Polyphasic Sleep- How It Works And Why It’s Effective

We’re living in a world where everything is becoming faster and faster. Time is money, and we’re all seeking new ways of being more efficient in everything that we do. In this system of values, what is hard to maintain is a healthy sleep pattern. When you think that you spent a third of your life asleep, it just seems that sleeping takes too much time away from you.

At times, you might think how it would be perfect if you could really use up all the 24 hours that fit into a single day.

Sleep deprivation is not something you would like to experience for a longer period of time, as it might affect your organism’s vital functions. But there are sleeping patterns that can bring you a longer and more efficient wake time by using sleep deprivation in a smart way.

Before describing them, we have to understand why it’s important to have a consistent sleep pattern.

We know that sleep is our body’s vital component. Our organism recovers and regenerates during sleep. We’re also aware of the fact that the amount of sleep a person needs changes during life. We sleep longer when we’re younger and as we grow older, our body produces less melatonin and in consequence, we need less sleep.

But what is little discussed is that each individual has their own internal circadian rhythm that is responsible for their sleep-wake cycle. And what works for a person A, doesn’t necessarily have to work for a person B. Some people can just feel that they’re not getting enough sleep, regardless of the number of hours they have per night.

However, there are polyphasic sleeping patterns that turned out to be more efficient for people that don’t enjoy a normal sleep cycle of 8 hours or more. But if you try to switch to polyphasic cycle all of a sudden, it just might not give you any of the benefits and will actually make you feel tired and groggy instead.

That’s why the sleep cycle consistency is the key in feeling energized enough and in reaching both mental and physical awareness each day. So before incorporating a new sleep pattern, prepare yourself first.

No matter how much you decide to sleep, maintaining a constant sleeping pattern will help you reach your highest wake-time potential. And if you decide to experiment, you should do it properly.

Let’s now define what is polyphasic sleep.

What is polyphasic sleep?

There are three types of most common sleep patterns:

  • Monophasic sleep pattern
  • Biphasic sleep pattern
  • Polyphasic sleep pattern

While the monophasic sleep pattern represents a “normal” sleep-wake cycle where an individual sleeps once per day for about 8 hours, the biphasic pattern is when a person sleeps twice per day. The latter can also be referred to as a “siesta sleeping pattern” because it usually includes 5-6 hours of sleep during the night and an afternoon nap.

These two patterns are definitely the most common, but it seems that more and more people are exploring the third type.

A polyphasic sleep pattern is when a person sleeps multiple times throughout the day for briefer amounts of time. This means that a polyphasic sleeper might go to sleep 4 to 6 times a day.

How does polyphasic sleep pattern work?

The theory behind polyphasic sleep is that we can hack our brain into shedding the lesser important stages of sleep. In a normal 8 hour sleep, your body gets 1.5 hours of REM sleep. REM is vital for our body, and we couldn’t survive without it. What polyphasic pattern does is entraining the brain to sleep for the shorter amount of time while enjoying more efficient REM phase of sleep.

It has been proven that people who are sleep deprived enter deep sleep (REM) much faster, and as a result, the less important stages of sleep (non-REM) become compressed which consequently results in gaining waking time.

The problem with this type of sleep pattern is that it has the most benefits when synchronized to a free-running sleep rhythm. Free running sleep pattern is the one in which an individual does not employ alarm clocks, coffee,or tea in order to regulate his sleep. Instead, they sleep when they’re tired, and sleep no longer than what’s needed for their body to recover.

This type of sleep, when well-entrained, can bring our creative and cognitive performance to their maximum.

Is polyphasic sleep good for you?

Even if this pattern might sound completely crazy to you, when you think about it, polyphasic sleep is quite widespread in animals. But not only, human babies sleep in this pattern as well before they adopt a biphasic pattern by the age of one.

There are several historical evidence that adults didn’t always sleep in monophasic or biphasic patterns. Sleep Biology Scientists have discovered that before the Industrial Revolution people were usually sleeping in 2 short blocks of 4 hours, with a break of about one hour in the middle of the night.

Odyssey shows evidence that this practice actually dates back to the ancient world. It’s the artificial light that programmed us into sleeping the way we consider “a norm”.

