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Polyphasic sleep vs monophasic sleep: Is it time to try something new?

How much sleep do you need each day?

Most experts recommend between seven and nine hours – and that schedule works for the majority of us. We might need to spend some time experimenting with when we go to bed, and when we set our alarm. 

The most of us, however, stick to the standard monophasic sleep routine. Although you may not be aware there are other kinds of sleep cycles to consider out there.

Polyphasic sleep and biphasic sleepers can thrive on only 3 hours of sleep a day in some extreme circumstances. These people focus on spending less time in bed, and more time enjoying the waking world. 

Even Leonardo Da Vinci was into polyphasic sleep.

The question is, how can you possibly live on less than 5 hours of sleep a day?

How does the polyphasic sleep cycle work, and is it really a healthy option for those of us in search of massive productivity gains? 

Polyphasic Sleep VS Monophasic Sleep

Monophasic sleep and the different types of sleep cycle

We all have different sleep needs, affected by things like our genetics, gender and age. Additionally, our needs reflect how we wish to live our lives.

The sleeping routines that we fall into are usually also dictated by our internal biological clock. 

We build circadian rhythms based on what we do during a 24-hour cycle. 

Because we’re used to falling asleep at night and working during the day in the western world, the monophasic sleep cycle seems to make the most sense.

This involves going to bed at the same time each night and spending up to 9 hours in slumber. 

In monophasic sleep, there are no scheduled naps (unless you’re getting older or have a big lunch).

Additionally, you generally get quite a lot of sleep — at least compared to those biphasic and polyphasic sleepers we mentioned above. 

Though monophasic sleep has become the norm for most of the western world, it’s far from the only option. 

Indeed, many experts believe that polyphasic sleep and biphasic sleeping can help us to tap into benefits like improved productivity, and better efficiency in our lives. 

There are plenty of people already experimenting with biphasic sleep in the modern world. With these kinds of schedule, you practice sleep for a long duration at night — just like normal. 

But, rather than sleeping for between 7 and 9 hours, you only get 4 or 5 hours of sleep. You also get a siesta in the middle of the day that can last up to 90 minutes — the length of a full sleep cycle. 

There’s yet another version of biphasic sleep called segmented sleep. This is when you split your 6 to 8 hours of sleep into two separate sessions. We’ll talk about biphasic sleep in another article. 

Today, we’re going to be focusing a far more extreme way to change up your routine with polyphasic rest. 

Polyphasic Sleep VS Monophasic Sleep

What is polyphasic sleep? 

Polyphasic sleep schedules come in many different flavours, according to the Polyphasic Society. 

There are even people out there that prefer to make up their own polyphasic routines, rather than following a strategy that’s been pre-set for them. 

The main thing that you’ll need to remember about polyphasic sleep, is that it’s all about removing the single “long” phase of sleep from your routine. You’ll be splitting it down into several chunks. 

You might get up to 3 hours of sleep if you go for the everyman sleep cycle, but true polyphasic sleepers tend to avoid staying unconscious for anywhere near that length of time. 

Instead, it’s more likely that your longest “core” session of sleep will only last around 90 minutes. 

The idea is that by splitting your slumber into several portions, you will improve your sleep efficiency. 

Many polyphasic sleep fans believe that we waste too much time during the night on light sleep that’s not giving us any benefits. Rather, with polyphasic sleep, your body will crave every second of unconsciousness. 

You’ll fall asleep faster, and your body will default to stages of sleep like slow-wave and REM, so you get more out of every rest period. 

As mentioned above, there are different kinds of polyphasic sleep schedule available, but the most common are usually:

  • Everyman: A polyphasic sleep schedule that combines a long session of 3 hours of sleep with around 3 twenty minute naps spread throughout the day.
  • Uberman: A polyphasic sleep cycle that allows for only 3 hours of sleep in total through the day, in the form of six 30-minute naps
  • Dymaxion: A particularly extreme sleep cycle that provides for only 2 hours of sleep in the day, usually in the form of four 30-minute naps. 

Most people start their journey into polyphasic sleep with customised versions of the cycles above. 

