Decades ago I remember reading how our current president boasted of gaining a competitive edge by sleeping only four hours per night. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and realized I had no hope to become a titan of industry as I was unable to function with so little sleep even for a night or two. That said, people keep trying to find ways to beat sleep. Here’s a chronicle of one scientist’s attempt to do that, noting right upfront R. Buckminster Fuller found a way to get by on just two hours of sleep.
In the summer of 2009, I was finishing the first—and toughest—year of my doctorate. To help me get through it, while I brewed chemicals in test tubes during the day, I was also planning a crazy experiment to cheat sleep.
The method to achieving what seemed like a superhuman feat was called the Dymaxion sleeping schedule: four naps of 30 minutes taken every six hours. Much of Fuller’s inventions were labeled “Dymaxion,” which is a portmanteau of dynamic, maximum, and tension, and I was certainly inspired to live like a great man once did.
Sleep expert Claudio Stampi explained in his 1992 book Why We Nap: Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep that humans shouldn’t find it hard to adjust to a polyphasic schedule.