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You should, ideally, get 7-9 hours of sleep each night with few to no interruptions. This type of sleep where you snooze in one continuous segment is called monophasic sleep. Believe it or not, it is a surprisingly recent phenomena in human history.
For most of the time man has been around, people slept in multiple periods, usually two. This is called biphasic sleep. There’s also polyphasic sleep, where you sleep more than two segments throughout the day.
Polyphasic sleep was and is typically common with famous and eccentric people like Nikola Tesla and Winston Churchill. Today, people practice polyphasic sleep to try and get more out of their day. But whether polyphasic sleep improves productivity is something research has yet to prove.
We also don't know what potential effects it has on one’s health, since it is usually associated with sleep deprivation.
Here are five types of polyphasic sleep patterns you probably shouldn’t attempt. Getting a solid night of sleep is still the best proven way of being productive, energetic and healthy.
A triphasic sleep pattern is where you split up your sleep into three main segments. There are different ways of segmenting your sleep into a triphasic pattern.
One of them involves sleeping for 1.5 hours within each 8 hour block of the day. The sleep periods are equally spaced. By the end of 24 hours, you will have slept for 4.5 hours.
Of course, you can adjust the triphasic pattern to your preference. For instance, you can make one of the segments longer. So instead of 1.5 hours, you sleep for 3 hours for a total sleep time of 6 hours.
To make it easier to adapt to the triphasic sleep schedule, many people prefer to have two of the sleeping segments at night. You can have the first one in the early evening, wake up sometime in the middle of the night, then go back to sleep towards early morning. You then take a long nap during the day.
Biphasic sleep is the least extreme type of segmented sleep patterns. You split your sleep into two main segments. Actually, most of us have probably experienced biphasic sleep.
If you regularly take a nap in the afternoon in addition to your regular nightly sleep, that’s biphasic sleep. You can deliberately reduce your nighttime sleep to 4-6 hours then take a long 1+ hour nap during the day. This pattern can be helpful if you prefer to stay up late at night or wake up very early.
Another way to segment biphasic sleep is having two sleeping periods at night. This is actually how some early societies slept before industrialization ushered in monophasic sleep. You sleep early in the evening, stay awake for 1-3 hours in the middle of the night, then sleep again till morning.
One thing you’ll notice about most polyphasic sleep schedules is that they throw out the ‘8 hours of sleep’ golden rule out of the window. Some patterns will cut down total sleeping time to as few as 2 hours in an effort to increase productivity.
Uberman is one of these extreme polyphasic sleep patterns. Depending on how you segment your sleep, total sleep time is typically 2-3 hours.
One common pattern involves sleeping for 30 minutes every four hours. That totals up to 6 sleep segments and 3 hours total sleep time.
A more extreme version cuts down the naps to just 20 minutes every four hours. So you sleep for only 2 hours out of 24 hours.
The Everyman schedule is a bit less brutal, but it still halves the regular 8hr sleep time to four hours. You sleep for three hours at night then take three 20 minute naps throughout the day.
The Everyman sleep cycle came about as a fallback for people who were unable to hack the extreme Uberman pattern. There are actually longer and easier versions of Everyman sleep such as where you sleep for a longer period at night (4 or 5 hours) then take one or two naps during the day.
Some people also try Everyman as a way to condition their body for Uberman sleep.
Dymaxion is another extreme type of sleep pattern, typically having only two hours of total sleep time. It’s almost similar to Uberman. You sleep for 30 minutes every four hours, which adds up to 2 hours of sleep.
Is Polyphasic Sleep Really Possible?
If you go on reddit and other forums, you’ll certainly find people who have managed polyphasic sleep. But generally, these sleep patterns are extremely difficult to adapt to and most people cannot stick with them for long.
Uberman and Dymaxion can be especially brutal on your body, causing issues like hallucinations, vivid dreams and extreme fatigue.
People who manage a polyphasic sleep schedule are usually only able to do it for a limited period. But there are people who are naturally capable of such short sleep cycles. A mutation in the gene DEC2 can make it possible to sleep for less time without any adverse effects on the body.
But if you have normal sleep genes, it’s going to be hard to hack your way to 2 hours of sleep. If you really want to try polyphasic sleep, consider less extreme schedules like triphasic or biphasic sleep. Structure your segments so that you still get at least 6 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
Generally, however, there is no evidence that we can successfully adapt to a different sleep pattern. That’s why shift workers who work unusual hours are often diagnosed with shift work sleep disorder. The body simply doesn't get used to a weird sleeping pattern.
The natural circadian clock says you go to sleep in the evening and wake up in the morning. Anything different is more likely to leave you sleep deprived, fatigued and at a higher risk of various health problems.
Our advice is to try and get high quality nighttime sleep. There is plenty of evidence that 7-9 hours of regular monophasic sleep is excellent for productivity, moods, energy and overall health. Look for ways to get more out of your day instead of stealing from your precious sleep time.