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From Polyphasic Sleep

Dymaxion Sleep was the title of a 1943 Time magazine article about Buckminster Fuller's supposed equitetraphasic nap schedule[1]. This brief, loosely sourced[2] and apparently somewhat tongue in cheek [3] article reported (and to a degree, supported[4]) claims that Fuller

  • had been able to sleep only 30 minutes every 6 hours,
  • had maintained that schedule for two years, and
  • had quit only because it conflicted with his colleagues' schedules.

All three statements are open to question, however. Some biographies say (or strongly imply) that

  • Fuller added naps whenever he felt the need[5][6];
  • he experimented (for unspecified lengths of time) several times over several decades[7][8]; and
  • the objections of his wife Anne were his real reason for quitting[9].

Some have blogged about attempting Dymaxion, but - at least by more stringent criteria for adjustment, such as a stabilized schedule with no crashes two months after starting adaptation, or "getting past 30 days (at a bare, bare minimum)"[10] - none reported success. This leaves Fuller as the only figure on record (ambiguously and uncertainly) for sustaining Dymaxion.[11]


  1. "Dymaxion Sleep", Time, Oct 11, 1943
  2. The Time article claims that Samuel Johnson and Socrates called sleep a "bad habit"; there is no record of either of them saying this. In a deceptively-scholarly footnote, "Dymaxion" is said to derive from "dynamic" and "maximum service"; in fact, the word has a slightly different derivation. The Dymaxion Map is called "the Dymaxion globe." By entitling the article "Dymaxion Sleep", Time left the impression that Fuller was trying to brand the practice as such, even though Fuller is not on record calling it Dymaxion Sleep, before or since; at least one biographer (Baldwin) says he never called it that.
  3. One could fairly ascribe a mildly incredulous, even mildly mocking tone to the article. By late 1943, "Dymaxion" was linked in the public mind with some intriguing designs but - with the possible exception of the Dymaxion Map - no successful products (if anything, more with a fatal crash of a Dymaxion Car prototype). The article might have described Fuller as "grey-haired" partly for this reason, as if to relegate Fuller to a vision of the future that had never materialized and probably never would. It is also consistent with the article's description of Fuller as a "futurific" inventor, possibly the first use of a decidedly unserious adjective. However, under circumstances of higher credibility, branding the schedule "Dymaxion" would have been a good choice. The schedule (or some workable version thereof) would be consistent with Fuller's overarching Dymaxion design theme of "ephemeralization", meaning "doing more with less", as well as with Dymaxion's etymology ("Dynamic", "Maximum", "[Tens]Ion") considering the workaholic lifestyle implied by the schedule.
  4. The research firm Arthur D. Little, Inc. is mentioned as having investigated and confirmed whatever Fuller's claims were. The publication would be an internal source, Industrial Bulletin; it's possible that Time's source was an Arthur D. Little press release mentioning the Industrial Bulletin item. Copies of one or both documents might be available from the ADL collection MC-579 at MIT (PDF)
  5. Buckyworks: Buckminster Fuller's Ideas for Today, J. Baldwin, p.66:
    After trying many schemes, Bucky found a schedule that worked for him: He catnapped approximately thirty minutes after each six hours of work; sooner if signaled by what he called "broken fixation of interest."
  6. Buckminster Fuller's Universe: His Life and Work, Lloyd Steven Sieden, p.133:
    [D]uring his two years of seclusion, Bucky had developed a more natural rhythm of sleep which did not depend upon darkness or the time of night or day. He had examined the sleep patterns of animals, especially the dogs and cats living around the Fullers' Chicago apartment, and found that animals did not wait until the next night to sleep [....]
    Bucky began sleeping in a similar pattern. Whenever he was tired, he would simply lie down or close his eyes for a short nap, and he soon found that once his body had adapted to that unique system, the sleep he required was reduced to only a few hours every twenty-four hours. Accordingly, he was able to work and study many more hours and was rarely tired. That ability was particularly handy during those last months of 1929 when Fuller, Noguchi, and many of their friends had to regularly scramble for food and shelter.

    Sieden's source for these claims is Hugh Kenner, Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1973), p. 3. However, that page of Kenner's book says:

    There was a Reader's Digest filler about how he slept 'the Dymaxion way' -- not piling up arrears of fatigue and then needing an alarm clock, but dropping off the very minute he needed to for just the sleep his body [required] ...

    Lending support to the pure equihexaphasic hypothesis (though perhaps only relying on his memory of the notice in Time for details - he might have confused the brief Time article with "Reader's Digest filler"), Kenner writes on p.160:

    Since he had no schedules, he commenced sleeping whenever he needed to, like a dog. This worked out to a half-hour every six, and gave him twenty-two thinking hours a day. "I was trying to find out how much I could get done, and noticed that a dog when he gets tired simply lies down and sleeps. So it could be that the minute you're tired you just lie down, you'd need far less sleep. So I just tried it out."
  7. Baldwin, op cit, p.66:
    A series of trials in 1932 and 1933 convinced him that feeling tired or sleepy was a sign that he had already overtaxed his body and mind to the point where they had to rest and recuperate.
  8. Seiden, op cit: note, in the quote above, the "two years of seclusion", which would have been 1927-8, after his daughter died and his business failed, and "last months of 1929"
  9. Baldwin, op cit, p. 67:
    There was nobody to complain, except his wife, Anne. She did. He went back to a more common schedule, but continued to catnap whenever he felt himself getting unreliable.
  10. PureDoxyK, "Polyphasic Grousing: Don't Believe Everything You Read", Nov 14, 2007
  11. The famous 18th century rabbi Vilna Gaon has been mentioned as maintaining a regimen of 30-minute naps, 4 times every 24 hours, in the Wikipedia article about polyphasic sleep (section "Attributed polyphasic sleepers"), starting from its earliest significant versions in 2006. However, the same comment goes on to say that he "would take three naps throughout the night and one during the day", making this pattern tetraphasic rather than equitetraphasic, and thus arguably not Dymaxion Sleep. In any case, the details of the claim remain elusive. See main polyphasicsleep.info article for Vilna Gaon, for further details.