Most people sleep in one block of 8 hours per night, but is there a better way?
Polyphasic sleeping is a sleep schedule where the person sleeps in smaller blocks throughout the day. The goal is to reduce the total number of hours that you are asleep, leaving more time for work or leisure.
Psychologist JS Szymanski first used the term “polyphasic sleep” in the early 20th century, when he noticed an irregular sleep-wake pattern in many animals. There is evidence to suggest that historically humans used to sleep in a biphasic sleep pattern, meaning they slept in two distinct segments, with a waking period in between used for prayer.
A modern example of a biphasic sleep pattern is the practice of siesta, which is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in some countries, particularly those where the weather is warm. The siesta is historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It is the traditional daytime sleep of Spain and, through Spanish influence, the Philippines, and many Hispanic American countries. Siesta is also common in Italy, where museums, churches and shops close during midday so that proprietors can go home for a long lunch and perhaps a snooze during the day’s hottest hours.
Another common sleep schedule includes the everyman sleep, where you sleep for a total of four and a half hours a day, with one long period of three and a half hours, and three 20-minute naps throughout the day.
The most infamous form of polyphasic sleep is the Uberman schedule. This involves taking six 20-minute naps throughout the day, getting a total of 2 hours of sleep. This is not recommended and very unhealthy for the body. Not all the phases of sleep can be achieved, and this is needed to regenerate the body at the end of the day.
A similar alternative to this is the Dymaxion sleep schedule, which consists of a 30-minute nap every six hours. Also only totalling a stunning two hours of sleep per day, this is not recommended. However, inventor Buckminster Fuller claimed that he experimented with this polyphasic sleep pattern for two whole years before he was forced to stop as a result of his wife’s objections.
Adapting to a polyphasic sleep schedule is often gruelling and painful for the first week. It is vital to slowly change your sleep cycles, getting less and less sleep each time, in order to reduce long-term sleep deprivation.
A new sleep schedule can also wreck havoc on other bodily systems. It can lead to digestive problems, eye strain, emotional instability and immune system failure. It is common to get a cold in the process of adapting to a new sleep schedule, or experience loss in appetite and poor digestion as the rest of your body adjusts.
For the select few who have circadian rhythm disorders, polyphasic sleeping may be the way to go. However, doctors do not recommend polyphasic sleeping in the long term, as most people need 8 hours of sleep every night in order for their body to recover and for their brain to retain information. In the short term it is possible to adapt to a different sleep schedule, perhaps during a period where you have a lot of work. Always consult a doctor when deciding to try something extreme with your body.