But is polyphasic sleep healthy for you?

Whether it’s healthy or not depends on how quickly you can adjust to the new sleep schedule, and if you’re able to maintain it.

The risk in experimenting with “polyphasic hacking” is sleep deprivation that can result in various health issues. So the reason why polyphasic sleep is not considered healthy is rooted in the widespread inability to keep a consistent sleep schedule and the chance that you’re getting enough sleep while maintaining such a pattern. This inability is also due to modern working hours that are dictating our biorhythms.

Some people that have described their personal experience with polyphasic sleep stated that they had no apparent health problems and that heir medical check proved to be normal after switching to the new sleep pattern.

You could probably experiment with this if you’re older than 18, and do not suffer from any illnesses. However, there’s still a long way to go before anyone can guarantee that this kind of sleep is healthy.

What are the benefits of polyphasic sleep?

While it’s important that you don’t jump unprepared to a polyphasic sleeping pattern because it can affect your health, there are people that claim this wake-sleep cycle brought them multiple benefits.

Let’s list the advantages you might experience if you entrain yourself to a polyphasic sleep.

1. You have more time throughout the day – You can end up having more time for your hobbies, school, people you love, work…

2. You might experience increased cognitive performance – While it’s still a matter of how well you adapt to this pattern, some people stated that they felt their concentration and alertness increased while being on polyphasic sleep. Anyway, it’s known that by taking naps you can experience a lot of cognitive benefits.

3. You can experience more vivid or lucid dreams – Almost all of our dreams happen during the REM phase. As you will be getting more REM sleep than before, you will still dream, and maybe even in higher intensity.

4. The “always tired” feeling might disappear – While you will certainly feel some alterations in your energy levels in the first few weeks, after your body accepts the new pattern you may end up feeling more energized throughout the day.

5. You can improve the quality of your sleep – By fitting more effective recovering time into the time you actually spend sleeping, you might experience a better sleep quality. People that have sleep disorders such as nightmares, sleepwalking, or muscle soreness, will probably benefit from the polyphasic sleep pattern.

What kinds of polyphasic sleep are there?

No one’s sleep requirements are exactly the same. People need different amounts of asleep time for optimal functioning. Some prefer 8-hours of sleep, other’s lead a healthy and productive lifestyle on just 5 hours of sleep per night.

But let’s see what are the difference between the polyphasic pattern types.

  • Everyman – One longer sleep of around 3 hours with three 20-minute naps during the day
  • Uberman – Only 3 hours of sleep per day divided into six 20-30 minute naps that are spread throughout the day
  • Dymaxion – Only 2 hours of sleep per day divided into 30-minute naps every 6 hours

However, the best polyphasic sleep type is the free running sleep, in which you just follow what your body tells you, and don’t sleep more than your body needs it.

How do you develop polyphasic sleep?

Well if all of this made you sure that you would like to try polyphasic sleep, then you are probably wondering “How do I entrain myself to polyphasic sleep?”.

After deciding which approach you would like to undertake, you will want to develop a certain sleeping schedule. It’s the number one thing you have to do in order to achieve the benefits of this method of sleeping.

The most popular is Uberman sleeping schedule which consists of six 30-minute naps spread throughout the day. You should pick the times when you would go to sleep. The cycle should also follow a certain logic, so you should sleep every 4 round hours.

You should make sure to wake up after those 20 or 30 minutes, and not to skip any of the designed naps. Oversleeping will only result in feeling exhausted.

You have to be prepared that the first week will definitely be the toughest one. You will feel tired, but then after 3-5 days your brain will rewire and will start readjusting to the new sleeping pattern. Your brain will then accept the fact that you’re actually sleeping regularly, but just not for long.

After a few more days your brain will also memorize your sleeping time schedule and make it easier for you to wake up and fall asleep by entering REM phase immediately.

Instead of getting 1.5 REM hours in 8-hour-sleep, you will be getting from 2-3 REM hours depending on your length of naps. This can result in feeling more refreshed.

