Sleep Like Batman – Polyphasic Sleep, Yoga Nidra, And More

By on July 23, 2021

This is part one of a two part series, looking at how Bruce Wayne might support his training through sleep, recovery, diet, and supplements. Batman’s training, as depicted in the comics, is intense. Training like this on top of fighting crime and running a Wayne Enterprises would be nearly impossible for a mere mortal.

sleep like batman

In short: sleep and recovery are more important than ever for someone that pushes themselves so hard. And yet, Bruce Wayne would have very few hours in a day to dedicate to that recovery! How can you get by on limited sleep? How can you recover from such an intense lifestyle?

See also: Batman Training 2021 – How Would Batman Really Train?

Of course, this is just a bit of nerdy fun. A hypothetical thought experiment. But it’s also something that MANY of us can relate to. How do you keep training when life gets tough? How do you keep pushing yourself and not burn out?

How do we recover like Batman?

In this part, we’ll be looking at sleep and meditation.

How Does Batman Sleep?

Let’s start with sleep, as this is one of the key areas that factor into our recovery. Unfortunately, this is also something that Batman and any new parent will be lacking in.

Batman Sleep

We know we need plenty of sleep to optimize performance and especially recovery. This is something that author Matthew Walker goes into great depth explaining in his book: Why We Sleep. Matthew posits that sleep is one of the most profound performance enhancing strategies we have access to, and is simply non-negotiable. Losing even a little sleep correlates with reduced reaction times, poor mood, limited focus, increased likelihood of injury, increased likelihood of illness, and more. While not all the mysteries of sleep have been uncovered yet, we know that it drastically spikes growth hormone and other anabolic chemicals to rebuild and restore muscle. We know that it allows us to form long term memories, and also to organize ideas and thoughts in a structured way. Sleep replenishes neurotransmitters, alleviates tension, and provides an opportunity for countless more restorative processes.

There is simply no superior substitute for sleep.

There is simply no superior substitute for sleep. But if we absolutely need to cut back on sleep, is there anything we can use to minimize the damage?

Can We Get By on Less Sleep?

Fighting crime by night and training and working by day, Batman no option but to operate on minimum sleep. In detective comics #776, it is revealed that he has “trained himself to sleep for only three hours” while still getting the benefits of a full night’s rest. Is this possible?

Batman brain

While many sleep experts would argue “no,” we should keep in mind that most studies looking at the negative effects of sleep deprivation aren’t interested in the mitigating factors and strategies that someone like Batman might use to burn the candle at both ends.

(It’s also possible that Bruce has one of the rare genetic mutations that allows some individuals to sleep less, such as the recently discovered ADRB1 mutation.)

The Tribes That Don’t Sleep

Some suggest that there may be a little more wiggle room than we have previously believe. For example, did you know that there is a tribe of indigenous people called the Piraha who sleep for just 20-30 minutes at any given time? This isn’t enough to complete an entire sleep cycle! There are plenty more examples of tribes that get by on minimal sleep. The Hadza of Northern Tanzania sleep for only five hours a night, the San of the Kalahari Desert sleep for just six, and the Chimane of Bolivia manage just seven (reference). There is no sign that this is doing the tribes any harm, which is why UCLA’s Jerry Siegel and his team of scientists are conducting research to discover their secrets. A real world Batman would likewise probably spend some time living with these tribes to learn their ways.

Sleep

That’s why I decided to travel to the Kalahari Desert to see for myself…

…Kidding! The Bioneer budget doesn’t quite stretch to that just yet. Also: pregnant wife. Remember?

Maybe one day!

Getting the Temperature Right

One of the key pieces of detail to come from this research, is that light is not the biggest factor (or zeitgeber to use the technical lingo) in determining sleep cycles. Contrary to our assumptions, despite their lack of electric light, these tribes do not turn in as soon as it gets dark and sleep through until sunrise. The far bigger factor influencing their wake times is temperature. All those tribes wake as the temperature stops falling.

Temperature Regulation for Sleep

How can we act on this information? By keeping the window open during the night. We already know that humans sleep better in a slightly cool environment (no surprise given our ancestors lacked central heating). Using artificial climate control may not only interfere with our natural temperature regulation, but also muffle one of the most important signals that allows us to wake up full of energy.

Opening the window and turning down the heating is one of the single most effective sleep hacks there is!

That’s not to completely rule out the role of light. If you are someone who struggles waking up, then natural light first thing in the morning can help drastically. This might also help to prevent mood disorders such as SAD. One of the best investments I made was in a “daylight alarm” that simulates a sunrise and produces just the right wavelength of light to help me wake up. Apart from anything else, the gentle process of being woken is far less jarring than the sudden blaring of an alarm which will stimulate huge amounts of cortisol and adrenaline!

Polyphasic Sleep

In the comics, it has been suggested that Batman also uses “microsleeps” throughout the day. This is akin to the real-world “Uberman sleep schedule,” which divides sleep into 20 minute naps, taken every four hours. Others include the Dymaxion cycle, consisting of 30 minute naps, every six hours. The “Everyman” sleep cycle is somewhat less hardcore, and involves a block of 3.5-4 hours of sleep, with three additional 20 minute naps spread out throughout the day.

Polyphasic Sleep

Such methods are effective for some people, but they are impractical for most and there isn’t a whole lot of research to reassure us that they really do provide the same benefits as traditional, monophasic sleep. With that said, the sparse research I was able to find, did suggest that the participants were at least able to maintain cognitive ability (study). Anecdotal evidence also suggests that some individuals found the schedule actually gave them more energy, and a sense of euphoria.

