Managing Sleep Deprivation


Short-term sleep deprivation during adaptation is unavoidable, especially during adaptation to more extreme sleep schedules. While proper adaptation methods can help with decreasing sleep deprivation during adaptation, this article focuses on managing sleep deprivation. Thus, it is based on experience from previous successful adaptations.

As introduced in Adaptation, sleep deprivation typically peaks in stage 3 around week 3-4 in most schedules. Occasionally, sleep deprivation symptoms can immediately overwhelm you during the first week. This is very common when you enter the adaptation period with pre-existing sleep debt. Overall, it is best to start adaptation in a fully rested state to minimize weeks of struggle.


  1. Sleep Deprivation Symptoms
  2. Most Common Symptoms
  3. Recommendations
    1. General Outline
    2. Other Activities
    3. Bad Methods to Stay Awake
  4. Microsleeping
    1. Sleep Deprivation Type
    2. Behavioral Microsleep
  5. Zombie Mode
  6. Things You Should Absolutely NOT Do

Sleep Deprivation Symptoms

During the adaptation period, you can expect to experience sleep deprivation (barring a disciplined non-reducing biphasic schedule). Sleep deprivation is a fundamental type of stress on the body that naturally leads to several symptoms. On top of that, more severe sleep reductions will result in more severe symptoms.

Here is a range of sleep deprivation symptoms that one can experience during a polyphasic sleep adaptation:

  • Severe headaches, likely the worst ever experienced1
  • Severe eye sore, dry/red eyes, blurred or double vision, and constant eye closing which requires heavy concentration to avoid
  • Brain fog that makes it extremely hard to think straight
  • Shivers2 or hot flashes caused by the body failing to properly regulate temperature3
  • Dizziness4,5
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness6, stiffness or cramping
  • Repeated yawning
  • Reduced reflexes7 and strength
  • Microsleeping8 (falling asleep suddenly without consciously realizing, for seconds or minutes at a time)
  • Mood swings and an increase in negative moods including irritability, anxiety, confusion, helplessness, despair and depression9–12
  • Auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations13
  • Paranoia12
  • Tinnitus
  • Acid reflux
  • Aggravation of pre-existing nosebleed risk
  • Weakened immune system14
  • Appetite changes15 (increased or decreased)
  • Balance issues or vertigo4
  • “Zombie mode”. Similar to sleepwalking, any memory of being awake is lost. Evidence of the consciousness will become apparent as there are noticeable changes in the room, your location in the room, or alarms being turned off without recollection.
  • Seizure (this predominantly applies to people suffering from Epilepsy16
  • Blackout
  • Memory loss17

However, sleep deprivation symptoms will typically come and go during adaptation. On average from onset, it is normal for them to appear several times per day and last 1-2 hours at a time. Apparently, the symptoms become more severe with more sleep reduction. 

Most Common Symptoms

Eye sore or pain

It is very common to experience eye pain while looking at electronic displays. This includes, but not limited to, computer monitors, tablets, phones or the TV. Thus, repeated exposure subsequently leads to constantly closing eyes due to exhaustion or dryness. Possibly helpful suggestions include:

Filtering screens and taking breaks on Bimaxion
  • Using software to reduce blue light, such as F.lux, Redshift, Twilight, Night Shift especially at night.
  • Rub something very cold against your face or eyelids. For example, a towel dunked in ice cold water, ice packs or ice cubes.
  • Taking regular breaks or avoiding long periods in front of screens altogether.


If you are experiencing headaches, the most common cause is dehydration. Make sure you are drinking enough fluids to mitigate these. 

Recommendations to fight sleep deprivation

During adaptation to a polyphasic sleep schedule, it is necessary to stay busy at all times. Having nothing to do or working on repetitive, dull or unengaging tasks can lead to lapses in attention. These lapses can ultimately turn into oversleeping. That being said, there are ways to play around this.

One way is to create a “Big Fat List“, which Puredoxyk introduced in her book Ubersleep.

  • Prior to adapting, create a long list of things that you might plausibly be able to do while sleep deprived. During this period, it can be very hard to come up with these things.
  • When tiredness hits, remember your own list and pick some activities to keep your mind busy. This way you avoid getting bored and distract your own mind during sleep deprivation. 

