Polyphasic Sleep: A Complete Guide

6 Min Read | By Nat Took

Last Modified 31 October 2023   First Added 2 August 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Sleep is an important part of our daily routine and getting enough sleep is vital. Most people will aim to get their full amount of shut-eye in one long sleep during the night. This is known as monophasic sleep. But it isn’t the only option. There are countless sleep styles which alternate from the typical single sleep stretch. In this article, we’ll explore polyphasic sleep cycles but be sure to read about biphasic sleep patterns too.

What is polyphasic sleep?

Polyphasic sleep is a pattern that includes more than two sleeping segments a day. They can include a longer sleep at night with two or three naps throughout the day or can be extreme, where you only sleep for 2 hours in every 24, split across four 30-minute naps.

Typically though, adopting a polyphasic sleep pattern doesn’t require reducing your overall amount of sleep. Most often, people adopting one of these routines are trying to increase productivity during their waking hours.

So, while plenty of polyphasic sleep schedules include 4 hours or less sleep, it is possible to adapt one of these patterns to the amount of sleep you need.

Another alternative is a biphasic sleep cycle. This is where you sleep in two segments, which can be great for flexible working and is common in Mediterranean and Latin areas.

Is polyphasic sleep healthy?

There is no scientific evidence that a polyphasic sleep cycle is more advantageous than other sleep cycles. There’s also very little evidence to show that these sleep cycles improve mental clarity and productivity. However, these cycles do allow more productivity as you’re awake for longer. But, with such limited sleep, it’s important to be aware of the risk of other health issues that come along with chronic sleep deprivation.

Despite the lack of research, people who adopt this type of sleep cycle believe that there are benefits, but it’s also important to understand the risks.

Potential benefits of a polyphasic sleep schedule

Despite very little evidence of polyphasic sleep being a healthy choice, some people find benefits in trying it. Some famous icons are said to have a polyphasic sleep cycle, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Cristiano Ronaldo. Here are some potential benefits:

  • Gives the opportunity to increase productivity
  • Potential to ‘train’ the brain to fall into deep sleep quicker
  • Reflects the circadian desire to take afternoon naps
  • It may help to reduce insomnia-related stress
  • Sustained adenosine levels may improve mental clarity
  • Accommodates irregular work schedules

Potential cons to a polyphasic sleep cycle

Due to the limited sleep hours in a polyphasic sleep pattern, there are risks associated with it. However, there’s also very little scientific research to prove that this sleeping pattern is unhealthy. Here are some potential cons of adopting this sleep routine:

  • Can lead to sleep deprivation
  • Doesn’t fit with societal norms, so can be difficult/impossible for work
  • Does not fit most people’s circadian rhythm
  • Day-time naps can be easily disturbed, meaning daily sleep needs may not be met
  • May impair the production of hormones that are dependant on day and night patterns
  • The effects of seasonal daylight patterns may feel more jarring

Examples of polyphasic sleep

As mentioned, there are different ways to structure polyphasic sleep. Those looking to introduce three or more sleep sessions into their day without losing out on sleep are best creating their own schedule. Make it work around your responsibilities and lifestyle and ensure you get at least one longer stretch of sleep.

For those looking to drastically reduce the amount of time they sleep, here are two of the most talked about polyphasic cycles:

Everyman sleep cycle

In the Everyman sleep schedule, you will have a 3-hour block of sleep during the night and then three 20-minute naps throughout the day. So, in total, you have 4 hours of sleep each day. 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:

  • 00:00 to 03:00 – Main sleeping block
  • 03:00 to 08:00 – Awake
  • 08:00 to 08:20 – Nap
  • 08:20 to 13:20 – Awake
  • 13:20 to 13:40 – Nap
  • 13:40 to 18:40 – Awake
  • 18:40 to 19:00 – Nap
  • 19:00 to 00:00 – Awake

Dymaxion sleep cycle

The Dymaxion sleep schedule is extreme to say the least. It consists of 22 hours awake with only 2 hours of sleep. The theory is that by taking four 30-minute naps a day, you can achieve enough restorative, deep sleep to function well.

Clearly, this would require plenty of training to get used to and really, it’s likely only achievable for short sleepers. While we wouldn’t recommend aiming for this style of sleep, an average day for a Dymaxion sleeper would look like this:

  • 00:00 to 00:30 – Nap
  • 00:30 to 06:00 – Awake
  • 06:00 to 06:30 – Nap
  • 06:30 to 12:00 – Awake
  • 12:00 to 12:30 – Nap
  • 12:30 to 18:00 – Awake
  • 18:00 to 18:30 – Nap

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Who would choose a polyphasic sleep pattern?

Most of us need around 8 hours of sleep a night, so who would choose a polyphasic sleep pattern that gives you so little sleep? Firstly, not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep, some people need more and others need less. It’s down to many factors such as genes and personal preference.

A polyphasic sleep cycle can potentially suit some people, and some swear by it. For others, this sleeping pattern is a complete nightmare. It all depends on your own preferences, lifestyle, and genetics. If you find it hard to sleep through the night or are a ‘short sleeper’, a polyphasic sleep pattern could be best for you.

Some people may choose to have polyphasic sleep for short-term periods. This includes students who have a lot on, those that are traveling a lot and crossing several time zones, or those that have irregular work schedules.

How to try a polyphasic sleep routine

If you think that a polyphasic routine may suit you, or you have a busy time coming up where it could be beneficial, it’s important to only try it for the short term, to begin with.

At the start, don’t limit your total hours of sleep, going from 8 hours sleep a day to 2 hours will be a huge shock to the system! Instead, reduce your long block of sleep for a few hours and then nap for the amount you have missed. So, if you normally sleep for 8 hours a night, reduce this block to 6 hours and have two 1-hour naps during the day at regular intervals.

For most people, this sleep pattern will only be sustainable for a short period, so if you start to feel the effects of sleep deprivation, move back to a biphasic or monophasic pattern.

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