My Biphasic Sleep Experiment

Life… the stuff that gets in the way of your trading!

I know that everyone has difficulty at times fitting their trading in and around the rest of their life. Especially if you’re still working a full-time job and raising kids at the same time.

But seriously, I can’t imagine a much worse time-zone for daytraders than the east coast of Australia.

With the best choice and opportunity available during the UK and US market hours, that means either trading in our evening or overnight.

The UK forex hours (8am-5pm GMT) are equivalent to my 6pm – 3am, the best part conflicting with family time (dinner, kids homework and never-ending trips to and from soccer training, keyboard lessons, guitar lessons etc etc etc).

The US emini hours (9:30am-4:15pm ET) are equivalent to my 12:30am – 7:15am. That’s a killer.

Not complaining, mind you. I wouldn’t ever trade this problem for a ‘normal’ job. And I accept their are some liquid markets in my normal daytime (SPI, HSI for example). I just haven’t found them to my liking. So, I accept it’s all my decision to live with this problem.

For a long time I just forced my trading onto my family. Trading time was my work time. They came second. This obviously was not a wise plan and I consider myself incredibly lucky to still have a family.

So now I place family first and select trading times that fit around other family responsibilities. Early UK market hours are only traded in small blocks of no greater than two hours, ONLY if family responsibilities allow me to trade at that time on that day, and ONLY if volatility is expected such as at the open or in the period immediately following a major news release. The bulk of my trading is therefore done once the kids are asleep, in either the forex UK/US overlap, or in the emini futures.

That’s the best solution I’ve found so far for still allowing family-time. The side-effect though is that it increases the amount of ‘night-shift’ trading leading to even greater danger of fatigue induced error.

I’m well aware of the dangers of fatigue, from my previous career as a pilot and aviation safety specialist. In fact, I’m the only trader that I know of who has a fatigue management plan (see this article for an intro to the concept: http://yourtradingcoach.com/trader/trader-fatigue-management/)

The 5/12 rule discussed in the above article is designed to ensure I minimize the likelihood of trade error due to acute fatigue. If I don’t meet the 5/12 rule requirements, I don’t trade.

Great in theory…

When it comes to putting it into practice though, I’ve seriously let myself down and often do trade with less sleep. It’s easy to rationalize at the time – life just doesn’t allow me to get that much sleep, say for example when I trade till 3am, get to sleep by 4 and have to be up at 8 to drop the kids to school.

End result – one very tired trader.

So, here’s my latest plan – a four week trial of a biphasic sleep routine.

A few definitions:

Monophasic sleep is how most people do it. One sleep phase per 24 hour period, usually a single block of around 8 hours +/- 2. Sounds awesome, but not possible for me.

Biphasic sleep involves two sleep phases per 24 hour period, often one longer one and a shorter one. I guess it’s like having a main sleep, plus a nap, just formalizing the nap period and ensuring it happens each day. Siesta time!

Polyphasic sleep involves greater than two sleep phases per 24 hour period. Say for example 5 hours awake and 1 asleep, repeated four times in 24 hours. That is perhaps a bit extreme for me right now.

I first came across this concept a couple of days ago, after discovering a press release from a University of California study (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-02/uoc–amn021110.php) in which the findings “suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter.”

I like that idea. I feel smarter already, just knowing what monophasic, biphasic and polyphasic mean.  🙂

Looking at further research on the net, and testimonies from others who have adopted this lifestyle, it appears that further benefits are an increased alertness, focus and the requirement for slightly less total sleep.

The downside appears to be increased feelings of fatigue for the first week or so of the trial (no different to status quo) plus the fact that sometimes life doesn’t allow us the opportunity to take our second sleep (some flexibility may be necessary, to adjust the schedule as required).

My wife already thinks I’m strange… so there’s no further downside in that department.

