Having a few hours to spare every day sounds like a pipe dream for most. But there are a select few who have supposedly mastered the art of sleeping less to live more.
These people are called polyphasic sleepers, and while their methods are highly controversial and not for everyone, they claim to feel the same (if not better) on just a few hours of sleep each day.
How you break up your slumber is purely preferential. Sleep schedules range from the extreme 20-minute nappers to the more relaxed afternoon siestas. One popular pattern that falls somewhere in the middle of totally wild and possibly doable is triphasic sleep.
What is the Triphasic Sleep Schedule?
To understand triphasic sleep, you first need to understand its origins.
Polyphasic sleep is the act of sleeping multiple times throughout the day instead of the traditional single-block of seven to eight hours at night (also known as monophasic sleep). Over the course of 24 hours, our bodies experience natural lulls in energy. Divided sleeping sessions (however frequently they occur) are supposed to line up with our natural sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm.
Famous minds like Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, and Nikola Tesla all supposedly used polyphasic sleep to their advantage. While some intense sleeping schedules, like the Uberman Method, call for as little as two hours of sleep a day, triphasic sleep is a bit more relaxed—but not by much.
Triphasic sleepers break up their slumber into three distinct periods: three 90-minute sleep blocks that happen every six and a half hours. The first block should be taken in the late evening, the second should be before dawn, and the third sometime in the afternoon between 1 and 4 p.m. Following this will give you a grand total of four and a half hours of sleep.
Because nap times can interfere with work or school schedules, this type of sleeping pattern is not the most popular. Here’s an example of what it would look like in practice:
- Awake: 12 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.
- Asleep: 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.
- Awake: 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- Asleep: 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Awake: 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Polyphasic sleepers are known to adapt schedules to better meet their needs, and one common variation of triphasic sleep is called triphasic-extended. Rather than four-and-a-half hours of sleep, participants would get six hours of sleep total, broken up into one core 3-hour sleep and two 90-minute daytime naps. Those two naps should still correspond with your circadian rhythm by happening before dawn and in the late afternoon.
This version—while still less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per day for adults—is considered more beginner-friendly and easier to practice.
Are There Benefits to the Triphasic Sleep Schedule?
There’s no evidence to support that any kind of long-term polyphasic sleeping (including triphasic sleep) has any real health benefits.
While more time awake might sound great in theory, our bodies are not built to function on such little rest. In fact, most of the research on sleep deprivation has found that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night can have serious consequences for your health, including an increased risk of heart failure, diabetes, and stroke.
Still, proponents of triphasic sleep say that by prioritizing slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM), you can raise your overall sleep quality and function better throughout the day. However, the National Sleep Foundation actually says that good sleep quality comes down to four factors (none of which have anything to do with SWS and REM):
- Sleep latency: falling asleep within 30 minutes.
- Sleep waking: staying asleep and having few or no episodes of waking up.
- Wakefulness: having 20 minutes or less of wakefulness throughout the night.
- Sleep efficiency: being asleep for at least 85% of the time you spend in bed.
Another common claim is that divided sleeping can improve dream recall and increase the possibility of lucid dreaming (feeling awake and aware during a dream). A survey completed by Polyphasic Sleep (a popular website dedicated to the practice) found that half of those surveyed reported an increase in dream recall. One study did partly confirm an association between sleep fragmentation and lucid dreaming, but more research is needed.
Risks of the Triphasic Sleep Schedule
While triphasic sleep offers a bit more snooze time than some of the other polyphasic sleep schedules, it’s still not considered safe in the eyes of science.
One of the biggest concerns of triphasic sleep is that it doesn’t allow for the recommended seven to eight hours of uninterrupted deep sleep that our bodies need to perform optimally. Anything less than seven hours is considered sleep deprivation and can lead to a host of problems, including:
- impaired judgment
- weakened immunity
- trouble learning
- problems focusing
- increased irritability
- increased risk of accidents
In addition, sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of certain physical and mental health conditions like:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- kidney disease
Triphasic sleeping is usually considered sleep deprivation. And when you’re not getting enough sleep, your body isn’t able to properly rest, repair, and rejuvenate itself. You may be able to get by on just a few hours temporarily, but eventually, it will catch up to you.
Adapting to the Triphasic Sleep Schedule
If you’re still determined to try triphasic sleep, at the very least, increase the length of your sleeping segments, so you get at least seven hours of rest. That way, you can avoid the risks of sleep deprivation and see if segmented sleeping works for you. You’ll also want to be sure you’re working with a doctor to monitor your health.
Here are a few ways to make the transition from Monophasic Sleep to triphasic sleep easier:
- Start with Biphasic Sleep. If triphasic sleep sounds like too much of a jump, start with biphasic sleep first. This involves sleeping for around six hours at night and then taking a 30- to 90-minute nap during the day. Once you’re used to getting two distinct periods of sleep, you can then break it up into thirds.
- Create a relaxing daytime sleep environment. When you’re ready to add a third sleep period, make sure your daytime sleeping environment is as relaxing as possible. This means keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet and using comfortable bedding.
- Be consistent with your schedule. Once you’ve decided on a triphasic sleep schedule, stick to it as best you can unless you encounter problems. Our bodies like routine, so the more regular your sleep patterns are, the easier it will be to adjust.
Of course, triphasic sleep isn’t for everyone. If you find that you’re struggling to adjust or that you’re not getting enough deep sleep, go back to a monophasic sleep schedule. Everyone’s sleep needs differ, so listen to your body and do what’s best for you.
We all want that magic pill that will somehow turn us into productive superhumans who just feel amazing every single day. Unfortunately, triphasic sleep isn’t it. There are far better (and safer) ways to get the most out of your day.
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/
Giang V. (2013). 11 bizarre sleeping habits of highly successful people. https://www.businessinsider.com/11-bizarre-sleeping-habits-of-highly-successful-people-2013-11#more-bizarre-habits-from-the-top-12
Gott J, et al. (2020). Sleep fragmentation and lucid dreaming https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810019305227
Hirshkowitz M, et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary [Abstract]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/
National Institute of General Medical Sciences. (2022) Circadian Rhythms. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx
National Sleep Foundation. (2020). What Is Sleep Quality? https://www.thensf.org/what-is-sleep-quality/
Origami Kayak. (2011). Day 8. http://origamikayak.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2011-03-30T22:53:00-07:00&max-results=7&start=21&by-date=false
Polyphasic Sleep. (2021). Triphasic. https://www.polyphasic.net/triphasic/
Polyphasic Sleep. (2020). Dream Recall & The Forgetting of Dreams: Does Polyphasic Sleeping Really Help? https://www.polyphasic.net/blog/dream-recall-and-the-forgetting-of-dreams/#results
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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 […]