Around the world, there’s one thing people seem to agree on – that we go to sleep at night and stay awake in the day. But science proves that other sleeping patterns are feasible, and possibly more preferable.  Here, we delve into polyphasic sleep, biphasic sleep,  as well as sleep cycles centred around burst of 2 hours sleep and 4 hours sleep.

4 Sleep Cycles That You Didn't Know About, an infographic guide.

Sleep Cycles That You Didn’t Know About

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 us, however are monophasic, but is that always best for us? Read on to find out which sleeping pattern you’d be best suited to.

Monophasic Sleep Cycle

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 7-9 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 advantages 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.

Alternative Sleep Cycles and Patterns

Monophasic sleep is just one cycle among many. 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 are polyphasic – which means they involve multiple sleep phases each day.

1. Biphasic Sleep 

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.

Is biphasic sleep better?

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 where 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; those who have no trouble sleeping at night as a result of 2 hours sleep in the afternoon.

2. Polyphasic Sleep – The Everyman Sleep Cycle

The Everyman sleep cycle 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.

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.

3. Polyphasic Sleep – The Dymaxion Sleep Cycle

The Dymaxion cycle 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.

Related: Who Are Short Sleepers & Why Don’t They Need Sleep?

The advantages of the Dymaxion include that is has the most waking hours of any cycle, which best for those who prioritise efficiency over sleep. Once adapted this cycle allows 6 hour waking periods so you can get a lot done. The disadvantages however, are that this cycle is one of the most difficult to adapt to and 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.

4. Polyphasic Sleep: The Uberman Sleeping Cycle

The Uberman is a polyphasic cycle which 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. This is generally those who don’t perform activities or work that require longer than 3.5 hours, as that’s all the waking time you get between naps.

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.

What are the most efficient sleep cycles?

In terms of efficiency, the best sleep cycle is whatever works for you. While many may suffer 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. We recommend you get roughly 8 hours sleep a night, however this doesn’t have to be exclusively with a monophasic cycle.

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.

If you have already tried one and find it more effective than the method of us average humans, let us know in the comments!


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