Sleeping for eight hours a night ensures optimum rest and rejuvenation — or so we’ve been told. Take a quick look into pre-industrial sleeping habits, and you’ll see that the way we sleep is relatively new. What if, instead of giving up the entire night to sleep, we got up in the middle of the night to have more time to ourselves? What if we slept less and napped more?
Scientists, sleep experts, and individuals around the world are waking up to the idea of polyphasic sleep — where sleep is segmented into sections rather than completed in a single stretch. A polyphasic sleep schedule can be used to nurture creativity and mental wellness while reducing daytime tiredness and fatigue.
Find out why great thinkers like Leonardo Davinci, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla all followed a polyphasic sleep schedule, and how it could boost your success and overall health.
What Is a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule?
A polyphasic sleep schedule is just one of many ways to understand and track your sleep. Unlike a monophasic sleep schedule, where a person sleeps throughout the night, a polyphasic sleep schedule involves sleeping in multiple shifts throughout the day.
While there are many ways to achieve polyphasic sleep, it tends to involve resting for 4 to 6 hours total throughout a 24-hour period. Polyphasic sleep differs from ordinary sleep schedules because it doesn’t involve a long stretch of sleep and a long stretch of waking. Rather, it breaks up the entire day into small chunks of sleep and long periods of wakefulness.
Benefits of Polyphasic Sleep
Sleeping multiple times a day can have a number of benefits for certain individuals. This includes increased wakefulness, which provides more time for personal projects, relaxation, or productivity. By realigning your body’s natural rhythms and reducing the fragmentation of sleep phases, polyphasic sleep may also reduce sleep fragmentation and improve overall sleep quality.
“Proponents say that spacing out slumber can maximize the amount of time you spend in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and slow wave sleep, since the body defaults to these stages when it’s tired,” says Jamie Ducharme at TIME.
REM sleep is important because it regulates mood and fosters dreaming and memory storage, and slow wave sleep restores the body. Taking a 20-minute short nap in REM deep sleep may foster better dream recall than sleeping for 8 hours a day on a monophasic schedule. It has also been said to promote lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreamers are aware that they’re awake during the dream and are able to make choices about where they go and what happens. Increased dream recall and lucid dreaming can lead to a deeper connection with our innermost wants and desires.
Then there’s the obvious perks: Without spending time in the lighter, less restorative stages of sleep, there’s more time in the day to get things done. Whether you want more time to maximize work productivity or you wish to increase internal reflection, there are many reasons why a polyphasic schedule might benefit you personally.
The three primary polyphasic sleep schedules are Everyman, Uberman, and Dymaxion.
Everyman Sleep Schedule
The Everyman sleep schedule is the most common of polyphasic sleeping habits. There are 3 main variations of the Everyman sleep schedule, including Everyman 1, 2, and 3.
Everyman 1 involves sleeping for 6 hours and taking a 20 minute nap during the day (this is technically a biphasic sleep schedule as there are only two instances of sleep involved). Everyman 1 is likely to be the safest and most achievable sleep schedule — one that many people may unknowingly be doing already.
Everyman 2 is when a person sleeps for 4 hours and 30 minutes, but takes two 20-minute naps. And the Everyman 3 sleep schedule involves sleeping for three hours per night and getting rest in the form of three short naps lasting 20 minutes each.
Uberman Sleep Schedule
Followers of the Uberman schedule get 3 hours of sleep per day in total, which is broken up into six 30-minute napping periods. The uberman schedule isn’t realistic for most modern people, as it leads to sleep deprivation and little opportunity for restful REM sleep.
Dymaxion Sleep Schedule
Similarly to Uberman, the Dymaxion sleeping pattern follows a napping-focused schedule. Dymaxion sleepers take four 30-minute naps throughout the day for just 2 hours of sleep in total, making it the least restful polyphasic sleep schedule.
Dymaxion sleep patterns are more popular than uberman, but still aren’t likely to leave a person feeling well-rested. This sleeping schedule was pioneered by Buckminster Fuller, an innovator and visionary from the 20th century. Some say that Fuller may have been able to succeed at this schedule due to a certain gene mutation called the DEC2. People with this mutation only need a small amount of sleep to feel well-rested.
Biphasic sleep schedule
Biphasic sleep is a polyphasic sleep schedule split into just two periods of sleep per day. This could be sleeping during the night and taking a nap during the day, as seen in the Everyman 1 pattern. It may also involve going to bed around nine or 10pm and waking at midnight for an hour or two before returning to bed for a second sleep.
Biphasic sleep patterns aren’t a new invention. In fact, it was the dominant sleep pattern before the invention of electricity. Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr pointed out in 1992 that this pattern was natural for people in the pre-industrial era, especially in areas where there were longer stretches of darkness each day.
People across all continents and cultures used to follow this sleep schedule, adds author and history professor A. Roger Ekirch. He points to the siesta cultures still found in Spain and Italy, where people sleep less during the night and take long naps during the hottest hours of the day. This suggests that biphasic sleep schedules may be part of innate human nature. Natural or not, such patterns were disrupted with the dawn of artificial light. The increase in available light allowed people to do more things later in the evening and early in the morning that otherwise weren’t possible. As a result, they adopted a monophasic sleeping pattern.
Adopting a Segmented Sleep Pattern
A polyphasic or biphasic sleep schedule may work well with certain lifestyles. For example, shift workers like nurses, warehouse workers, or drivers who are employed at night often adopt this method.
This is because it allows them to make up for sleep missed during the normal evening hours without spending the entire day sleeping. College students, creatives, or academics might also benefit from the increased time that segmented sleep provides.
Some people — like those who share Fuller’s gene mutation — might simply rest better this way. “A small percentage of people are night owls, where their bodies and overall well being is actually better at night,” says Dr. Joseph Ojile, founder and medical director of Clayton Sleep Institute.
It’s also interesting to note that many mammals have segmented sleep. Aside from our ever-snoozing cats and dogs, wild animal sleep patterns emphasize survival. Polyphasic sleep patterns allow animals to be more alert throughout the day and night, making it easier to find food and stay safe.
This information tells us that sleeping for eight hours may only be a societal construct. And some, whether due to work or biology, may fare better sleeping less, more often.
Challenges of a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule
Adopting a polyphasic sleep schedule is challenging for most people who sleep just once per day. This is primarily due to our circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep cycles. These rhythms are what tell our bodies to sleep when it’s dark and stay alert when the sun is up. Fighting against our ordinary waking hours by trying to sleep may be difficult — unless we’re already experiencing sleep deprivation.
Polyphasic and biphasic sleep schedules are also challenging socially. Whether its school, work, or going out, most societal structures are centered around a monophasic sleeping pattern. Trying to get shuteye when your loved ones want to spend time with you — and waking when they’re sound asleep — may disrupt your relationships.
Lastly, sleep deprivation can be harmful to the body both mentally and physically, says the Columbia Department of Neurology. Failing to get enough sleep decreases cognitive function, physical strength, and immunity. When a person experiences long-term sleep deprivation, they’re at a greater risk of depression, mental illness, stroke, and severe mood swings. They’re also faced with an increased risk of car accidents and sleep disorders.
Personalizing Your Sleep Schedule for Better Health
The total sleep time you need depends on your body, your work, and your overall lifestyle. Adopting a polyphasic sleep schedule may be beneficial if you want to increase your sleep hygiene while freeing up more time throughout the day. Whether you choose the everyman, uberman, dymaxion, or biphasic sleeping schedule, there are many ways to alter and improve your sleep patterns for better health both inside and out.