Polyphasic Sleeping: A Macroscopic Vision of the Pomodoro Technique

Introduction

Figure 1. The Pomodoro Technique

The traditional Pomodoro Technique consists of a cyclic period of doing an activity for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break, making up several chunks of 30 minutes1. After 4 Pomodoros, the break is proposed to be longer, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Alternative Pomodoro variants include a longer period of activity followed up by a slightly longer break (e.g, 45  minutes of studying/working followed by a 10-minute break). The premise of this time-control technique is to train humans to focus on one task at hand and has been proven to be effective against procrastination. Taking a short break has been demonstrated to refresh the mind and carry a consistently high level of productivity into late periods in the day. More potential cautions regarding Pomodoro will be included in this blog post as well as how polyphasic sleeping is related to this technique. This blog post also details certain ways polyphasic sleepers can make use of Pomodoro and these ways can vary from person to person.

Pomodoro in Conjunction with Polyphasic Sleeping

In a sense, the cyclic division between activities and break in the Pomodoro Technique appears to be similar to polyphasic sleeping with the cyclic division of sleep and wake hours during the day. Waking hours represent time spent on activities, while sleeping hours represent break time from said activities.

Figure 2. Everyman 2 with Pomodoro

Of the 24 hours each day, sleep takes up a portion as a means to replenish the body with rest. The remaining waking hours are divided into several smaller segments of activities by choice. During night time where the peaceful waking hours are for the most part spent in the dark period with dimmer lighting, the standard Pomodoro variant (25-5-25-5) can be practiced as a way to get used to focusing on one specific task during each 25-minute block and set different goals for each block. The 5-minute break period should be used for some quick stand-up stretching, drinking some water for hydration, or splashing some water onto your face to relieve the potential stress put on your eyes with increased wake time on a polyphasic schedule. 5 minutes is a very short period of time, so activities that work up your mind or can last long should be avoided1. A longer work-break Pomodoro variant as mentioned earlier can work out as well if made consistent enough or if you have already been familiar with your own Pomodoro duration.

A Pomodoro beginner should start out with the standard version – 25 minutes may appear short, but there is potentially a lot of distraction (e.g, social media notifications, personal message inboxes and other forms of procrastination) getting in the way. It has been concluded that human’s attention span is decreasing over the year, going from 12 seconds in 2000 to only 8.25 seconds in 20152. Therefore, it is better to start with a shorter activity period, and a shorter break period as well. Longer break periods can invite more procrastination and waste of productive time.

Currently, there are only some polyphasic sleepers in the community who have actually practiced the Pomodoro technique with some consistency and positive results. Most of these Pomodoro variants, however, usually involve a longer work period followed by a slightly longer break period. These alternate variants also appear to be more realistic to maintain on a consistent basis than the traditional version. Especially in work settings that demand constant productivity while leaving very small slots for breaks, it becomes difficult to pull off the Pomodoro technique consistently.

Sleep Deprivation and Sleep Quantum Value

Depending on sleep deprivation intensity and what polyphasic schedule is being practiced, it can be impossible to achieve the desired productivity level with the extra waking hours gained from said sleep schedules. It was shown that sleep deprivation can affect productivity on a very big scale, with about 1 hour and 54 minutes of productivity time lost among workers weekly, in a study of Korean workers3. In order to not completely butcher productivity during the adaptation period, it is recommended that you pick a reasonable polyphasic schedule to avoid spending most or all of the waking hours fighting sleep deprivation and putting all efforts into only staying awake. The number 1 hour and 54 minutes above only applies to the sleep deprived state, and does not account for successful polyphasic adaptations.

The sleep quantum value, as pointed out by Claudio Stampi, is a value that refers to the minimum amount of sleep duration each day to sustain productivity and performance for an extended period of time. A six-week Uberman adaptation might look tempting with a lot of extra waking hours gained, but long-term performance can be severely crippled, along with a very brutal adaptation period. Normal human beings with no special genetic mutations often require anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep on a daily basis to be fully rested. In terms of sleep reduction and long-term performance, it was concluded that 4.5-5.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, or at the very least, 4 hours sleep as a total of all sleep blocks on the schedule (minimum sleep threshold in polyphasic context) on a daily basis is required to sustain performance for an extended period of time, up to 8 months with no serious health problems4.

Thus, it is important to note that sleeping less does not always equate more productivity; there is also a baseline of minimum sleep that should be accommodated by certain polyphasic schedules. In addition, other environmental factors (e.g, stressful work, difficult professions) can affect sleep quality. This in return can affect productivity time while awake to varying extents. With all factors combined, It is a common misconception that anyone can adapt to highly extreme polyphasic schedules like Uberman while gaining superhuman productivity. The Pomodoro technique can be used to cope with sleep deprivation symptoms while sticking to the sleep schedule to keep you awake during the most intensely sleep-inducing hours (e.g, dawn, graveyard hours), but intensified sleep deprivation will most likely affect the effectiveness of Pomodoro as productivity is decreased.

