The Different Types of Sleep Cycles
7 min read
Last Modified 26 October 2023 First Added 20 December 2019
Most of us agree that a monophasic sleep pattern – rising in the morning and sleeping at night – is best. However, there are alternative sleep patterns, such as the Everyman, Dymaxion, and Uberman, that vary wildly from what you’re probably used to.
Science proves that these alternative sleeping patterns are feasible and possibly more preferable. Here, we delve into a number of different biphasic and polyphasic sleep patterns, including cycles centred around bursts of 2 and 4 hours sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 85% of mammals sleep in polyphasic patterns, meaning that they sleep in portions throughout the day. The vast majority of humans, however, are monophasic. But is a one block sleeping pattern always best for us? Read on to find out whether a biphasic or Uberman sleeping pattern would be more suitable.
Most of us are familiar with the simplest of sleep cycles – monophasic sleep. This is the most common sleeping cycle and consists of one core sleep at night of between 6-9 hours. This is best suited to people who work the regular 9-5 or schedules that won’t allow short naps in the middle of the day.
The advantage of a monophasic sleep cycle include is that it’s generally the most convenient because it’s just one long period of sleep at night. This offers high flexibility in sleeping and waking hours and means you’ll generally be awake and asleep at the same time as your loved ones. There’s also minimal risk of sleep deprivation if you set aside a solid amount of sleep each night.
But despite being routine, is it the most efficient of sleep cycles? Disadvantages of this standard sleep pattern include inconvenience for those with late shift patterns. Also, this sleep pattern requires a relatively large amount of total sleep, which may be inconvenient for particularly busy people.
Studies have shown that there are other, more pragmatic ways to get some shut-eye. In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch published a seminal paper that suggested humans originally slept in two phases. His book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, shows over 500 references to polyphasic sleep throughout history, from Homer’s Odyssey to modern tribes in Nigeria.
Each of these alternate sleep cycles is polyphasic – which means they involve multiple sleep phases each day. This doesn’t have to reduce your overall amount of sleep, but most people who choose a polyphasic sleep pattern are trying to increase their productivity during the hours that they’re awake. The most common polyphasic sleep schedules only include 4 hours or less sleep, but it’s possible to adapt a polyphasic sleep cycle to the amount of sleep you need.
The biphasic sleep pattern consists of a split sleeping pattern, so around 5-6 hours at night and around 2 hours of sleep at midday. This may be best suited to people living in areas where biphasic sleep is common, for example, the Mediterranean or Latin America.
Whether biphasic sleep is better for you depends on personal preference. By napping in the middle of the day, the advantages include an energy boost on days when you’re particularly tired. Napping also improves memory and cognitive functions, and if taken regularly, short naps after lunch can improve cardiovascular health and reduce stress.
However, for insomniacs, napping perpetuates bad habits and can worsen sleep issues caused by jet lag, stress and illness. So, biphasic sleep schedules are only recommended for those with healthy sleep habits and who have no trouble sleeping at night as a result of 2 hours of sleep in the afternoon.
The Everyman cycle is the least extreme polyphasic sleep cycle. It consists of 3.5 to 4 hours of sleep and three 20-minute naps spread out across the day. This may be suited to those who want to use polyphasic sleep to increase their waking hours but aren’t quite ready for the extremities of the Dymaxion or Uberman cycle.
There are variations of this sleeping pattern, and you can add more naps if needed or increase your large sleeping block if needed. But with this most common polyphasic pattern, your day would look like this:
The advantages of the everyman cycle include that it has longer waking hours than most sleeping cycles, meaning you can achieve a lot more with your day because the naps are brief at only 20 minutes long. Once adapted properly, this routine offers more flexibility than a lot of polyphasic sleep patterns. That being said, this cycle may lead to sleep deprivation, as it consists of a full sleep time of just 4 and a half hours.
A Dymaxion sleep schedule has the most time awake in a day, with 22 hours bright-eyed and just 2 hours asleep!
It consists of 4 x 30-minute naps throughout the day (roughly every 6 hours), which results in 2 hours of sleep time in total. This is best suited to those who don’t require much sleep, or those with the DEC2 gene, also known as short sleepers. This might also be beneficial for those who can fall asleep quickly once they get to bed.
An average day for a Dymaxion sleeper looks like this:
The advantages of the Dymaxion include that it has the most waking hours of any cycle. So this is definitely one for those who prioritise efficiency over sleep. Once adopted, this cycle allows 6 hour waking periods allowing you to get a lot done. The disadvantages, however, are that this cycle is one of the most difficult to adapt to. Chances are, you will be feeling tired throughout the day. Not to mention, sleeping for 30 minutes 4 times a day is likely to be difficult for scheduling.
The Uberman is a polyphasic cycle that consists of 6 to 8 equidistant naps across the day, each lasting 20 minutes. Because this seems the most restrictive, it’s best for those who can follow a rigid polyphasic sleep schedule. Generally, this means the Uberman sleep cycle is only ideal for those who don’t require to be awake for longer than 3.5 hours. That’s because that’s all the waking time you get between naps.
An Uberman’s day may look like:
Advantages of the Uberman cycle include quick naps, each only 20 minutes long. Because you only get 2 hours of sleep each day, you can also get a lot done, and once fully adapted, this cycle means you’d be able to quickly fall asleep anywhere. However, there are obvious disadvantages to this extreme polyphasic sleep cycle. It’s extremely inflexible in sleeping and waking times, which isn’t ideal if you want a social life. Not to mention, only 2 hours of sleep each day would be difficult to adapt to.
In terms of efficiency, the best sleep cycle is whatever works for you. While many may suffer from sleep deprivation from a polyphasic sleep cycle, others may thrive.
Beyond any unusual sleep patterns, it’s massively important that you still get enough sleep, in whatever form that takes. It’s recommended to get roughly around 8 hours of sleep a night. However, this doesn’t have to be exclusive to a monophasic cycle.
And not all of us need eight hours. It’s best to listen to your body when deciding whether biphasic or polyphasic, such as Uberman and Dymaxion, is best for you.
One of our other infographics, 7 Sleep Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making and How to Fix Them, looks at what you can do about the sleep you’re getting now, regardless of pattern.