A Complete Guide to Polyphasic Sleep

6 min read

Last Modified 2 August 2021 First Added 2 August 2021

By Nat Took

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 whereas polyphasic sleep cycles are those which involve more than two periods of sleep. We’ll go through just what this means and why you might try this sleep pattern below.

What is polyphasic sleep?

Polyphasic sleep cycles are sleeping patterns that include more than two sleeping segments a day. This doesn’t have to reduce your overall amount of sleep, but most people that 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.

Most of us work on a monophasic sleep cycle, as this works best within societal constraints, but there are other sleep cycles, like polyphasic, to try out if you’re looking to improve your sleep. 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.

Polyphasic sleep schedules

As polyphasic sleep simply means that you have more than two sleep phases in a day, there are different ways you can schedule your sleep. Here are two of the most common sleep schedules for polyphasic sleep:

Everyman sleep cycle

The Everyman cycle is the least extreme polyphasic sleep cycle. With this 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

A Dymaxion sleep schedule has the most time awake in a day, with 22 hours bright-eyed and just 2 hours asleep! Certainly an extreme one, in this sleep schedule, you’ll take four 30-minute naps a day which is roughly around every 6 hours. This can be very hard to adapt to but can be suited to short sleepers. An average day for a Dymaxion sleeper looks 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

Read more about the science of sleep.

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

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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