General Activity Guide

Keeping busy on DC3
  • Anything you can do at night. This is for when you might have to be quiet or operate in a low-light environment. 
  • Anything that does not require much brainpower. This is because when extremely sleep deprived, your brain will likely work suboptimally.
  • Anything that makes you move around. This is because during intense sleep deprivation, moving around is the only viable way to stay awake.
  • Focus on more important activities (e.g, studying) when you hit a high alertness level. Get as much done as possible before the tiredness waves return. 

If you can come up with some major tasks to work on to keep your mind or body active but do not require a lot of brain power to execute, that is a particularly good candidate. One example is completely reorganizing and cleaning your home.

The more items you can put on this list, the better. You should avoid putting any unrealistic activities on this list while sleep deprived. Below are some viable activities to stay awake better.

The list of alternate activities

  1. Walk to the store
  2. Wander around downtown (leave most/all of your money at home, since impulse control is low!)
  3. Shop online (ideally logged out of an account and on a browser that doesn’t remember your password)
  4. Go to a club and don’t drink alcohol
  5. Work on a home improvement project that doesn’t involve power tools, like constructing a bookshelf
  6. Take the dog to a park
  7. Run and use a running app like “Zombies, Run”
  8. Laundry
  9. Cook something safely, one dish at a time
  10. Mix things in a blender
  11. Call someone
  12. Tell people to call you randomly during certain hours
  13. Organize shelves, papers
  14. Do standing yoga (with an upbeat yoga video)
  15. Pushups, jumping jacks or some other calisthenics
  16. Social media if it is engaging and truly social
  17. Fix broken things you’ve been putting off
  18. Make a pile of every object you haven’t used in 6 months and organize into piles to trash, donate, or sell
  19. Watch dance videos and try to imitate them
  20. Vacuum, shampoo the carpet
  21. Clean the dishes by hand
  22. Sip ice water constantly, see how long it takes to drink a liter
  23. Deep clean the bathrooms or garage with solvents, rags, and brushes
  24. Enjoy energetic music while doing any other tasks
  25. Walk around your home envisioning new floor plans or décor options
  26. Tear up magazines and make a collage (like in grade school, of goals, fashion, ideas…)
  27. Play with any energetic pets
  28. Play with friends, family, or neighbors’ pets
  29. Watch a very dramatic, terrifying, or exciting TV series

Bad Methods to Stay Awake

In general, any bad methods do not require much concentration. As a result, you are just sitting around and not moving. Thus, high-stake activities are equally undesirable as you can harm yourself others. Examples include:

  • Sitting (even without a backrest)
  • Lying down
  • Reading silently
  • Watching TV
  • Browsing the internet passively (e.g. scrolling Facebook,  browsing articles)
  • Playing monotonous video games that do not require a lot of attention
  • Taking a warm shower (it will just make you feel drowsy)
  • Closing your eyes without standing up first
  • Going to a movie theater
  • Getting a massage
  • Listening to soothing music or nature sounds
  • Driving a vehicle (dangerous if microsleeping)
  • Multitasking around heat, sharp objects, or machinery
  • Doing any drugs (unless doctor prescribed)
  • Going to boring events or parties
  • Looking at your bed
  • Cuddling with anything


Microsleeping from Sleep Deprivation

Essentially, microsleeping occurs when you uncontrollably start to fall asleep, for seconds or minutes at a time. During periods of extreme sleep deprivation, it is likely you will have sudden bouts of microsleeping at any moment. Most polyphasic adapters experience them at least once.

If you are starting to microsleep, you should AVOID DRIVING. This is because you are likely to fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident. Overall, driving in a sleep deprived state is generally a very bad idea18,19.

There are certain ways to combat microsleeping if you notice you are dozing off. 

  • Jumping up and down
  • Stamping the ground
  • Punching something like a punching bag or a pillow
  • Splashing yourself repeatedly in the face, arms and neck with ice cold water
  • Having an ice cold shower
  • Chewing on ice cubes
  • Holding in a mouthful of water
  • Going for a brisk walk
  • Putting yourself in a really uncomfortable situation

Again, some of these activities may be dangerous under severe sleep deprivation. For example, if you decide to go for a walk, be mindful not to walk into traffic or obstacles.

