Monday, June 02, 2008

What Does The Vilna Gaon Have In Common With DaVinci, Edison, Napoleon, Churchill And Tesla?

Sleep.
Or the lack of it.

You know that the Vilna Gaon, the Gr"a, slept only 2 hours a day (see eSefer for sources). What you may not have known is that polyphasic sleeping--also known as the Uberman sleep cycle--was used by a number of great inventors and leaders in world history:
This extreme form of polyphasic sleeping involves 20-minute naps every 4 hours. (A monophasic sleep pattern would be your typical 8-hour block of sleep every 24 hours.) Some converts to Uberman claim that after an adjustment period, usually lasting anywhere from a week to 3 weeks, they feel no less alert than they would have if they'd been clocking 8 hours a night.

Leonardo da Vinci is said to have followed a sleep pattern akin to Uberman. Maybe that's what allowed him sufficient time to design prototypical versions of the helicopter, hang glider, parachute, and submarine, and paint the Mona Lisa and Last Supper. In fact, geniuses and military leaders throughout history have been linked with polyphasic and unconventional sleeping habits -- Napoleon, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Winston Churchill, to name a few. Who knows how different our world would be today if these men had bunked down at sunset? I wasn't looking to invade Prussia, but I thought I could at least use some extra time to renew my driver's license and figure out my taxes.

The article the above paragraphs are taken from is written by a journalist who tried out the Uberman sleep cycle for a piece he was writing, planning to use the time to watch movies, learn Spanish and listen to Van Halen:
In my suddenly overflowing spare time, I would become a culture-vulture Uberman in the flesh.
The sleep program didn't work.
This excerpt from a Dvar Torah at Torah.org helps explain why:
Yawning at dawn in a Jerusalem study hall my early morning study partner explained something to me that I had always misunderstood and misrepresented. Since we (I) were (was) so tired, I commented loosely, that I didn‘t know how the Vilna Gaon got away with only two hours of sleep total in a 24 hour cycle. He told me that the Vilna Gaon did not sleep two hours daily. I insisted that it was true and that I had read it in an authenticated biography but he stubbornly refused to accept it. Then he explained, “The Vilna Gaon learned 22 hours each day! He was not into sleep deprivation as much a he was involved in the sublime joy of learning.
The Vilan Gaon and--L'Havdil--DaVinci, Edison, Napoleon, Churchill and Tesla had goals to which they were totally dedicated. The sleeping program worked out on its own. The writer of the article, on the other hand, had no truly worthy goal, so the sleep program became an end in itself.

For myself, I will not be transforming myself into a polyphasic blogging machine any time soon.

See also: If Your Blogging Habits Are Like Mine, Keep This Article Handy...

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