The issue, though, is that for these methods to work even hypothetically, it is essential to stick to a precise schedule. That is to say, naps need to be taken at the precise same time of day, every day. This serves a challenge for most biohackers experimenting with the method, and it would certainly be a problem for Bruce Wayne.

It is essential to stick to a precise schedule.

A more realistic goal for most of us would be to improve the quality of sleep such that we could cut it down by an hour, or such that we would get greater benefits from the same amount of sleep.

Enhancing Sleep Quality

Along with opening the window, other biohacks for sleep that are worth exploring include:

  • Removing artificial light and noise, and investing in a high-quality mattress – These are low-hanging fruits.
  • Spending time outdoors, especially in the morning – Andrew Huberman discusses this on his podcast, as do several notable biohackers. This is a great way to encourage
  • Consuming creatine – There are now studies that suggest creatine can actually reduce sleep-need, at least in rats (study).
  • Reducing stress – In one study it was found that psychosocial stress could significantly decrease sleep quality (study).
  • There is also evidence that we actually need more slow wave sleep in particular, following social stress (study). We actually observe that older individuals have less slow wave sleep, and I’ve wondered whether this is because they, typically, experience less stress and fewer novel experiences. If this were the case, it would show that our sleep requirement is not “fixed” and that it could be mitigated.

Meditation

More Batman-esque, might be to try replacing sleep with meditation. There are a lot of anecdotal reports from those that practice meditation regularly that claim less sleep is needed as a result of meditation. This makes sense, given that meditation can reduce stress, increase DHEA, and more; and there are numerous studies demonstrating this effect (study).

Batman meditation

One study, titled “Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance and may decrease sleep need,” concluded that:

“These results suggest that meditation provides at least a short-term performance improvement even in novice meditators. In long term meditators, multiple hours spent in meditation are associated with a significant decrease in total sleep time when compared with age and sex matched controls who did not meditate. Whether meditation can actually replace a portion of sleep or pay-off sleep debt is under further investigation.”

Different Types of Meditation

Note that there are different types of meditation, that may offer different benefits in this regard. Interestingly, this particular study did not use the highly in-vogue “mindfulness” meditation, but rather a “concentrative” form of meditation from yoga.

Meditation at home

Conversely, the free-form, non-directive forms of meditation (also called “open monitoring”) such as “Acem meditation,” focus on allowing the mind to wander more freely. These styles actually appear to mimic the effects of dreaming, by allowing the brain to organize thoughts and memories (read this really interesting reference). I believe that the perfect “sleep replacement” meditation would combine both focused-attention meditation and open-monitoring attention. This one-two punch could improve focus, relax the brain and body, improve focus and vigilance, while also helping to organize thoughts and ideas.

The latter works particularly well while walking, too.

Yoga Nidra

Or, you could yoga nidra. This is a style of meditation that places the body in a deeply relaxed state, and which many claim to be the most effective in combating sleep need. Andrew Huberman is among those that champion this method, and there are studies demonstrating that a bout of yoga nidra can help to restore dopamine levels in the basal ganglia, along with other changes in brain chemistry.

Yoga Nidra

And, of course, meditation can also help you to fall into a deeper sleep, more quickly.

Muse 2 & Neurofeedback

I’ve been experimenting lately with a couple of devices that aid with meditation. One particularly fascinating option is the Muse 2 headset, which uses EEG (electroencephalography) to read brain waves. It then uses this information to offer neurofeedback: letting me know whether I am effectively calming my thoughts or not. This is a great tool for those that struggle to get to grips with meditation, and the app helps guide you through the process while offering guided meditations and advice. This feels like a very Batman-thing to be doing!

Muse 2 Meditation

This has been great for me lately. When I’m trying to get by on 5 hours of sleep and I’m struggling to focus on work, a brief 5-10 minute meditation has done wonders.

If you want to try the Muse 2, then follow the link below:

Order Muse 2

I’ll get a commission on sales, so it will also support the site. You can also use the code BIONEER10 for 10% off of orders. This is not a sponsored post, I was the one who reached out to Muse because I thought the device was cool. That said, I’ll also be posting a full review soon, once I,ve put it through its paces!

Sleep Extension

Another really interesting field that is getting increasing attention is that of sleep extension. If we know that sleep is this amazing “performance enhancer,” then why not aim to get as much of it as possible? In one study, basketball players were encouraged to get 10 hours of sleep minimum for 5-7 weeks. By the end of the trial, they demonstrated significantly improved reaction times, reduced sleepiness, and better subjective ratings of physical and mental well-being (study).

Night City

While Batman might have to go for long stretches operating on very minimal sleep, he might strategically use sleep extension to aid recovery during those quieter periods. And the same goes for any of us: if you are getting to the point of burn out, a few long lie-ins might help your body and mind to restore themselves. That said, one systematic review does highlight

Keep in mind that oversleeping itself has also been shown to cause a number of unwanted effects. This isn’t something you should be doing on a frequent basis then, and your own mileage may vary. I’m interested to see where this research leads.

Closing Comments

Sleep like Batman

The point of all this is to say that meditation and sleep can and should be used to counter a stressful lifestyle or training regime. This is something that Shaolin monks understand well: the more they train, the more they balance that training out with Qi Gong – a form of “moving meditation.” The older they get, the more they increase the relative amount of Qi Gong. Fortunately, if you can’t sleep for the full 8 hours and you still want to perform your best, there are options available to you.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

4 Comments

  1. James says:

    My friend. I’d just like to say the content within your website and you tube channel is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Your training philosophy is an inspiration.
    I also like to train for fitness performance. Like my hero. (Arrow). Skills, fitness and mind set training. Keep up the Awsome work.
    Thanks
    James

  2. Martin says:

    Congratulations on your second bun in the oven, Hope it goes safe and sound!

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