Polyphasic sleeping involves training yourself or naturally sleeping several different times during a 24-hour day. Most people have what is called “monophasic sleep” in which you sleep, usually at night, for a solid block of time and are awake the rest of the day.
Polyphasic sleeping can be brought about by extreme conditions affecting a human being. For those who suffer from sleep deprivation, such as those in the US military or who are astronauts, polyphasic sleep is the answer to even further sleep deprivation. The benefits of polyphasic sleeping is that you can get in several naps during the day when sleep is naturally interrupted rather than try and push through the fatigue, trying to gain ground with a monophasic sleep pattern.
People with biphasic sleep will sleep two separate times in a 24-hour period of time, while polyphasic sleepers can sleep up to five different times during a given day, usually able to get the same amount of total sleep as someone who is a monophasic sleeper.If this happens to you without your trying to sleep that way, it is believed to be a sleep disorder called irregular sleep-wake syndrome although some people do this by choice.
Polyphasic sleep schedule
With a polyphasic sleep schedule you can get away with sleeping fewer total hours, able to devote more time to waking hours. Several famous and creative people were known to sleep this way, including Napoleon and Leonardo da Vinci. It is harder to do this kind of sleep pattern in modern times, what with work and social schedules making this pattern more difficult.
Polyphasic sleep patterns
Polyphasic sleep patterns can be idiopathic in nature, having no known cause. It can also be brought on by persons who have certain kinds of dementia or who have suffered a head injury. Polyphasic sleep patterns are also the preferred and natural form of sleep engaged by young infants and many species of higher order animals. This is a pattern that some elderly people find themselves in as well. In fact, besides humans and simians, polyphasic sleep is the pattern of choice among most mammals.
Polyphasic sleep cycles
We normally go through several sleep cycles during a given night. A sleep cycle includes at least one period of time of non-REM sleep and a period of time in REM sleep, the time in which most humans dream. In polyphasic sleep cycles, you can sleep just one sleep cycle at a time. One sleep cycle is about 90 minutes in length so, in order to get enough of both REM and non-REM sleep, you need to sleep for about 90-120 minutes at any given period of time. If you sleep only 45 minutes at a time during a polyphasic sleep pattern, you risk not getting enough REM sleep, which can make you more irritable during the day. The shorter the duration of your sleep episodes, the more sleep episodes you need to have during the course of a day in order to get a full 8 hours of sleep at night.
Polyphasic sleep studies
Some studies on polyphasic sleep has been done on behalf of NASA astronauts who, because of the rigors of their job in space, cannot get a full night’s sleep. It was found that, if they got at least a four hour stretch of time with 2 ½ hour naps to make up a longer total sleep time, this kept them alert and without the dangers of memory loss brought on by a lack of sleep. Other researchers regarding sleep patterns of Air Force pilots found that, by practicing polyphasic sleep patterns, the subjects were able to get by on less than 8 hours of sleep without episodes of “microsleeps” during the day, which can lead too poor productivity and difficulties in memory, attention and focus on details.
Sleep and Seasons
In higher latitudes in winter, there is a longer period of nighttime darkness and people who must sleep during this time of the year tend to fall into a natural habit of biphasic sleep, getting a nap somewhere during their daytime hours but still sleeping the bulk of the time when it is dark at night. This can happen, too, when you are not exposed to artificial light.
Choosing a Polyphasic Sleep Pattern
You can choose to restrict your sleep time to 2-5 hours per day by adopting a pattern of breaking up these hours of sleep into small chunks of sleep during the day with ongoing alertness during your waking hours. You need to be prepared for a period of adjustment lasting about 7-10 days in length where you will be extremely tired and generally not able to work or be productive until your body adjusts to the new sleeping pattern.
You need to plan out your sleep and awake times in advance and stick to a schedule of naps and wakefulness that happen about the same time each day. When you plan on being awake, you should schedule things to do during that time so that the initial sleep deprivation doesn’t just knock you out when you least expect it. Avoid boredom or even simply reading during those times of wakefulness so you can stay awake until the next sleep cycle.
Everyman sleep schedule
In what is called the Everyman sleep schedule of polyphasic sleep patterns, you get to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get 3 hours of sleep from about 2:00 am to 5:00 am and a total of three 20 minute naps spread out throughout the day. This will lead to a total amount of sleep of about 4-5 hours per day with alert periods totaling 19-20 hours of wake time.
In order to achieve everyman sleep schedule, you will need an alarm clock so you can awaken yourself at the appropriate times. You will be tired but you must follow the schedule to the letter until your body adjusts to the new sleep pattern. Try to plan something to do while you are awake so you don’t drift off to sleep, especially as your body adjusts.
Uberman sleep schedule
There is also a polyphasic sleep pattern called the Uberman sleep schedule. It is more difficult to adjust to because there are no long blocks of sleep time and instead you spread out your sleep to involve six naps each day of twenty minutes in length. This gives you 22 hours to be awake during the day and 2 hours of sleep at night. Your risk irritability during the wakeful hours as you will be less likely to get enough REM sleep.
To achieve uberman sleep cycle, you may need to start by staying awake for a 24 hour stretch of time before you adopt twelve 20 minute naps, each about 2 hours apart from one another. After a period of adjustment of 2-4 days, you can switch to six 20 minute naps, spread out throughout the day every 4 hours between each sleep cycle. As of now, there is no particular evidence as to whether or not adopting this sleep pattern is dangerous or harmful to your health.