We’re supposed to spend a third of our life in bed, it’s something we don’t need to think about. Sleeping has and will always be an integral part of our life. However scientists still have very little idea as to what’s truly happening when we sleep or why its so vital – we just know it’s important.
You may have read a few of my other articles on sleep including it’s importance and some of the worrying consequences we could face should be deprived.
But is there a way to cheat the system? What if there was a way to get as little as 2 hours of sleep a day and still thrive? Legendary genius innovators like Leonardo da vinci and nikola tesla were know for being able to do this, and it’s called polyphasic sleep.
What is Polyphasic sleep and how does it work?
Polyphasic sleep is the ability to break apart ones sleep cycle into multiple segments throughout the day and is centred around having a core sleep hours and a power naps. In a standard sleep cycle, there are approximately 4 stages of sleep that take approximately 90 minutes to complete but the most important one in polyphasic sleeping is REM (rapid eye movement). Still to this day no one knows exactly what happens in rem, however it’s linked mostly to the time when we dream and process memories and we know it’s incredibly taking on the brain and therefore we spend only 20-25% our time in REM during sleep.
Polyphasic sleep is centered around the idea that because REM is the most important part of our sleep cycle, we’re able to engineer our sleep patterns that we can get into REM faster, increase the percentage of time we spend in REM while bypassing the time spend in the other phases. By still being able to get our 2 hours of REM every 24 hours, the theory is that we should be able to severely reduce the overall time we sleep in bed while simultaneously waking up and feeling refreshed.
But does it work?
The short answer is yes.
But at what cost?
The different types of polyphasic sleeping patterns
The concept of polyphasic sleeping is a fairly simple one but there are numerous ways to do it ranging from the familiar afternoon siesta to a day spread with power naps. I’ve listed the different methods below inspired by Tim Ferriss:
The most popular method of sleeping in western culture, one core sleeping time of approximately 7-8 hours.
The Siesta –
A core sleeping time in the night of approximately 6 hours with a 20 minute nap in the day.
The Everyman (or woman)
A core sleeping time in the night of approximately 4.5 hours with 2 x 20 minute naps throughout the day.
The Everyman (or woman) – 3 nap
A core sleeping time in the night of approximately 3 hours with 3 x 20 minute naps throughout the day.
The Everyman (or woman) – 4 nap
A core sleeping time in the night of approximately 1.5 hours with 4/5 x 20 minute naps throughout the day.
6 x 20 minute naps spread evenly throughout a 24 hour period
The further down the list we go, the less amount of sleep that is required to stay refreshed. Incredible!
There is a price to pay. The more extreme that your sleep regiment becomes, the more disciplined your nap times must be, each of these taking approximately a week to get into.
So has this been done by ordinary people? Yes.
Have people been able to consistently give themselves an extra 6 hours per day of time while feeling refreshed Yes
But what do the sleep doctors think?
Are Polyphasic sleep cycles safe in the long term?
According to Dr Alon Avidan, the director of the University of California Sleep Disorders Center, he states in an article with time magazine that;
“If individuals who sleep in a fragmented fashion end up sleeping less overall, that has health consequences, including cognitive impairment, memory problems and a higher risk of accidents”.
He goes on to say that his primary concern is that despite being able to engineer a higher percentage or REM throughout sleep cycles, the other stages that are being abandoned are still like to have important value.
Although if we look at the rest of the animal kingdom, it’s common to see polyphasic sleeping occur in a multitude of close related mammals – including our own babies. Yet if we look at the research amongst health of night workers, studies have shown the people who work across the night shift are more likely to suffer from heart problems and shorter overall life spans.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, scientists still know very little about the full inner workings of a good night sleep.
So what do we make of Polyphasic sleep?
In conclusion, it’s absolutely possible to “get by” with broken sleep cycles and still function in the way we desire, however Is there much evidence that supports any long term health benefits?….. The jury is still out.
If you’re looking to improve your general sense of sleep quality and hygiene – why not check out my free guide to a great night’s sleep below!
Well I don’t know about you but all this talk of sleep as tired me out! I’m off for a beautiful afternoon siesta. Good day!