Ok, my plan…

Week 1 (Mar 1-7):  Catch up on sleep first. I imagine it’s best that I start from as rested and relaxed a state as possible. For the next week (March 1-7) I’ll be limiting trading to a maximum of a half session per day, and aiming to get 10 hours sleep per day total (through two sleep periods if necessary.)

Week 2 (Mar 8-14): Maintain this rested state and establish a benchmark for measuring my level of fatigue. I’m not 100% sure of how I’ll do that at this stage. Possibly through taking a reaction time test at a number of fixed times through the day, in particular pre-trading, mid-trading and post-trading. http://www.humanbenchmark.com/tests/reactiontime/index.php

Weeks 4-6 (Mar 15 – Apr 11): The four week biphasic sleep experiment. I’ll adopt a routine of 4.5 hour sleep from 3:30am to 8am and a 1.5 hour sleep, usually from 1pm to 2:30pm. This is a total of 6 hours per day. Fatigue levels will be monitored both subjectively and objectively via the reaction testing. I’m not sure whether or not the reaction testing will show any useful data, but it can’t hurt and each test takes less than a minute anyway.

 

Not totally scientific, but a bit of fun and it might just lead to better life/time management, and less worry over the long-term health impact of chronic fatigue

I’ll provide updates as we go through the next few weeks.

Cheers,

Lance Beggs.

 

My Biphasic Sleep Experiment – Update (12 Mar 10)

The intent for the last two weeks was for preparation – recovery from previous levels of fatigue and finding some means of objectively measuring fatigue levels, if possible.

I found the first part hard though. Generally my personality rules out the ability to take extra rest – there’s just too much stuff to do! However, perhaps my subconscious overruled my conscious need to work, allowing me to catch a flu which ensured that I’d have some extra rest.

End result – the quality of rest was far from perfect, and I’m still constantly fatigued, but I’m in a much better state than I was two weeks ago. So the four week trial of a biphasic sleep routine will commence this Monday, as planned.

Regarding the objective measure of fatigue levels, well that’s been a bit of a failure. It appears there’s some great technology out there for the purposes of impairment testing, such as equipment that measures involuntary eye response to some form of light stimulus, identifying any impairment and reduction in performance below usual benchmark standards, whether due to fatigue, drugs, or alcohol.

I was looking for some ‘free’ method though.

My initial thoughts were to use a reaction timing test, such as the one available at  http://www.humanbenchmark.com/tests/reactiontime/index.php

After playing with this for a couple of days, at different times and fatigue levels, I ruled out such a simple test. While a lot of fun, I don’t think it’s an accurate fatigue indicator. Simple response to a stimulus required no real thought – just reaction – I wanted something that required decision making, which I believe would be most susceptible to fatigue.

A search for another hour or so led to this page here:  http://cognitivefun.net/test/2

This one was hard. Working along the same lines as before, I was aiming to test response times, but this time I had to use some brain processing power. It’s called a Stroop Test; and it’s perhaps much easier for you to go and play with it, if interested, rather than me try to explain. There are basic instructions on the page, but expect to have to play a game or two to really get it. Seriously… do go and check it out. It’s quite interesting.

I’ve run the test for five days now to see whether this shows potential as an objective fatigue indicator. I suspect it will, as tests taken at regular times throughout the day seem to already show a pattern – average results on first waking, excellent results late afternoon/early evening, and worst results by around 2-3 am.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll be suitable for the biphasic sleep experiment though. It seems the results are currently being skewed simply due to the fact that I’m ‘learning’ how to play the game. While I can see a pattern based on my daily body clock and possibly fatigue levels, overall the results are continually improving. (I’m currently down to around 700ms response times with 100% accuracy over a 20 test sample – let me know if you can consistently beat that!)

Continual improvement due to improved skill level will therefore invalidate the use of this tool as a benchmark – at this stage anyway, at least until the results stabilise.

So, to cut a long story short, I’m going to continue with the Stroop Test, but not to monitor fatigue levels for this sleep experiment. We’ll just have to make do with a subjective assessment of the success or failure of this change of routine.