What actually made polyphasic sleep popular is the discovery of the highly intelligent people’s sleeping patterns. It turned out that the greatest minds that ever lived on our planet, actually had weird sleeping routines. We chose top 10 greatest scientists, artists and politicians that were sticking to polyphasic sleep patterns in order to gain more time for their discoveries and fields of their interest.

1. Nikola Tesla

We’ve all heard of the rivalry between Edison and Tesla. And it seems that the two scientists also clashed in another battlefield. Tesla was trying to outbid Edison in sleeping little.

This Serbian-American scientist indeed developed a sleeping schedule that highly resembled polyphasic sleep. Allegedly he did have times when he didn’t stick to a strict schedule, but would instead spend his nights awake and crash during the day.

Evidence says that the inventor of the alternating current slept about 2 hours per day. His discoveries and projections might be rooted in his increased cognitive performance achieved by taking occasional naps.

2. Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was also known as a short sleeper. He believed that sleep was a waste of time. He only enjoyed dreaming, which he used as a source of inspiration throughout his career.

He would sleep from 1 to 4 hours per day. Famous painter Salvador Dali even developed his own way of waking up from his short naps. He called this method “slumber with a key” which consisted in holding a metal key over a plate while seated in a chair. Upon falling to sleep, the key would drop and the noise would awaken Dali.

3. Leonardo da Vinci

The famous italian polymath and artist, Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most talented individuals in our history, was maintaining a strict sleeping regime. He developed “The Da Vinci Sleep Schedule” which included sleeping for brief periods.

Da Vinci slept a total of 5 hours in a day and divided them into naps lasting between 20 minutes to 2 hours. This way, the italian mastermind was micro-managing his energy and using it to maintain an increased productivity throughout the day.

The way Leonardo da Vinci slept, is actually most similar to what is called today the “Uberman” sleep schedule.

4. Buckminster Fuller

This American architect and inventor never slept for more than 2 hours. Actually he was the one to invent the Dymaxion sleep pattern. Buckminster coined the word Dymaxion which was said to be a combination of the words “Dynamic Maximum Tension.”

This polyphasic sleeper was devoted to his strict sleeping schedule for two years and as a result he got a lot of time to dedicate to his passion. In the end he stated that the only reason he had to give up on polyphasic sleep is because it couldn’t match his associates’ schedules.

5. Thomas Jefferson

The principle author of The Declaration of Independence, was not a fan of sleeping either. He never slept for more than 4 hours and was following a polyphasic sleep pattern too.

He liked to read for half an hour before falling asleep, and would sometimes stay awake longer if the book started being particularly interesting. He would regularly wake up at sunrise.

6. Napoleon Bonaparte

Supposedly, it was known that Napoleon slept in 2 hour chunks during the night, and would take a 30-minute nap in the afternoon. He slept so little even during the battles.

This sleeping pattern stuck to him while he was governing a 10-year reign, but when he got dethroned and sent to Elba, his polyphasic rhythm changed. Instead, he started sleeping in too late, and remaining in bed for hours after he woke up.

7. Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was following mostly a biphasic sleeping pattern. He would sleep for about 5 hours at night, and then have a nap in the afternoon.

He would often go to work through the night. Everyday at 5 pm, he would drink whisky and soda and then take his two-hour nap.

8. Thomas Edison

The famous inventor Thomas Edison didn’t sleep for more than 3 to 4 hours at night. He also thought of sleeping as a “waste of time”.

He and Tesla would compete even in this field. And Edison would sleep very little, or sometimes not at all if inspiration struck him. When he accumulated days of no sleep, he would crash and sleep for long hours.

9. Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was quite an extraordinary sleeper. He was following a biphasic pattern rather than maintaining a polyphasic one.

He would actually sleep more than average during the night, reaching up to 10 hours. This long sleep apparently didn’t satisfy Einstein, so he took regular afternoon siestas.

10. Franz Kafka

The czech writer lead a pretty odd sleeping schedule too. In order to achieve a higher inspiration and have a clearer mind, Franz Kafka adapted his sleeping time so he could gain more alertness and focus.

He was rather a biphasic sleeper, and went to bed 2 times a day for not longer than 3-4 hours. He would go to bed from 6 am – 9 am and 3.30 pm – 7.30 pm.

10 Big Minds That Stuck To Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

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