Dymaxion Sleep: What is This Alternative Sleep Schedule?

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Many of us are guilty of burning the midnight oil in an attempt to eke out a few more hours of productivity. But there’s a subset of people who claim they’ve hacked their natural sleep rhythm to function better on less shut-eye—a rest pattern known as polyphasic sleeping.

Rather than dozing off for one long period, polyphasic sleepers break their rest up into at least three shorter segments. There are multiple schedules that polyphasic sleepers can follow, but perhaps the most extreme is the Dymaxion method.

Note: Like most polyphasic sleep schedules, the Dymaxion method is incredibly restrictive and likely dangerous for most. It should not be attempted unless you’re under a doctor’s supervision.

What is Dymaxion Sleep?

Dymaxion sleep, a term coined by Buckminster Fuller in the 1940s, is a sleep schedule that calls for 30-minute naps every six hours. That adds up to only two hours of sleep per day.

Fuller, an American architect and inventor, claimed that this sleep schedule allowed him to not only function on only two hours of sleep per day but maintain “the most vigorous and alert condition” he’d ever enjoyed.

An example schedule would look like this:

  • Nap: 12 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
  • Awake: 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m.
  • Nap: 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.
  • Awake: 6:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Nap: 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Awake: 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Nap: 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Awake: 6:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.

It’s been theorized that the only reason Fuller was able to survive (and supposedly thrive) on Dymaxion sleep was because he had a rare genetic mutation. The DEC2 gene, also called the short sleep gene, is found in only about 3 percent of the population.

People with this gene require very little sleep—as little as six hours per night and possibly less—and they don’t feel the effects of sleep deprivation as severely as the rest of us.

Risks of a Dymaxion Sleep Schedule

Despite Fuller’s claims, there’s no scientific evidence to support the Dymaxion sleep schedule—or any polyphasic sleep schedule, for that matter. But there is quite a bit of evidence that suggests sleeping for fewer than seven hours per day can have serious consequences.

Anything less than the recommended seven to nine hours in bed (for adults) is considered sleep deprivation. While science is catching up to the idea that the quality of our sleep is as—and perhaps more—important as the quantity, we know that skimping on shut-eye comes with a bevy of risks

These include:

  • Premature wrinkling
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Heightened stress levels
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lower sex drive
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of car accidents
  • Increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke

While there are a handful of people who have claimed success with the Dymaxion method, the risks outweigh any alleged benefits.

Are There Benefits to a Dymaxion Sleep Schedule?

Like Fuller, today’s proponents of the Dymaxion sleep schedule claim to have more energy, mental clarity, and focus when following this routine. But perhaps the biggest lure to this insanely restrictive method of snoozing is more time.

Following the Dymaxion schedule would—in theory—give you an extra six hours a day, with a grand total of 22 hours of awake time. While we might like to believe that we’d spend this time wisely, working on that novel or solving world hunger, there’s currently no concrete evidence to suggest that we’d be in anything other than a fatigue-induced haze.

On the contrary, there is a wealth of evidence that suggests being sleep-deprived can negatively impact your productivity. A 2017 study from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that irregular sleep patterns in college students led to lower academic scores. And another cross-sectional study found that polyphasic sleep correlated with high levels of daytime sleepiness and impaired performance.

So, while Dymaxion sleep might give you more time in the day, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have enough energy to do anything meaningful with it.

How to Determine Your Best Sleep Schedule

While Dymaxion sleep might not be for everyone (or anyone), there are several ways to optimize your sleep schedule and ensure you’re getting the most out of your snooze time.

The first step is understanding your natural sleep rhythm, or circadian rhythm. This is the internal process that tells your body when it’s time to sleep and wake up. To get in touch with your body’s clock and determine when you naturally feel sleepy, try improving your sleep hygiene

  • Disconnect from all electronics. Take a break from your phone, laptop, TV, and your alarm clock for a week. See when you naturally feel tired and wake up without the help of an alarm.
  • Go outside. Spend time in natural light, which will help regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle. A weekend camping trip has been shown to help reset and rejuvenate your circadian rhythm.
  • Keep a sleep journal. For one week, track how many hours you sleep each night when you go to bed and wake up and how you feel during the day. This will give you a good idea of your natural sleep patterns.

Once you have a good understanding of your natural sleep rhythm, you can start to experiment with different schedules to see what works best for you. Moving your bedtime earlier or later by an hour or two at a time can help you find your sweet spot.

You can also work with a sleep doctor to rule out any sleep disorders or other underlying conditions that could be messing with your rest.

Takeaway

In the quest to get more time out of your day, adjusting to a Dymaxion sleep schedule might seem like a good idea. However, the risks far outweigh any potential benefits, and there is no evidence to suggest that this method of sleep is actually effective.

If you’re looking to optimize your sleep, it’s best to start by understanding your natural sleep rhythm and then experimenting with different schedules until you find what works best for you.

Sources

Al-Abri MA, et al. (2020). Sleep patterns and quality in Omani adults. https://www.dovepress.com/sleep-patterns-and-quality-in-omani-adults-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NSS

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The “short sleep” gene: When six hours is enough. https://sleepeducation.org/short-sleep-gene-when-six-hours-enough/

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/

Hirano A, et al. (2018). DEC2 modulates orexin expression and regulates sleep. https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.1801693115

Hirshkowitz M, et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: Methodology and results summary. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/

Kohyama J. (2021). Which is more important for health: Sleep quantity or sleep quality? https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34202755/

National Institute of General Medical Studies. (2022). Circadian rhythms. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx

Phillips AJK, et al. (2017) Irregular sleep/wake patterns are associated with poorer academic performance and delayed circadian and sleep/wake timing. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-03171-4

Stohard E, et al. (2017). Circadian entrainment to the natural light-dark cycle across seasons and the weekend. https://www.aau.edu/wilderness-camping-helps-reset-rejuvenate-circadian-rhythm

TIME. (1943). Science: Dymaxion sleep. https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,774680,00.html

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