Even if we’re aware of it or not, every person develops its own sleep pattern. The way we sleep might not be exactly the same for all of us. Some are night owls, others are early risers, and then there are those that like to take naps. Then there are people that sleep only at night, or that sleep both during night and day.
The differences in the number of daily sleep phases determine which type of sleeping pattern you are following. Following this logic, there are three types of sleeping patterns: monophasic, biphasic and polyphasic.
In this article, we will focus on biphasic sleeping pattern, as there’s evidence that people can benefit from such a sleeping cycle while avoiding sleep deprivation that is much more present in polyphasic sleep.
It would be also important to understand our body’s way of regulating sleep cycles and how hormones our brain produces affect it.
First, let’s start by explaining what is biphasic sleep, and what are the differences between the three sleep patterns.
What is Biphasic sleep?
Basically, a biphasic sleep pattern consists of sleeping twice a day. It’s also referred to as a “Siesta sleeping pattern”. Most people that practice this kind of sleep, usually sleep for a shorter period of time at night and then take a nap during the day.
Others experience two segmented periods of sleep which both occur at night. This variety is called “Segmented” or “Natural” biphasic sleep pattern.
In some countries, the Biphasic sleep is actually adopted as a normal. Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy, Greece, and others, hold onto having afternoon naps before entering the evening. These nations are also known as one of the healthiest on earth, so it makes us wonder if the way they sleep might be influencing their health and life expectancy.
Literature from the past testifies that biphasic sleep was a common way of sleeping.
Most of them refer to sleeping in two segments during a single night. This break in the middle of the night served as a quiet hour in which people could read, study, pray or have sex.
Historian Roger Ekirch did a research on biphasic sleep before the Industrial Revolution and discovered that there are over 500 literature references that prove sleeping in two phases was way more common than today.
Scientists claim that it’s the use of electricity and artificial light that switched our patterns into sleeping in a single phase. They also suggest that when humans use only natural light, they tend to develop a biphasic sleep pattern.
Monophasic vs Biphasic sleep
Most people sleep in a monophasic sleep pattern. This type of sleep cycle comprises having sleep in a single segment of time. Usually, people get a 6-hour or 8-hours sleep per night, but there is some evidence that says that people didn’t really sleep like in this manner in past.
Even if monophasic sleep seems like the most natural kind of sleep cycle, there are people that find other sleep patterns more natural and effective.
On the other hand, biphasic sleep includes sleeping in two segments during the day. Usually, people that sleep this way sleep 5-6 hours at night, and then have a nap in the afternoon.
Biphasic vs Polyphasic sleep
The difference between biphasic and polyphasic sleep is that the latter represents a sleep cycle in which a person sleeps in more than two sleeping periods throughout the day.
Polyphasic sleep schedule, if done wrong, can bring risk of developing some sleep-related issues.
Anyway, it is believed that both biphasic and polyphasic sleep can boost one’s productivity and cognitive abilities. This belief is strengthened by the fact that there is evidence that some of the greatest minds like Tesla, Da Vinci, and Edison, maintained polyphasic sleeping patterns in order to “not waste time”.
However, Einstein was a biphasic sleeper, and also a deep one! He liked to sleep for 9 hours at night and took regular naps in the afternoon.
Examples of Biphasic Sleep
Not all biphasic sleep patterns are the same or have the same effects. There are two main categorizations of biphasic sleep:
1. based on the timing of sleep (only at night or at night and day)
2. based on the length of naps
Although it seems quite odd today, but breaking your night sleep in two phases was pretty common in the past. First sleep began at dusk and lasted from 3 to 4 hours, while the second sleep or the “morning” sleep, began after the waking period and lasted until morning.
This in-the-middle-of-the-night sleep break was used for various things. From praying to having sex, from chopping wood to socializing with neighbors. Sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs claims that waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology. And that by turning to monophasic sleep, people spend less time reflecting and meditating which might increase the probability of developing mental issues like anxiety, depression, and others.
Modified Biphasic Schedule
Another way of following a biphasic sleeping schedule is by taking afternoon naps or siestas. The traditional Mediterranean way.
This type also differentiates in the length of the naps and the night sleep.
1. Short nap – A person sleeps around 6 hours each night and takes a 20-minute nap in the afternoon
2. Long nap – A person sleeps around 4-5 hours each night and takes a 1-1.50 hour nap in the afternoon
A lot of people that experimented with biphasic sleep schedules loved their new sleep pattern. Most of them claimed that their new sleep cycle helped them feel more alert and time-efficient.
What Are The Benefits Of Biphasic Sleep Pattern?
