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What Is Polyphasic Sleep and Is It for You?
Imagine this: it’s 3 AM and you’re wide awake, just three hours after falling asleep.
But you’re not staring at the ceiling in bed — you’re getting dressed, brewing coffee and getting ready to start your day. Oh, and you do this every single night. On purpose.
Sound like a crazy idea that’s destined to leave you sleep deprived and exhausted? It’s not.
It’s called polyphasic sleep, and biohackers across the globe are doing it en masse. The reason: they claim that it maximizes productivity throughout the day, along with a host of other benefits.
Biohackers aside… is polyphasic sleep worth a try for you?
To find out, we’ll explore what polyphasic sleep is — and then we’ll dive into the benefits, risks and subtypes of polyphasic sleep, so you can decide whether switching up your sleep schedule is the right move.
How Is Polyphasic Sleep Different from Regular Sleep?
The vast majority of the population sleeps in either a monophasic or biphasic rhythm. They’re both what you might refer to as ‘regular sleep.’
Most people sleep in a monophasic pattern, which is defined by one long nighttime snooze. If you’re a monophasic sleeper, you likely get between 6 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
If you regularly take naps, you’re what’s known as a ‘biphasic sleeper’ — someone who sleeps for a longer period during the night, combined with a shorter period during the day. Toddlers and older adults tend to fit into this category.
Polyphasic sleep is much less common than monophasic and biphasic sleep.
On a polyphasic schedule, you dramatically shorten your nighttime sleep and supplement with multiple strategically-timed naps.
Generally, you have one longer period of sleep (called ‘core sleep,’ which can range anywhere from 90 minutes to 5 hours), followed by several shorter periods of sleep throughout the day (often around 20 minutes each). Most people who practice polyphasic sleep get between 3 and 7 hours of sleep in a full day and night.
Wondering why people do this? Let’s dive a little deeper…
The Types of Polyphasic Sleep
There are many different polyphasic sleep patterns to choose from — the right one for you depends on your lifestyle and preferences.
The three most common types are the Everyman schedule, the Uberman schedule, and the Dymaxion schedule (1):
Everyman: On the Everyman schedule, you’d have a core sleep of 3-5 hours, combined with 2-5 naps of 20 minutes throughout the day. The Everyman is usually the easiest pattern to stick to.
Uberman: This schedule includes 6-8 naps of 20 minutes each throughout the day and night. The Uberman schedule is very difficult, as the total sleep time for a full day is only 2-3 hours.
- Dymaxion: On the Dymaxion schedule, you’d take 30-minute naps every six hours and sleep a total of just 2 hours per day. As you can imagine, this schedule is also very difficult to keep, and likely not workable for the average human.
The Downsides of Polyphasic Sleep
Before you implement your freshly-chosen sleep schedule, we have to warn you: polyphasic sleep isn’t all upsides.
Unsurprisingly, sleeping only two or three hours per night can lead to chronic sleep deprivation in many people. And long-term sleep deprivation can lead to health problems like obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (2).
Lack of sleep over time can also lead to impaired cognition (3), which is the opposite of what most polyphasic sleepers desire.
What’s more, polyphasic sleep often prioritizes REM sleep at the expense of other types of sleep. But all phases of the sleep cycle are important — and if you primarily get REM sleep, you miss out on the benefits of the other three sleep phases (like deep sleep, which is the phase that allows you to feel the most well-rested).
Finally, polyphasic sleepers — especially sleepers who follow one of the more extreme schedules — may have a limited social life and ability to connect with others due to their strict sleep regimen.
So, Should You Try Polyphasic Sleep?
Whether or not polyphasic sleep is right for you depends on your lifestyle, preferences and sleep needs.
There’s evidence to indicate that taking one or two short naps throughout the day may help with productivity and memory recall.
However, most doctors wouldn’t recommend any of the more extreme polyphasic sleep schedules because for many people, they can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, health concerns and impaired judgment and cognition.
People who practice polyphasic sleep and still get the recommended 6-8 hours of sleep may see the benefits of productivity without the downsides of sleep deprivation.
Now, we’re curious: are you going to join the ranks of polyphasic biohackers? Why or why not?
(1) “ALTERNATIVE SLEEP SCHEDULE OVERVIEWS." Polyphasic Society, www.polyphasicsociety.com/polyphasic-sleep/overviews/. Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.
(2) Bayon V. et al. “Sleep debt and obesity." Annals of Medicine, 11 Jul. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25012962
(3) “Consequences of Insufficient Sleep.” Harvard Medical School, healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences. Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.