Tips and Methods for Polyphasic Sleep
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Most adults sleep in one long stretch, usually at night. An alternative to this type of monophasic sleep is polyphasic sleep. This is when you sleep in smaller blocks of time multiple times a day.
This schedule isn’t right for everyone. A person might sleep in this alternative schedule for a number of reasons such as working at night, being a new parent, or on the recommendation of a doctor.
Here’s everything you need to know about polyphasic sleep schedules, including a deep dive into the risks and safety tips.
How to Start a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule
Interested in adopting a polyphasic sleep schedule? First, speak with your doctor before trying any new sleeping schedule. Here are some tips to help you get into a good groove.
Developing a polyphasic sleep schedule takes time. Start slowly and work towards a set routine over the course of a few weeks.
You might feel tired, irritable, or out of sorts at first. While this may improve over time, there’s a chance you will continue to have symptoms in the long-term. Keep your doctor informed of any adverse affects.
Caffeine can have a negative effect on your sleep. Studies show consuming caffeine can reduce total sleep time and sleep efficiency. It can also lower perceived sleep quality and make it harder to fall asleep in the first place.
The half-life of caffeine is about five hours. That means the effects of your morning cup of joe should wear off before nighttime. However, this might mess with your schedule if you sleep during the day. So it might be a good idea to limit or remove caffeine from your diet.
Don’t Reduce Your Total Sleeping Hours
When kicking off a polyphasic sleep schedule, try to opt for a routine that doesn’t limit your total number of sleep hours. For example, if you normally sleep eight hours a night, try to sleep six hours at night with two 1-hour naps during the day.
Note: Always talk with a doctor or sleep specialist before making any major changes to your sleep schedule or lifestyle.
There are various ways to help your body adjust to a polyphasic sleep schedule. Two popular adaptation methods include:
This is when you go straight from a monophasic sleep schedule to a polyphasic sleep schedule. While this method might work for some, it may not be your best bet if you want fewer side effects (e.g. tiredness, crankiness, or insomnia).
This method tends to take a longer period of time because each schedule lasts at least one month. But if you’re in it for the long haul, gradually shifting your sleep schedule can be easier.
Some people prefer to do this over the course of several months, but you can speed things up if need be.
Types of Polyphasic Sleep
Polyphasic sleep isn’t a one-size-fits-all sleepy situation. There are three main styles that you can adopt. Here’s the details on each.
The Everyman schedule is when you get one 3-hour block of sleep at night and three 20-minute naps spread across the day.
Here’s an example of an Everyman polyphasic sleep schedule:
|1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.||sleep|
|4:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.||awake|
|9:00 a.m. to 9:20 a.m.||nap|
|9:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.||awake|
|2:20 p.m. to 2:40 p.m.||nap|
|2:40 p.m. to 7:40 p.m.||awake|
|7:40 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.||nap|
|7:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.||awake|
The Uberman model only consists of 20-minute naps spread out evenly throughout the day. A six nap schedule equates to two hours of total sleep a day while the eight nap schedule consists of two hours and 40 minutes of sleep a day.
Note that this schedule can be very risky to a person’s health and shouldn’t be attempted without doctor supervision.
A triphasic sleep cycle is when you take 1.5 hour naps three times per day. This will total to about 4.5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Most folks who follow the triphasic model take one nap before dawn, one in the afternoon, and one after dusk.
The same warnings apply to triphasic as with Uberman. It should not be attempted without doctor supervision.
Polyphasic Adaptation Methods
It can take a while to get used to a polyphasic sleep pattern. Here are some adaptation methods to help you adjust.
- Water drinking/bathroom method. This involves drinking water before you go to sleep. In theory, the body will naturally wake in between sleep cycles. If you want to try this method, drink one liter of water or a non-stimulating liquid before you snooze.
- Thermo method. The thermo method may help you wake up by increasing your core body temperature. To do this, take a very cold shower or dunk your head in cold water. This might seem counterproductive, but cold water can actually help raise your body temperature and hot water can lower your body temperature in short bursts.
- Light conditioning. Light plays a big part in regulating the circadian rhythm. So it makes sense that light conditioning can help adjust your sleep schedule over time. Studies show that blue, green, or white light can help you wake up and improve alertness. Meanwhile, red light has been shown to help you drift off.
- Sleep refeeds. Sleep refeeds are when you add to your daily total sleep hours. So, even if you’re only sleeping in 1.5 hour increments, you will still be getting eight hours of total sleep a day. This method might be fine for folks who are already adapted to a polyphasic schedule, but who feel sluggish or tired.
- Caffeine nap. Caffeine naps are not for everyday use. However, they might come in handy if you have to work an all night shift or are struggling to adjust to a new sleep schedule. Basically, you take caffeine with something fatty right before you go to sleep. A good example is a cup of coffee with one tablespoon of melted coconut oil. The idea is that the fat will slow the caffeine absorption in your intestines. So, the caffeine will kick in as you’re meant to wake up from your nap.
Risks of Polyphasic Sleep Schedule
Some folks believe a polyphasic sleep schedule can increase energy, decrease fatigue, and make you more productive. However, there are some health considerations to keep in mind before making any major changes to your daily sleep routine.
According to a 2021 review of 22 studies, a polyphasic sleep schedule might increase the risk of physical or mental health conditions. A major concern is chronic sleep deprivation, which can increase your risk of:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- obstructive sleep apnea
A reminder: If you want to switch to a polyphasic sleep pattern, you should talk to a doctor first.
Polyphasic sleep schedules are when you break your sleep into multiple naps a day. The idea is that by sleeping in small increments, you’ll have more energy during your waking hours. In turn, you might be more productive and less tired.
Just keep in mind that there’s not a lot of proof to show polyphasic sleeping patterns are a healthy or sustainable way to sleep.
Additionally, making major changes to your sleep patterns can have a negative effect on your overall health. So again, be sure to talk to a doctor if you plan on adjusting your sleep regime, especially if it’s reducing your overall hours of sleep.
Caffeine for the sustainment of mental task performance: Formulations for military operations. (2001). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223808
Clark I, et al. (2017). Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26899133/
Hanson JA, et al. (2022). Sleep deprivation. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547676/
Viola AU, et al. (2008). Blue-enriched white light in the workplace improves self-reported alertness, performance and sleep quality. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18815716/
Weaver MD, et al. (2021). Adverse impact of polyphasic sleep patterns in humans: Report of the National Sleep Foundation sleep timing and variability consensus panel. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33795195/
Zhao J, et al. (2012). Red light and the sleep quality and endurance performance of Chinese female basketball players. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499892/
Common Myths About Polyphasic Sleep
Learn more about the common myths surrounding polyphasic sleep.