diet and dropped out of ketosis, I was back to 8+ hours of sleep every day and was waking up groggy.

Disclaimer: While ketosis induced by a very low carbohydrate (20g or less/day) diet is healthy(1) and doesn’t have negative long term side effects(2) there is still an adaptation period. Depending how high your carb intake is before starting, the transition is going to be unpleasant (mild headaches) to full-on withdrawal (massive headaches, mental confusion, mood swings etc.) If your diet revolves around carbs and you quit cold turkey while trying to tweak your sleep, you risk being a liability to yourself and others. Do your own supplemental research, know what you’re getting into and consider yourselves warned.

General Preparation: What you need to do before you start messing with sleep.

– Drop into mild to deep Ketosis: Cut down your carbohydrate intake to 20gr or less a day. It takes some time to adapt to reducing carbs that low so you’ll experience mild headaches, but it puts you in a mild form of ketosis (not to be confused with ketoacidosis) which makes your body produce ketones. Your body functions more efficiently on ketones then glucose, and one of the side effects is the reduced need for sleep without sleep deprivation side effects. From there, carbohydrate dose cycling becomes dependent on training intensity and volume. The higher the intensity on a given day, the more carbs are needed, which will make you sleep more.

– Plan ahead: You need a plan for the adaptation period of both ketosis and polyphasic sleep. While your body gets used to switching from carbs to fat as a fuel source you’ll probably feel a bit foggy and have some headaches. Without sleep you’ll also be operating with the equivalent of a BAC of .05 after 17 hours sleep deprivation and .10 after 24 hours (remember Part 1). Make sure to take care of the more difficult tasks or activities first.

– Have failsafes: You need a person to double-check your work and keep an eye on you to make sure that you aren’t going off the deep end. If you start to drop into microsleep, your work quality suffers, or you start to acting recklessly, someone needs to let you know.

– Nap first, then reduce core sleep: Most polyphasic sleepers try to cut down their main sleep first and add in naps. Go the opposite way and added in extra naps during the day first, then let those change your core sleep cycle.

Once you’ve left your regular sleeping pattern: (First 24 hours or less)

– Stave off the side effects: 
Caffeine or creatine will offset the side effects of sleep deprivation, however, caffeine will affect your ability to nap, so stick to creatine for the first 24 hours. (50 mg/kg of bodyweight so +/- 5 grams is enough) It takes some time to absorb so take it about an hour before a burst of activity(3).

– Naps: Naps are a skill. Practice often.
Length: 10 mins is the Minimum Effective Dose, but 20 mins is best. Anything over 20 minutes can make it tough to shake off sleep inertia after waking up.
Frequency: Every 4 to 6 hours depending on the amount of core sleep you got. Less core sleep = more naps more often.

– Don’t mess with your body’s ability to hit REM sleep. No intake of Alcohol, Caffeine, or Nicotine. At least not before the first 24 hours.

– Core sleep: Sleep works in cyclical stages of approx. 90 minutes. Waking up at the wrong cycle will leave you feeling groggy. The exact timing takes a bit of tweaking but 3 hours, 4.5 hours, and 6 hours are the usual chunks used. If you do wake up groggy, shorten the core sleep by 15 minutes the next time.

– Follow your rhythm: If you decide to sleep 6 hours, but wake up 4.5 or 5 hours later and you’re feeling awake, stay awake and nap in a few hours instead.

Past the 24 hour awake mark: Reintroduction of caffeine.

If you’ve gone past 24 hours awake but you can’t hit a chunk of core sleep for some reason, caffeine comes back into play. It stays in your system 6-8 hours and changes the body’s ability to hit REM sleep, so reintroduce it as late as possible.

– Caffeine naps: Drink 2 espresso within 10 minutes, then nap 20 minutes. Caffeine takes about 30 minutes to kick in, and if you time it to take affect after coming off a nap you’ll side step the sleep inertia.(4)

– Caffeine intake: After the first caffeine nap it gets tougher to nap normally so continuous coffee intake is pretty much your only option. When tested at the 72-75 hour mark, 200 mg of caffeine (2 cups of coffee) helps with alertness fatigue and reaction time(5), but doesn’t help more complex mental function that involve the prefrontal cortex, so anything that requires risk assessment, like gambling. (6)

If you’re past the 72 hour mark without being able to naps or get core sleep, best of luck.


1. Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo Here

2. Long term effects of ketogenic diet in obese subjects with high cholesterol level Here

3. Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation – a randomized placebo-controlled trial Here

4. Wired how to wiki Here

5. Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S Navy SEAL training. Here

6. Caffeine Effects on Risky Decision Making After 75 Hours of Sleep Deprivation Here