Behavioral Microsleeping

Unlike the usually harmful type of microsleep, there are certain instances of innocuous microsleeping. Behavioral microsleeping is a type of microsleep that occurs in certain individuals. This has nothing to do with sleep deprivation, just their habits of falling asleep as a response to boredom20.

Some adapted sleepers do report this type of microsleep and it is generally harmless. Still, it is a good idea to keep its frequency in check. 

Zombie Mode

Zombie mode usually occurs if you try to wake from SWS or while extremely sleep deprived. This state is responsible for sleeping through alarms regardless of how loud they are. The mind will subconsciously want to give up the battle because of  the sleep pressure. Thus, it will do whatever it can to convince you to stop.

  • You cannot trust yourself in zombie mode, because you will eventually try to sleep extra or fail to wake up.
  • If you provide any avenue by which you could sleep more but not recover, your subconscious mind will take it.
  • Finally, you will fail. To prevent this, you have to make extra efforts to stop your subconsciousness from sabotaging your schedule.


  • Sleep somewhere uncomfortable such as on the floor. Avoid being “comfy” when zombie mode kicks in, and you will be happier to get up. In addition, the advantage is that once you can sleep in an uncomfortable place, you should be able to fall asleep and take your nap anywhere. This is very useful for polyphasic sleepers. See car napping for example. 
  • Have multiple alarms on different devices in different places so you have to shut them all off.
  • Set up automated alarms that will repeat themselves daily, so you don’t have to turn any of them on.
  • Make use of phone alarm features such as “disable by solving math problems”, QR code (Alarmy) or barcode scanning. Place a code in the shower so that you have to go to the bathroom. The fridge may also be nice, as you can fetch a glass of cold water. Make sure to set these on separate devices in case one of them fails.
  • Have someone watch over you and force you to get up and stay awake.
  • Set up NMO, along with a sound system in such a way that you will always be able to hear it no matter what. For example, speakers you cannot turn off. 
  • Make use of NMOs’ Discord Integration and Web UI so that members of the NMO Watch Group can supervise you in real time. They can also remotely set off alarms or any device you set up to prevent you from oversleeping. However, this is not as effective as having a physical supervisor. 

Human alarm

You are most likely successful if you have a human supervisor to watch you during the adaptation. This is even a bigger plus especially with extreme sleep schedules with less than 4 hours of total sleep. They should keep you awake during most wake periods and remind you to sleep on time.

Moreover, the human supervisor should physically be in the room with you. They will probably have to drag you out of bed at least once. Many people who successfully adapted to difficult schedules were only able to do so because they had a partner who adapted alongside them.

Things You Should Absolutely NOT Do (Increased Failure Chance!)

  • Sleeping somewhere super comfortable, like in your bed. You are really likely going to just stay there when it is time to get out of bed. Especially in the cold, staying in bed can feel so good. Thus, try sleeping somewhere uncomfortable, like on the floor, in a car etc. to counter this problem.
  • While being severely sleep deprived (usually stage 2 forwards, but especially stage 3), never sit down for a rest, lie down or close eyes unless it is sleep time. You can risk an instant failure by doing so. 
  • Failing to combat microsleeping is going to make your body accept microsleeping. Habitually microsleeping is nothing more than a cop-out method rather than actually adapting. Thus, you must fight it at all cost. 
  • Getting bored and having nothing to do is a death sentence. You should try to make your Big Fat List as long as possible to avoid running out of things to do. When there is nothing left, you might not have the brainpower to think of more when you need it the most.
  • If you are using NMO (No More Oversleeps desktop program), you should not pause it unless you are going out. If you do, only pause for the minimum duration possible and give a legitimate reason for pausing.


Sleep deprivation is inevitable during adaptation. Nevertheless, effective alarm systems, time management, task lists and plans can all help you mollify the struggle. In stage 4, you can progressively gain relief, but continue your successful strategies until the end. Sudden waves of bad symptoms or abruptly long oversleep sessions have been known to catch people off guard even during stage 4.

With all things considered, your rewards for some weeks of sleepiness and a period of struggle will be hundreds of waking hours and improved sleep quality long-term.

Main author: Crimson

Page last updated: 1 April 2021


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