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Polyphasic Sleep: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Most people are accustomed to what is called a monophasic sleep pattern which is basically saying that they sleep once per twenty-four hour period of rotation around the sun. Biphasic sleep is actually very popular as this could be anything from splitting your eight hours of sleep into two large chunks, or simply just adding on a nap in the middle of the afternoon. 


For many of us, these patterns have been inherent to our lives and we’ve never even thought of categorizing them. However, as thoughts associated with productivity and maximization have crept into our culture, so has the challenge that sleep should be given so much real estate when it comes to our time.


If you can be productive during your day, why should you be giving possibly as much as a third of that day over to sleep? What good does this do and could it ever be viewed as productive?  


These questions along with varying lifestyles might make someone consider changing their sleeping pattern. Especially if they don’t equate productivity and accomplishment with the benefits of getting six or more hours of sleep a night. A way of trying to attain the bare minimum amount of sleep needed and still maximise your productivity in one twenty-four hour period is called polyphasic sleep.


This method of sleeping is the concept of actually breaking up the minimum amount of sleep that you need into several small segments throughout the day. This is not a common form of sleeping however it does have a history and claims certain health and productivity benefits. 


Before we take a look at the different types of polyphasic sleep let's first take a look at sleep and what we know about it.

Sleep - There Is No Way Around It


There is no way around it - humans absolutely have to have sleep. This is as big a necessity as eating and drinking. It may seem odd that this fundamental activity is so important but it truly is. Not only are there multiple health benefits to sleeping and many well documented adverse effects of not getting adequate sleep, it has even been linked to actual organ damage


The clincher is that while we sleep, it is hard to view this time as productive. In our fast paced world where deadlines, work weeks and hustle seem to be synonymous with living itself - sleep could be viewed as a ‘waste of productive time’. This isn’t a new thought, ever since the industrial revolution the relationship that most people in industrialized countries have with rest and sleep has been an ever changing terrain. 


While at one point in time success might have looked like the ability to have leisure time, now success is equated with meetings from six thirty in the morning to late nights trying to solve problems or increase productivity. At one time the natural use of daylight was actually an indicator of the time that humans should spend in their work day. It’s hard to imagine how an invention as simple as a light bulb challenged this concept and it has just been added to as technological progress has done nothing but continue to evolve.

Benefits of A Full Night of Sleep


The hard part about figuring out what a full night of sleep actually means is that everyone is different. No two humans are identical in their needs even if we can be similar or alike. So, for some, a full eight hours of sleep could be necessary for normal function while others seem just fine running on less than four. 


What it really breaks down into is what we call sleep cycles. There have been a lot of studies and scientific research into the world of sleep trying to figure out what exactly our bodies do when we are in this state and the implications of not getting enough of it could be. We have found that when we sleep, our entire bodily system goes through what we call a sleep cycle that is composed of four stages. 


These stages are all very important and do different things and can be divided into two categories called NREM (non-rem) sleep and REM. REM itself stands for rapid eye movement and is thought to be one of the most crucial stages in a sleep cycle as it has been attributed with cognitive health, function, growth and even healing. This last stage of the sleep cycle is what many researchers believe is the most beneficial and not only ends the sleep cycle but on average takes around sixty minutes to attain and can last up to 30 minutes. 


Putting all of that together, a sleep cycle is around ninety minutes long. The CDC’s recommendation for most adults is seven hours and equates out to almost five complete sleep cycles. 

Different Kinds of Polyphasic Sleep


With polyphasic sleep you don’t get to move through a sleep cycle as in monophasic or even biphasic sleep. In fact, you’ll rarely sleep long enough to move through the first stages, however that isn’t to say that this form of sleep isn’t for you.


There are three main patterns of polyphasic sleep that have been explored and a simple google search can bring up a detailed schedule showing when to sleep and when to stay awake. These three strategies are called the Dymaxon schedule, the Uberman schedule and lastly the Everyman schedule. 


The Dymaxion Schedule


First proposed by its inventor,
Buckminster Fuller,  who claimed to live by this schedule for two full years, this aggressive sleep schedule ensures a mere two hours of sleep for every 24 hour cycle. 


Essentially this nap schedule would start at midnight with the first thirty minute ‘sleep’ period. This nap essentially, would be repeated once every six hours for a total of two hours of sleep throughout a twenty four hour period. Buckminster claimed to have medical authority ensure that after two years of using this schedule he was perfectly healthy and he attributed his success in business to it.


He eventually left this sleep pattern because he claimed the challenge of trying to connect with fellow businessmen who took the more common monophasic approach to sleep was too great.   


The Uberman Schedule


Inspired by the claimed success of Buckminster, a scientist by the name of Marie Staver 
invented a modified sleeping schedule based on the same concept of taking schedule naps throughout the day. 


This schedule upped the amount of sleep by three hours by allowing the person following it to sleep for thirty minutes every four hours. The concept behind this idea was that this would naturally allow adenosine, an amino acid that plays an important role in your sleep experience, to stay built up in your system helping your ‘nap’ feel more rewarding and life giving.


The Everyman Schedule


This third version of polyphasic sleep was developed as the most user friendly version of a rigorous sleep schedule. In this schedule a person would be allowed to sleep three consecutive hours, usually in the early morning, followed by three twenty minute naps taken throughout the rest of the day.


In total, this, the most user-friendly of the popular polyphasic sleep patterns, still only allowed those who adhered to it a total of four hours of sleep. 


Sleep Deprivation


Unfortunately there are no conclusive studies or evidence to show the connected benefits behind sleeping in such spares minimized ways. As stated earlier, the motivation behind sleeping like this is that a person can better maximise on his or her day by being able to be awake for more of it.


That being said, while there are little to no studies showing the evidence of any health benefits tied to extreme polyphasic sleep patterns, there are studies on sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been tied to multiple health concerns and has even been shown to negatively impact your mood


A lack of sleep can have wide lasting effects on entire systems of your body. Your immune system can be weakened making you more susceptible to infection or disease, as well as your cardiovascular and even digestive system. 


Sleep has restorative and natural elements that make it a powerful part of your day. While you may not be able to spend a whole eight hours in your bed, you can do a lot during the day to prepare for the best sleep you can get. 


For the person who is busy and wondering how to get the most of their sleep, supplements are an all natural, healthy and generally safe option. Supplements that combine multiple naturally sleep enhancing pathways, like the delicious Complete Calm Sleep Gummies from ASYSTEM, could help you get the most out of your sleep, no matter the pattern you chose to take. 

 


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Source:

11 Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body | Healthline
How Much Sleep Do I Need? | CDC

Polyphasic Sleep| Potential Benefits, Risks, If You Should Try It | Healthline

Sleeping in Shifts | Very Well Health

Stages of Sleep | Sleep Foundation

Meet our Experts

This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.

  • Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert

    Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.