Pomodoro’s Specific Applications in Polyphasic Schedules

Since there is a great variety of polyphasic schedules, the Pomodoro technique will vary by a margin between these polyphasic schedules. This section will discuss how and when the Pomodoro technique should be applied under different polyphasic schedules.

NOTE: The representation of the Pomodoro technique shown in the napcharts below is one possible way to implement the Pomodoro technique. There are viable alternatives depending on personally preferred physically/mentally active hours, and these hours are likely to vary from person to person.

Figure 3. Pomodoro on E1 and Segmented sleep

Recall from the previous section that waking hours in a polyphasic schedule represent time spent on activities, while sleeping hours represent break time from said activities. Using this strategy, a short nap of 20 minutes or less on a polyphasic schedule can be utilized as a 4th “break” period on the Pomodoro – in fact, the idea of inserting a nap during a Pomodoro break as a form of polyphasic sleeping was already suggested5. The first 3 Pomodoro activity-break cycles of a 25-minute focus on a specific activity followed by a 5-minute nap is implemented the same way as the traditional Pomodoro variant; however, the last Pomodoro cycle can be started by a 25-minute work followed by a short cooldown of 5-15 minutes and a 20-minute nap or shorter. This cooldown duration is also dependent on how mentally/physically taxing the Pomodoro period is. If mentally demanding activities are implemented, the cooldown period should be a bit longer and vice versa. Experienced and long-term adapted polyphasic sleepers need a very short cooldown (much less than 5 minutes) to prepare for their sleeps. The cooldown period where no important activities are done (other than some stretching and moving around) is necessary to help the brain enter a slow-wave state to facilitate sleeping in the scheduled sleep. The same strategy can be applied to other 20-minute naps on other polyphasic schedules (e.g, Everyman and Dual Core) as well. Below is another example on how the Pomodoro Technique can be made use of.

Example: Pomodoro scheduled on Dual Core 1

Figure 4. Pomodoro on DC1 with 2 continuous Pomodoro blocks

First 4 cycles of Pomodoro’s Activity-Break:

The first 4 cycles of the Pomodoro technique can be carried out by planning the activities below, taking advantage of the afternoon nap in the middle of 2 Pomodoro blocks.

Work block 1: 11:50-12:15 (25 minutes)

Task: Programming/Problem Solving

Break 1:12:15-12:20 (5 minutes)

NOTE: It was suggested that sleeping for the whole 5 minutes during the break as a way to “shut down” brain activity for a brief period of time is a good relaxation method5. However, this is not recommended while adapting to a polyphasic schedule. A 5-minute rest can result in a big oversleep if sleep deprivation level is high enough, and 5 minutes have been postulated to be too short to contain vital sleep stages4 (except under severe sleep deprivation conditions). This relaxation method was also compared to polyphasic sleeping, where napping effectively can be counted as actual sleep and helps with sleep reduction5; however, doing so in only 5 minutes and especially if this brief nap is outside the scheduled sleep blocks can hinder adaptation progress in the scheduled sleep times. The only sleep patterns that can make use of this napping condition are flexible, random, non-reducing types or after the adaptation phase is completed (where sleepers take naps whenever they feel tired enough like on SEVAMAYL). Therefore, sleeping during this brief period is NOT recommended with a strict, rigid polyphasic schedule in adaptation.

Work block 2: 12:20-12:45 (25 minutes)

Task: Programming/Problem Solving/More brainstorming

Break 2: 12:50-12:55 (5 minutes)

NOTE: Mentally or physically demanding tasks (e.g, programming) like above can be used to continue the flow from the first work block after break 1. This prevents any disruptions from interfering with information processing. For an activity that requires an extended amount of time to finish, it is important to maintain the workflow.

Work block 3: 13:00-13:25 (25 minutes)

Task: Memorizing biology notecards

Break 3: 13:25-13:30 (5 minutes)

Work block 4: 13:30-13:55 (25 minutes)

Task: Memorizing bigger biology notecards

Break 4: 14:00-14:10 (10 minutes) – useful brief activities (e.g, stretching, moving food from freezer to fridge to defrost, place a small reminder of what to do after awakening on the desk in case it is forgotten, focus on regular breathing)

NAP (Sleep Break): 14:10-14:30 (20 minutes)

NOTE: The nap is placed here because of the longer Pomodoro break (after 4 activity-break cycles). A break duration of at least 15 minutes is long enough to justify placing a nap for some restorative effects. This is a good nap placement on a polyphasic schedule to make use of both the Pomodoro activity-break and the nap in between.

