Understanding polyphasic sleep schedules
This article refers to the circadian rhythm. If you want to know more about it before jumping into this article you can click here.
Polyphasic sleep is known to sleep researchers as a variant of a sleep pattern that is set in opposition to monophasic sleep. With monophasic sleep, an individual or an animal sleeps in a single block during a cycle of 24 hours. This is the most followed sleep schedule in the world. As doctors recommend getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night (referring automatically to monophasic sleep), some argue that this schedule is, in reality, a product of our fast-paced, sleep-deprived modern societies. Our natural environments would suggest otherwise and some clear sleep patterns have been demonstrated amongst babies and the animal kingdom.
There is plenty of historical evidence pointing to biphasic sleep. That means going to bed early, rising early, then napping for a prolonged period later in the day. In a recapitulation of phylogeny, human babies also sleep polyphasically, and gradually lose their nap slots until they become roughly biphasic around the age of one. Although a majority of westerners do not nap on a regular basis, their alertness shows a slump in alertness in the middle of the day.
A great example of a biphasic sleep schedule is the “siesta” that is very common in Spain, Germany, and various other European countries. Spain specifically closes shops in the middle of the day for a few hours so that people go for lunch and take a nap. The siesta schedule consists of 5 hours and 30 minutes of sleep at night and a 20 to 90-minute nap in the early afternoon. This form of sleep matches with our natural Circadian rhythm and is commonly known by scientists to be as healthy as monophasic sleep.
Both monophasic sleep and biphasic sleep are historically common and biologically normal for humans. Research has shown that both types of sleep routines can yield healthy, robust sleep architecture with adequate overall rest. If you feel a lack of concentration in the afternoon, switching to a biphasic schedule might be the right solution. It is also very easy to implement.
Polyphasic sleep, also called segmented sleep, covers all sleep patterns with multiple sleep episodes a day. Polyphasic sleep can be performed in many ways, from a triphasic schedule, suitable for people with non-flexible lifestyles, to Uberman or Dymaxion schedules with very strict conditions and great time benefit as one gets only 2 hours of sleep.
Polyphasic sleepers can rest 3 to 6 times during a day. These sleep combinations are broken down into categories including:
- Dual-Core: Dual Core sleep is a derivative of the other schedules but with a core sleep around dusk, a core around dawn, and a number of naps in the afternoon.
- Triphasic: A nap after dusk, a nap before dawn, and a nap in the afternoon. A Triphasic sleeper typically sleeps between 4 and 5 hours a day.
- Everyman: A long sleep time of around 3 hours with approximately three 20-minute naps throughout the day.
- Uberman: Only 3 hours of sleep per day in the form of six 30 minute naps throughout the day.
- Dymaxion: Only 2 hours of sleep per day, in the form of 30 minute naps every 6 hours.
No one person's sleep requirements are exactly the same. Some require 8 solid hours of sleep for optimal function. Others, however, may lead a productive and healthy life on 5 hours of sleep per night with a short nap later in the day.
So what’s the best thing to do?
The first step when reconsidering the way you sleep should always be to see if you are respecting the usual sleep hygiene basics. Exercising regularly and eating a healthful diet, avoiding foods that are sugary, fatty, processed or have caffeine, avoiding spicy foods or having caffeine at bedtime, stopping the use of computers, TVs, cellphones, and other electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed, maintaining a dark and quiet sleeping place.
The best call for an alternate sleep schedule stays the biphasic sleep program. You might consider going for a biphasic sleep schedule if you have a little bit of time in the afternoon to nap and you might gain a little bit of extra time for your day. It greatly helps to counter the lack of concentration you might have in the afternoon and is a very healthy sleep schedule. The Circular app and ring can help you adjust to your schedule easily with automatic nap and sleep detection and automatic silenced wake-ups. You can start from the programs circle, in the sleep programs.
When it comes to the other polyphasic sleep schedules, there are a couple of disclaimers you have to take into consideration before jumping in. Firstly, there is a lack of scientific literature on their benefits (there are great variants amongst results), and it is a great chance that, in the long run, these programs will make you sleep deprived.
That being said, polyphasic sleep programs can be suitable for some people and you can try them for yourself. It won’t hurt you to try it for at least the needed adaptation period (usually 10 days) and check how you feel with your new schedule. The risk is when you stick with it for several months. But in the short term, it could be beneficial to you if you need a little extra time in your day and feel like changing your sleep schedule is what can help you reach that goal.
For some, these come with other great benefits such as having more concentration during the day or even being able to dream lucidly more easily... One thing to keep in mind before starting: you must start with schedules close to the one you are on. Typically, if you are on a monophasic schedule, don’t go directly to the everyman program and try the “beginner” programs such as the triphasic or biphasic schedules first. Then move up gradually if you make it past the adaptation periods with no problem. If you feel way too tired then stop the programs and don’t go further.
The polyphasic sleep community: