Polyphasic Sleep Schedules: What Are These Alternative Sleep Patterns?
Sleep is an inevitable part of life. It’s a necessary time for our bodies to recover from the day and prepare for the next. Without it, we literally go insane. Even spending just 24 hours awake affects us as much as having a 0.10 percent blood alcohol level.
Most people follow a monophasic sleep pattern, meaning that they sleep for one long stretch at night. However, there is another way to snooze—and it’s called polyphasic sleeping. It’s not without controversy.
Polyphasic sleep is an alternative sleeping pattern in which a person sleeps several times throughout the day instead of just once. The theory is that by breaking up your slumber into shorter periods, you can spend more hours in quality sleep, make better use of your time and be more productive. However, there is little scientific evidence to back this up.
There are several different types of polyphasic sleep schedules. Here are a few examples:
- Sleeping less time in the evening and taking a nap during the day.
- Sleeping for one three-to-four hour block at night and taking multiple naps during the day.
- Sleeping for 20 minutes every four hours.
Types of Polyphasic Sleep Schedules
No matter what kind of sleep schedule you practice, we can all agree that sleep needs and preferences are pretty individualistic. In the polyphasic world, people often adjust their patterns to better fit their own natural inclinations, daily routines, and overall goals.
That being said, there are a few polyphasic sleep schedules that are more common than others. Let’s take a look at the most popular types.
The most traditional sleep pattern is monophasic sleep, in which people sleep for one long block of time at night. This is the pattern that most of us are used to and that our bodies are designed for.
Monophasic sleep works right alongside our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour internal clock that regulates our natural sleep-wake cycle. When it starts getting dark outside, our bodies begin producing melatonin—a hormone that makes us feel sleepy.
Most people who practice monophasic sleep go to bed around the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This regular sleep schedule is the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough rest and that your body is able to stick to its natural ebbs and flows of energy.
The first deviation from monophasic sleep is biphasic sleep, which is also sometimes called siesta sleep. This type of sleep pattern involves splitting your night into two separate periods of rest: one in the evening and another in the afternoon.
Siesta sleep also mostly aligns with our circadian rhythm. The first block of sleep takes place at night when melatonin is naturally produced. The second block of sleep occurs during the afternoon when our energy levels start to dip.
Biphasic sleepers usually sleep for six to eight hours at night and take a 30-60 minute nap in the early afternoon. It’s healthy and safe for most people to practice because you can still get plenty of sleep.
Here’s where things start to get a little more complicated. Triphasic sleep involves splitting your night into three blocks that are equally distant from each other. There are many different variations, but the original Triphasic schedule called for one and a half hours of sleep every six and a half hours.
Because this schedule only allows for four and a half hours of sleep each night, it’s not recommended for most people. However, some people swear by its benefits and find that it doesn’t interfere with their daily lives. Your doctor will be able to help you decide if this type of schedule is right for you.
This is where things start to get even more extreme. The Everyman schedule is a type of polyphasic sleep that involves sleeping for only three hours at night and taking three 20-minute naps throughout the day.
While you may get back some extra time, no one can survive off of just four hours of sleep—no matter how you slice it.
The Uberman schedule enters some really murky waters in terms of sleep deprivation. You break your sleep up into 20-minute intervals that occur every four hours. This amounts to only three hours of sleep per day, which is a pretty big departure from the seven to eight hours that most people need.
In extreme, temporary cases where some sleep is better than no sleep, this might be a viable option. However, for most people, it’s simply not sustainable in the long run.
The Dymaxion sleep schedule may just be the most extreme type of polyphasic sleep out there. It was actually developed by Buckminster Fuller, an American architect who was known for his work in sustainable design and engineering.
The Dymaxion sleep schedule calls for 30-minute naps every six hours, which means that you would be sleeping for a total of two hours each day. Needless to say, this is not a sustainable sleep pattern for most people and can actually be pretty dangerous.
Monophasic vs. Biphasic Sleep
Benefits and Risks of Polyphasic Sleep Schedules
If you’re thinking about trying out a polyphasic sleep schedule, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons first. While proponents of polyphasic sleep liken it to finding some secret for superhuman productivity and focus, research is still pretty inconclusive when it comes to the actual benefits.
In fact, polyphasic sleep has only been proven to benefit those who couldn’t get the recommended hours of sleep, like sailors competing in a high-stakes race. For most people, polyphasic sleep can actually lead to impaired cognitive function, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and a host of other health problems.
So, while you might be able to get by on less sleep for a little bit, having a few extra hours of productivity isn’t worth the long-term risks.
Depending on your sleep needs, you may find that an alternative sleep schedule works better for you than the traditional eight hours a night. While you may want to experiment with some different ways to snooze, remember that the most important part of any sleep schedule is making sure that you get enough rest.
Breaking down your sleep into smaller intervals may help you to get more done, but it’s not worth sacrificing your health in the long run. If you’re thinking about trying out a polyphasic sleep schedule, be sure to consult with a doctor first and make sure that you’re aware of the risks.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Drowsy Driving. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/drowsy_driving.html
Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep (and How Much You Really Need a Night). https://health.clevelandclinic.org/happens-body-dont-get-enough-sleep/
Filardi M, et al. (2020). Pre-Race Sleep Management Strategy and Chronotype of Offshore Solo Sailors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7210035/
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2022). Melatonin: What You Need To Know. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
National Institute of General Medical Sciences. (2022). Circadian Rhythms. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx
TIME. (1943). Science: Dymaxion Sleep. https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,774680,00.html
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More energy, focus, and time each day—polyphasic sleeping, the practice of sleeping for just a few short intervals a day, promises both physical and mental benefits. Although most sleepers are monophasic (they sleep just once a day), many hyper-productive people throughout history, including Da Vinci, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin, have followed their own unique polyphasic […]