A normal, healthy human being ought to sleep around 7 -9 hours on average, according to both Mayo Clinic and WebMD. The CDC claims that 1 out of 3 Americans grapple with unsatisfactory sleep. The ASAA opines that up to 70 percent of American adults grapple with inadequate sleep once every month while 11 percent daily.
Over the years, many people have stuck to the monophasic sleep schedule (7 – 9 hours, non-stop), at least when they are healthy. Nevertheless, recently, some folks have been toying with their sleep-wake schedules to increase their productivity by lessening the number of hours they sleep. This phenomenon goes by the name the polyphasic sleep.
Simply put, it is a schedule whereby you sleep 4 – 6 times daily compared to the normal schedule where you sleep 7 – 9 hours non-stop. With the former, you sleep in small, many phases. Twenty to thirty minutes naps spread out through the day characterize polyphasic sleep.
What informs the widespread interest in polyphasic sleep? Well, some quarters just want to satisfy their scientific curiosity while others claim it’s a productivity hack. Regardless of where your allegiance lies, it is wise to know whether this practice is healthy or not. Is it safe? Will you enjoy more benefits or suffer from effects?
Monophasic vs. Biphasic vs. Polyphasic Sleep
A monophasic sleep schedule is where you sleep only once daily (7 – 9 hours). A biphasic sleep schedule is where you sleep two times in a day, which could be at night and a couple of hours during the day (siesta). A polyphasic sleep schedule, as we have already established, is where you sleep several times in a day broken into short phases.
Some of the benefits of the monophasic sleep cycle include:
- Flexibility in waking/sleeping hours
- The utmost convenient sleep cycle
- Reduced risk of sleep deficiency
The cons of the monophasic sleep cycle are:
- Needs somewhat vast amounts of total sleep
- Inconvenient for careers with late shifts
Some of the benefits of a biphasic sleep schedule include:
- Napping enhances cognitive and memory functions
- Frequent, short naps after lunch reduce stress and enhance cardiovascular health
- Offers a boost during sleep-deficient or exhaustive days
These are the cons of a biphasic sleep schedule:
- Napping disseminates bad habits, particularly in insomniacs
- Might worsen sleep issues informed by illness, stress, and jet lag
Polyphasic sleepers enjoy the following perks;
- Great for some professions, particularly those that adhere to a rigid schedule
- Naps only last 20 – 30 minutes thus increasing productivity
- Once accustomed to it, falling asleep becomes effortless
The downside of polyphasic sleep include:
- Takes time to adapt to
- Inflexible in waking/sleeping times
Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy?
Before answering the query on whether polyphasic sleep is healthy, it is worth noting that this type of sleep schedule has three sub-categories. They are:
- Dymaxion – 2 sleeping hours daily broken into half-hour naps every six hours
- Uberman – 3 sleeping hours daily broken into half-hour naps across the day
- Everyman – 3 sleeping hours daily broken into three, twenty-minute naps across the day
Is polyphasic sleep healthy? Well, minimal scientific research exists to support or disapprove of the healthy or otherwise nature of this type of sleep schedule. No conclusive study paints a picture of the healthy nature of polyphasic sleep.
However, what is for sure is that it provides an opportunity for improved productivity provided the enhanced number one puts to work.
This study established that unlike a monophasic sleep schedule, the polyphasic one makes folks experience sleepiness during the day as well as poor sleep quality in the long term.
Another study seems to claim that a monophasic sleep schedule can lead to accumulated sleep debt especially in folks involved in jobs that require continuous performance such as those in defense missions, space missions, rescue operations, and health care.
Because little research is available on the health benefits of polyphasic sleep, many doctors advise folks against joining the bandwagon of those practicing it until that time extensive and conclusive research will be available.
Sleeping in a fragmented fashion puts you at risk of not sleeping adequately overall which can have severe consequences for your health and body, including memory issues and cognitive impairment. The Sleep Foundation opines that sleep deprivation might not only increase your appetite and blood sugar leading to weight gain, it can also deprive your body of important hormones.
Fortunately, afternoon naps can be handy at making up for shorter nights at night. This is the best way to try and compensate for the hours you feel you lost during the night. For instance, many people that do not clock the recommended 7 – 9 hours a night often feel groggy at one point during the day. If you’re one of them, consider taking a siesta in the afternoon. It’ll turn out to be magical for sure.
It is also possible that you get an average of 8 hours at night and still rise feeling restless, unfresh, and groggy. Does this describe your situation? Chances are high that you are trying so hard to fight the natural inclinations of your body to sleep in various patterns. You can try experimenting by doing nine hours in bed with one hour ‘me time’ during the night and see how it works.
Of importance to note is that we are not saying that the polyphasic sleep schedule is bad. On the contrary. It works excellently for some guys. No one is the same. It all depends on your schedule and making the best use of the time you have at hand.Do you know:
- How to Sleep Less and Have More Energy?
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- Should I Workout After a Bad Night’s Sleep?
Here are some reasons to practice polyphasic sleep;
More free time
The polyphasic sleeper’s main goal is to remain awake for many hours daily. The additional hours created can be utilized doing things such as working out, attending to hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or working. With the additional hours, you’ll manage to strike a healthy work-life balance.
Improved sleep quality
The focus of polyphasic sleep is quality rather than quantity. When you skip the initial sleep stages, you might spend ample time in the slow-wave and REM sleep phases. This results in enhanced memory and creativity.
Incredible for non-conventional schedules
This type of sleep schedule is efficient for those that can’t clock 7 – 9 hours every night. For instance, folks working overnight shifts or those in the military find polyphasic sleep more manageable than the other types.
As aforementioned, this schedule results in higher levels of creativity. Polyphasic sleepers usually enter the REM sleep stage faster which is a stage associated with creativity. Because they do not enter the lighter stages of sleep, these types of sleepers tend to spend vast time in the REM sleep stage.
The idea of polyphasic sleep intrigues many people as they find it more efficient and a prudent way to spend extra time created. However, every rose has thorns, right? If you are planning to practice it, be aware of the following drawbacks;
Famous Polyphasic Sleepers
Part of the reason for the growing popularity of the polyphasic sleep schedule has to do with its association with prolific politicians, inventors, and artists. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the most popular polyphasic sleeper. A renowned inventor and painter, he allegedly slept for around twenty minutes, several times in a day.
Another famous polyphasic sleeper is R. Buckminster Fuller, an inventor, and architect. Being a vocal supporter of polyphasic sleep schedule, rumor has it that he’s responsible for developing the Dymaxion sleep cycle. Mr. Fuller was a strict adherent of this schedule for around two years. He quit following pressure from both his wife and business partners that insisted on the conventional sleep cycle.
Winston Churchill was not only a committed napper but also a devoted night owl. He slept in the wee morning hours (3 – 8 am) coupled with 2-hour naps in the afternoon daily. According to Churchill, this schedule was magical in enabling him to accomplish up to a day and a half’s worth of work daily.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Napoleon are other polyphasic sleep enthusiasts.