I suspect though that the Stroop Test will have value somewhere – perhaps simply in identifying my physiologically optimum trading times.

More testing required. And I’ll be sure to update you if I find anything useful in the data.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Monday, and my first “powernap”.

Now… back to that Stroop Test, to see if I can break 700ms!

 

My Biphasic Sleep Experiment – Update (26 Mar 10)

I’m roughly at the midpoint of the 4 week trial, so it’s a good time to review my progress to date…

As you’ll recall, the trial has come about due to difficulties in fitting trading in around my other family responsibilities, leading to my having only 4-5 hours sleep per night, trading fatigued up until the point where I’m forced to have a night or two’s break from the routine to catch up.

The hope was that by formalising a requirement for a second sleep period, during the day while the kids are at school, I’d get sufficient sleep to allow me to trade in an rested, alert and focused manner.

The following are the benefits I hoped to achieve by adopting this new routine, each with a a short comment as to whether or not the trial has shown these benefits so far.

1. Less fatigue leading to increased focus during trading times.

Interestingly, I feel this is the only benefit so far that I have found. And given that my style of trading requires optimal levels of focus and alertness, it might just be enough to convince me to stick with a 2-sleep-per-day routine.

I say it’s interesting, because I actually feel fatigued for more of the day than I used to. It’s just that the trading timeframe now seems to coincide better with my period of maximum alertness.

From reading of others’ experiences with a biphasic routine, they seem to suggest that the first week involves greater levels of fatigue as one learns to adjust. I’ve found so far that this extends into the whole of the second week as well. I’m hoping it stops soon.

My morning ‘awake’ period, from 08:00 to 12:30 is typically spent in a zombie-like state, as is the first hour or two of the evening ‘awake’ period which commences from 14:30. By the time I commence trading though at around 22:00, I find that I’m typically wide-awake and alert.

 

2. Less total sleep requirement, allowing more productive work-hours.

Yes, I am getting less overall sleep, but as mentioned above the quality of the awake period (especially the morning period) is such that effective work is quite difficult. It might be that I personally need to increase one or both of the sleep periods, in order to achieve a more-normal 8 hours per day, rather than the current 6 hours. More thought required on this one.

One benefit though is that I generally fall asleep faster than ever before. With my mind being so active it used to typically take me an hour+ to fall asleep. Now, it’s often immediate and I’m loving that. Of course, it’s not always that way. I’ve had two afternoon sleep periods in which I couldn’t sleep at all, which then throws the whole routine into disarray.

 

3. Minimal or no impact on family.

While there has been minimal impact on my family, I have found a related problem. Life does not necessarily make it easy for me to implement such a sleep routine. Sure, it’s easy during the trading week, especially with the nap occurring while my daughters are at school. But on weekends there have been, and always will be, other demands on my time that mean I’m not able to have the afternoon sleep, or have to shift it several hours earlier or later.

Kids soccer games, BBQ’s or other parties, an upcoming trip to Atherton Tablelands over the Easter long weekend… there will always be other demands on my time.

I’m unsure yet as to the best way to manage this. Where I’ve been unable to shift the nap-time, I have decided to push through the whole day and schedule a more ‘normal’ 8-hour sleep period that night. Unfortunately, it seems that change of routine has made it difficult to adjust back to the biphasic routine the next day.

Another option which I haven’t tried yet is to schedule the longer sleep for the night before any expected full-day family activities, rather than after it. Of course, this may not be possible if that’s a trading night.

 

Summary – I’m liking it so far, but it’s not as simple a solution as I had hoped for. We’ll see how the next fortnight goes. I’m wondering though whether or not my over-active mind is just making this more complex than it needs to be – why can’t I just have no routine and just sleep whenever I’m tired?