For instance, you might begin with the Everyman schedule, using 4 hours of sleep for your core period of slumber, rather than just 3.

Polyphasic Sleep VS Monophasic Sleep

Is polyphasic sleep the same as fragmented sleep? 

At first, polyphasic sleep schedules can sound like a nightmare. 

Being forced to live with no sleep each night, and survive on naps alone sounds similar to suffering from an irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder.

Polyphasic sleep isn’t the same as fragmented sleep, or any other sleep disorder for that matter. 

The difference is that polyphasic practitioners are deliberately restricting their sleep to be as productive as possible. 

Saying that, if you do suffer from a circadian rhythm disorder, then it might make it difficult for you to get a lot of continual deep rest on an evening anyway. You might even find it easier than most to fall into a polyphasic sleep routine. 

There are also certain conditions that may mean you’re not suitable to try a polyphasic sleep schedule. 

For example, if you suffer from anxiety or depression, you’re better off sticking to a monophasic sleep routine. 

Getting used to the concept of sleeping only a few times during the day and giving up your long phase of sleep each evening can be an emotional and overwhelming experience for some. 

It takes time and patience to reap the rewards of polyphasic sleep that fans rave about, such as improved performance and alertness. 

Additionally, it’s worth noting that while a lot of people do thrive well on polyphasic sleep patterns, many scientists believe that human beings aren’t meant to sleep this way. 

Experts believe that human beings need longer sleep patterns to move through all of the necessary stages of sleep. 

There’s a reason why it takes ninety minutes to move through an entire sleep cycle — the brain and body have much to do during that time. 

Because of this, a lot of people experimenting with biphasic and polyphasic sleep will experience a lot of sleep deprivation symptoms at first. 

Polyphasic Sleep VS Monophasic Sleep

Is monophasic sleep the best option? What science says:

So, should we all stick to monophasic sleep as our only choice for a restful slumber? Or are there people out there who can benefit from polyphasic sleep?

The science on this subject is still mixed. 

On the one hand, there’s an article from 2016 that highlights how valuable segmented sleep patterns can be. 

This article draws attention to the fact that the modern workday is herding most cultures towards monophasic sleep schedules. 

However, polyphasic options could be better for people who don’t lead a normal routine. For instance, they might be ideal for shift-workers or freelancers.

If we go back even further into the science of sleep, we find that the benefits of brief naps are pretty significant too. These naps can increase cognitive function and help you to focus better at work. 

However, that doesn’t mean that we can all cope with living on naps alone. 

Other studies have found that napping might not be the best way to improve cognitive development, particularly in children. 

Likewise, if the symptoms of sleep deprivation occur when you’re experimenting with polyphasic sleep, then you’re opening yourself up to the risk of things like:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Extreme emotional health issues

Can you get by on 3 or 4 hours of sleep?

Polyphasic sleep is an exciting area of study and something that scientists are still looking into. 

At this point, we can’t say for certain that one kind of sleep is better than others for everyone, although it seems that most people do cope better with monophasic sleep. 

The keyword there is most. 

If you do your research into Polyphasic sleep, you’ll learn that many of the greatest minds in the world thrived on only a few hours of sleep. 

Leonardo Da Vinci practiced the Uberman sleep cycle — taking 20 minute naps every four hours. 

Winston Churchill also had interesting sleeping hours. 

He used to stay up late most nights and wake up at around 8am to start his routine. 

He would also take an hour or two of napping into account during his routine, allowing him to get about 5 hours of sleep in total each day. 

Clearly, we all have our different requirements and demands when it comes to sleeping. 

If you’re interested in changing up your sleep routine, we’d recommend taking it slow to begin with. 

Speak to your doctor to find out if they have any arguments why you shouldn’t try polyphasic sleep first. Then, when you’re ready start, try exploring biphasic sleep rather than jumping into getting rid of your long sleep phases straight away. 

As you begin to feel more comfortable surviving on less sleep, you can experiment with more significant forms of polyphasic sleep. 

Siestio. Sleep Matters.

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