Healthy Sleep Cycles for Flexible Working

5 min read

Last Modified 16 February 2021 First Added 4 January 2021

By Nat Took

With 2020 being the year of home working, many people have found extra flexibility around their work life. This is likely to continue into 2021. The benefits are wide-ranging. It’s not just being able to pop out to get the kids to and from school but also the ability to slip into your natural sleep cycle.

Now that many of us are working flexibly, we can see that the 9-5 workday doesn’t suit everyone. For example, night owls can struggle with this routine and research suggests that it can cause sleep deprivation, negatively affecting their health. So, if you struggle with the 9-5 routine and have the ability to use flexible working hours, now is the time to find your healthy sleep cycle.

Natural sleep cycles

When you sleep throughout the night, you go through a number of sleep cycles. A full cycle of sleep is repeated every 90 to 110 minutes. Each cycle is made up of stages, NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). You can find out more about these stages in our post about sleep cycles.

When you sleep, it’s important that you complete NREM. The third stage of NREM is known as slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep. During this stage, your body is fully relaxed, and you won’t wake easily. Waking during this sleep stage can make you feel groggy.

close up of clock

Related: Deep Sleep

Although in the UK we tend to work on sleeping throughout the night, there are other sleep patterns you can use, if you’re able to work the hours you want. So long as you complete sleep cycles while you sleep, and as long as it matches your body clock, you can keep to different hours and still be healthy. Different sleep cycles include:

Monophasic: This sleep cycle is the one that we tend to stick to in the UK. In this cycle, you sleep once during a 24-hour period, usually for 7-9 hours.

Biphasic: A biphasic sleep cycle includes two instances of sleep in a 24-hour period. This is largely seen in Mediterranean countries, where you sleep for 5-6 hours at night and then nap in the afternoon. It’s commonly known as a siesta.

Polyphasic: There are several types of polyphasic sleep cycles to choose from. These cycles have lots of shorter periods of sleep. You can read more about them in our post about alternative sleeping cycles.

Which sleep cycle should you choose for flexible working?

Which is the healthiest sleeping cycle for you depends on your own body clock. Genetics play a role in whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, but generally a monophasic or biphasic cycle suit the majority of people, as these are most convenient. Discovering when you’re most alert and when you get tired can help you to figure out the healthiest sleep routine for you. To do this, figure out what your sleep chronotype is.

Woman yawning at work

Bear chronotype: This is the most common chronotype. If you are a bear you will perform best in the morning and feel a slight dip of energy in the afternoon.

Wolf chronotype: These are the night-owls. Those with a wolf chronotype don’t do well with early mornings and perform better at night.

Dolphin chronotype: People with this chronotype tend to struggle with sleep. Dolphins are incredibly light sleepers.

Lion chronotype: Lions are the early birds. They like to rise early but are normally burnt out by 5pm.

Related: What Are Sleep Chronotypes & Which One Am I

Sleep cycles for your sleep chronotype

Once you’ve figured out your sleep chronotype, you can find a sleep cycle that best matches your body. Depending on what’s best for you, you can choose a healthy sleep cycle to match your flexible working and allow yourself to be as productive as possible.

If you’re a lion chronotype, a biphasic sleep pattern could be best for you. This will allow you to rise early and get your work done in the morning. Then avoid burn-out by having a nap in the afternoon. Alternatively, a monophasic pattern could suit you, just rise as early as you want and finish work earlier than 5pm.

For bear chronotypes, a monophasic sleep cycle works well. Just ensure you have your most challenging tasks completed by the time your energy dips in the afternoon. Alternately, choose a biphasic cycle and nap at the time your energy starts to dip. This will mean you work a little later into the evening, but with renewed energy.

A wolf chronotype may do well to choose a biphasic sleep cycle. This is especially true if you have a commitment earlier than you like, that way you can nap in the other room. Or if flexible working allows, simply rise later and work into the evening, if you prefer a monophasic cycle.

Those with a dolphin chronotype may find discovering their perfect sleeping pattern a little difficult. A polyphasic cycle may work best. Experiment with sleeping when you’re tired and working when you’re alert.

woman sliming in sleep

Related: Is Your Daily Routine Harming Your Sleep?

In conclusion, it may take a bit of time to find a healthy sleep cycle to suit your flexible working. But with the ability to work at hours that best suit you, you have the means to discover what works. Finding your healthy sleep cycle can help you to be more productive at your work and add a sense of balance to your life. One that is centred around your needs, not your employers.

Have you changed your sleeping pattern to better match your flexible working? Let us know in the comments below!

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