Science revealed that what makes biphasic sleep pattern beneficial is actually taking occasional naps. Power naps are proven to restore our energy even in the shorter periods of time. But still, there’s not enough research that could claim sleeping in two phases is healthier than monophasic sleep.
Some people that experimented with biphasic sleep also stated that it helped them fight insomnia. So potentially this kind of sleep schedule might resolve some of the sleep related disorders.
Anyway, there are benefits biphasic sleep could provide you with. Let’s list them.
1. You can get more done
As napping can be a great source of energy, you might feel like you are more restful throughout the whole day. In consequence, you can be more eager to do more stuff.
2. Improves Cognitive function
Researches say that occasional naps that are included in a biphasic sleep schedule can help improve memory and our learning abilities. A great number of people uses naps in order to boost their brain power.
3. Increases Alertness
When our body and mind become more tired during the day, our alertness drops. This is where biphasic sleep steps in. It can help you achieve a greater focus and be more alert.
4. It Might Improve Your Mood
Another advantage of sleeping in two chunks of time is that you might feel better and happier. How is this possible? Well, while we’re asleep, a lot of processes happen in our mind and sub-conscience. These processes in addition to gaining more energy, help us overcome our daily frustrations and feel more ready for the upcoming life challenges.
5. More Time For Reflecting
This is especially true if you choose the segmented sleep where you have a break in sleep at night. The quiet hour in the middle of the night will be a moment when the world and the daily troubles aren’t that prominent, and as a result, you will be able to use that time to reflect, meditate and ease yourself into that “zen” state.
However, while some could benefit from everything we mentioned above, others might feel that biphasic schedules just don’t work for them. That is completely fine because, in the end, you should listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel it’s disrupting you, don’t do it.
Is Biphasic Sleep Healthy For You?
Whether biphasic sleep is healthy or not is difficult to judge. There are places where afternoon naps, also known as “siestas”, are widely spread, and geniuses that took regular power naps in order to boost their brain power. But how to know if it’s safe and healthy?
Even if there is evidence that proves how powerful naps might be, other researches suggest that adults that sleep consistently for 7-8 hours actually live longest. Sleep specialist Timothy A. Connolly says that the impact of disrupting your sleep is huge and it affects our cells, tissues, and organs.
On the other hand, some studies show that individuals that were practicing biphasic sleep had healthy sleep cycles. Some also believe that biphasic sleep schedule is human’s natural way of sleeping.
Many people that shared their personal experiences with the biphasic schedule, reported that they felt better and had an overall higher energy compared to a monophasic sleep cycle.
Nevertheless, science doesn’t have enough answers in order to confirm if there are true health benefits of sleeping this way. The opinions of the sleep specialists are divided, and for now, we will have to rely on our own judgment if wanting to experiment with our sleep schedules.
How To Experiment With Biphasic Sleep?
If you’re attracted to the idea of experimenting with your sleeping pattern, biphasic sleep might be a good way to start.
But how do you do it? First of all, you will have to decide what kind of biphasic schedule works best for you. If your work, family, and lifestyle permit you to go to bed shortly after dark, then go for segmented biphasic sleep. If not, choose to sleep for a shorter amount of time during the night and adding an afternoon nap. You will probably have to spend some time figuring out if you prefer longer or shorter naps, as well as if you’re going to sleep 5 or 6 hours at night.
There are a lot of other interesting tips on how to improve your sleep and avoid feeling tired. But let’s specify the steps you’d probably have to do in order to achieve biphasic sleeping schedule:
1. Determine Your “Latest” Wake-up Time
The time when you have to get up affects how late you have to go to bed.
2. Determine a Bedtime
If you want to follow a “segmented” pattern, you would want to go to bed at least nine hours before your wake-up time. This way you will have 8 hours for sleeping and 1 hour in between.
If you want a “siesta” kind of biphasic schedule that will provide you with more alert time throughout the day, you will have place your “anchor” block of sleep during the night. It should be at least 4.5 hours.
3. Use an Alarm Clock
Until you entrain yourself to wake up naturally at the determined times, use the alarm clock to help you adapt to the new pattern. But be aware that you should overdo it, as alarm clocks are bad for your sleep cycle.
4. Reduce Exposure to Artificial Light
Do this at least two hours before your scheduled bedtime. Just like our ancestors used to sleep. Don’t watch your TV, forget about your computer or smartphone. Instead, light some candles and try to prepare your brain for sleep.
Unlike polyphasic sleep, it won’t demand radical changes in your regular daily tasks and routines. It will be easier to get into the biphasic rhythm, but also to get out of it.