More to follow in a fortnight…

 

My Biphasic Sleep Experiment – Update (9 Apr 10)

Well, this update brings to an end the Biphasic Sleep Experiment. I must admit I’ve been surprised by the quantity of emails I’ve received from readers interested in the outcomes of this experiment and offering their own suggestions for managing fatigue. It’s very much refreshing to see so many of you acknowledging the importance of managing yourself and your lifestyle and ensuring that you remain in peak physical and mental condition during your trading session.

Was the experiment a success or not? Well it’s hard to say – It depends very much on how you define success. In my case, I will not be adopting this routine from here on in (reasons to follow shortly), however I think it has helped me see a better way forward. So, yes… I believe it has been successful.

I’ve spent a little time asking myself, what was the real reason I was intrigued by this sleep/work routine, enough to give it a trial. The answer that I got was that the biphasic routine was an attempt to survive with less overall sleep, thus allowing greater opportunity for work.

Most other reports that I could find on the internet, from people who have adopted this routine, was that they did experience a reduction in their total sleep needs. From what I read, it appeared that I would be able to reduce from an average of about 8 hours sleep per day to around 6 hours, with no loss of mental alertness or physical / mental performance. This would therefore allow an additional 2 hours of productive time per day.

My experience differed!.

Yes, forcing myself to have 6 hours sleep per day, via two blocks of 4.5 and 1.5 hours, did result in an additional 2 hours of wake time. However, while I had more work time available, the quality of those hours was severely reduced, resulting in less effective hours overall. Fatigue reached chronic levels at times (resulting in the need for a large 12-14 hour sleep to catch up), leading to the last four weeks being rather unproductive.

It seems that, at least for me, 8 hours average sleep might be a physical and mental limit.

My attempt to find a way to survive on less total sleep reminds me in some ways of a new traders quest for the Holy Grail trading strategy. I suspect it doesn’t exist.

I suspect now that my focus should not be on trying to find short-cuts to increasing my working time, through decreasing sleep. Instead I should perhaps focus on ways to maximize the effectiveness of whatever hours I do have while awake.

And who knows, through approaching this in a holistic manner, perhaps indirectly it will also provide a requirement for less sleep.

If my body and mind requires 8 hours, then I should have 8 hours. If I can get that in one block then I will. If not, I’ll take it in two. But it appears I need 8 hours a day if I’m to maintain my usual levels of productivity.

So, the way forward now is to trial some other improvements to my life. While I’ll still experiment with changes to sleep routine, such as a short nap prior to the trading session, I’ll also be seeking improvement in my exercise, relaxation and diet routines and habits. Interestingly, I feel much more confident that I’m on the right path, than I did when deciding to trial Biphasic Sleep.

That’s all for the Biphasic Experiment updates. However the challenge of finding the most effective work/sleep/life balance still remains, and will likely be a lifelong journey. More to follow on that in future…

Cheers,

Lance Beggs

 


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YourTradingCoach – Admin

2 Comments to “My Biphasic Sleep Experiment”

  1. stuart says:

    Hi Lance
    I understand the fatigue scenario well. I am a shift worker, 12 hour shifts 8 days straight ( I do get 6 days off afterwards). I have tried trading after night shift, probably been awake 15 hours, not much happening in the old skull at that time of the morning.No concentration, no decision making ability, its a bit like being drunk without the fun stuff.
    I find that exercise helps me sleep.
    cheers
    stuart

    • Lance Beggs says:

      Stuart,

      See this other page. There’s a quote from a study that found that 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads a decrease in performance equivalent to a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.05 (the legal driving limit in Australia… in case you’re in another country!). I’m not surprised that you found trading tough at that time. I regularly am forced by my timezone and family situation to trade 12 to 13 hours after waking. It’s not good. It requires active monitoring of fatigue levels and being smart enough to say “no trading tonight” if I’m not 100% fit for trading.

      http://yourtradingcoach.com/trader/trader-fatigue-management/

      Lance.

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