Second 4 cycles of Pomodoro’s Activity-Break:

Work block 5: 14:35-15:00 (25 minutes)

Task: Some exercise to wake the body up (e.g, jumping jacks, chores)

Break 5: 15:00-15:05 (5 minutes)

Work block 6-8:

Task: Recalling learned biology notecards/Problem solving

The above example is the order of how napping can be associated with the Pomodoro. As analyzed earlier about the cooldown period before sleep, a brief period of warmup can be considered upon awakening. Adapted sleepers will usually have a very short warm-up period compared to those who are adapting. The reason is that some sleep inertia is always present upon awakening, regardless of sleep deprivation levels. The first work block after a sleep break can be dedicated to certain physical activities (e.g, jumping jacks) to wake the body up, which has been proven to be effective to combat sleep deprivation during the adaptation period and set up the motivation to muster productivity to maintain the next Pomodoro goals.

After this period, the Pomodoro technique can be resumed like before – a brief activity period of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. Right upon awakening, it is recommended that tasks that are less important should be chosen (e.g, warm-up physical activities, small chores) until fully awake. This process may take more than 1 Pomodoro cycle of activity-break depending on sleep deprivation levels. Regarding learners and students, useful activities after waking up from a nap/core sleep include the following: recite previously learned materials from before the sleep block. This is a good way to make use of napping benefits to aid with learning.

Another strategy to make use of the Pomodoro technique is to use personally preferred mentally active hours to cope with demanding activities that require stronger focus. This choice comes down to chronotypes – those who are used to early morning hours (Lion Chronotype) and prefer to start the day early can start a more intense Pomodoro at these specific hours. On the other hand, those who are used to evening/night hours (Wolf Chronotype) can dedicate those hours to finish these work chunks. During hours that result in a less active mindset, less intense and focus-required tasks can be scheduled to be completed.

On a schedule with only core sleeps like Segmented, the Pomodoro technique could be implemented in a similar fashion. After 1 or a couple full Pomodoro cycles of activity-break, polyphasic sleepers can have a longer nap or a core to refresh the mind. Regardless of schedules, having a brief cooldown before each sleep to relax the brain is preferred to help lowering sleep onset latency. Thus, by using sleep times as part of the Pomodoro technique, polyphasic sleepers can learn to make use of the waking and sleeping hours better by dedicating time to not only working but also proper resting when the brain gets tired.

Viability of Pomodoro Today and Potential Downsides

Those with anxiety may find pomodoro very difficult, because of the pressure from the ticking clockng sleepy all the time. 1. It is important to take this into consideration before attempting Pomodoro. Despite the overwhelming evidence that it is impossible to make Pomodoro work in a constrained working environment that requires a long period of sustained operations, Pomodoro is still applicable at home or even in schools and universities. Schools often offer a brief break period after each course (~1-2h long depending on locations), and about 10-15 minutes of walking from class to class. This is by far the most realistic use of a work-break method similar to Pomodoro, even though technically it is not the exact same thing. During night hours, it is very ideal to practice Pomodoro to stay motivated during adaptation, rather than having nothing to do and feeling sleepy all the time.

Conclusion

Pomodoro technique is a very useful tool to boost motivation during sleep deprivation periods during polyphasic adaptations, and can help train personal discipline in keeping track of activities and how to make use of time better. However, Pomodoro also has its own flaws and may not fit certain personality or conditions (e.g, constant distraction, sleep deprivation). Although it is hard to consistently maintain Pomodoro on a daily basis nowadays, it remains a good utility to fight off procrastination and motivates task completion and outlining and planning to achieve personal goals. As a result, it is important to carefully consider a suitable polyphasic lifestyle with a clear set of objectives to maintain productivity for as long as possible. Pomodoro technique promises to deliver good results, but only if you have the necessary skills to make it work. Make time and the waking hours count for you, not against you!

Main author: GeneralNguyen
Page last updated: 18 April 2020

  1. Cirillo, Francesco. The Pomodoro Technique : The Acclaimed Time Management System That Has Transformed How We Work. New York, Currency, 2018.
  2. Web Desk. “The Human Attention Span [INFOGRAPHIC].” Digitalinformationworld.Com, 10 Sept. 2018, www.digitalinformationworld.com/2018/09/the-human-attention-span-infographic.html. Accessed Feb. 22. 2020.
  3. Woo, Jong Min, et al. “Productivity Time Lost by Sleep Disturbance among Workers in Korea.” Journal of Korean Neuropsychiatric Association, vol. 50, no. 1, 2011, pp. 62–68, www.komci.org/GSResult.php?RID=0055JKNA%2F2011.50.1.62&DT=6. Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.
  4. Stampi, Claudio. Why We Nap : Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep. Birkhauser, 2014.
  5. Staffan Noteberg. Pomodoro Technique Illustrated : The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2013.

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