It’s the time for life and productivity hacks. Every social media platform and blogging platform has dedicated significant resources with time-saving and life-saving hacks that promise to revolutionize the way you live, eat, party and work. Despite the rising popularity of these so-called hacks, Americans complain that they don’t get enough time to do their daily tasks in a day.
As a result, their sleeping time is compromised as they try to squeeze in the remaining tasks for the day. Less than 65% of the US adults get sufficient sleep per night, and the lack of rest reflects adversely on their productivity. That makes us wonder if it was always like this in the previous decades. When there were no smartphones and wireless network invasions, did people still complain about not getting enough shuteye? How much does the uber-competitive nature of the modern society and workforce have to do with sleep deprivation that plagues the 21st-century adults?
The millennials and Generation Z are always talking about fatigue, stress and related symptoms. Medical professionals are coming across a stunning number of cases that point towards excessive physical exertion and mental strain. All of these cases led to the development of the new and time-saving sleeping habit, which foregoes all forms of eternal slumber.
The new sleep pattern in town encourages people to break their long hours of unproductivity into shorter durations of rest. Sometimes, people do not sleep for a continuous eight hours for days. They sleep for two-hour bursts throughout the day to make the most they can from the hours. It’s no longer a fad living in its glass castle in one corner of the web. Polyphasic sleep has its own community, multiple fan pages, dedicated books, research papers and even a Reddit community!
Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, and Salvador Dali have popularized the concept of “eccentric” sleep, where they would only sleep for a few minutes at a stretch. The exact duration and variation of their naps are not precise, except for excerpts from Vinci’s notebook, where he kept detailed logs of his sleeping habits. That kind of a resting pattern was not accessible. The majority of the population prized their sleep and did not see the point in sleeping in fragments to invest more time in frantic bouts of creativity.
Do you need to master polyphasic sleep for enhancing productivity?
Over the last couple of years, people have tried to perfect the segmented sleeping patterns. Yes! Multiple types of short-burst sleeping patterns involve varying durations of core sleep and short naps. One of the most popular versions consists of a core 90-minute sleep and 20-minute naps throughout the day to supplement the energy supply. The length of the resting phases can vary significantly. Therefore, people can spend between 3-hours to 7-hours sleeping during a day. The more dedicated and challenging form of divided sleep consists of regular 20-minute naps throughout the day without a core sleeping phase. During this pattern, people spend about 2 to 3 hours of sleeping time per day.
One of the leading studies on non-conventional sleeping patterns states that restricting your brain and body to short bursts of sleep throughout the day, instead of committing to a full-fledged 8-hour slumber, increases the chances of a person enjoying for restoring REM sleep. It can maximize the time you spend in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The slow wave or REM sleeping phase is the most restorative of all sleeping cycles.
Sleep experts and neurologists often emphasize the importance of the REM phase and slow wave sleep for the restoration of brain activity and redressal of physical stress. It is understandable why many controlled segmented sleep practitioners ditch the other stages of sleep altogether and plunge right into them each time. However, managing your sleep cycle and reaching slow wave activity each time you get a 20-minute shuteye is challenging. It can take months of tedium, drowsiness, and failure. Polyphasic sleep requires an extensive trial, dedication, and persistence. No one can say that saving over two to six hours per day is going to be easy.
Why is resting in short durations challenging and dangerous?
Almost every day, young adults and adults want to find out if they can master polyphasic sleep. It is indeed difficult for all ages, especially for those, who have some form of sleep disorder. There is not much data on its effects on medical databases. Some scientists are keen on treating multi-phase sleep as a form of sleep deprivation. It means they associate it with memory problems, immunity challenges, lifestyle diseases and hormonal disorders. However, no study shows the increasing incidence of such physiological disorders from the concurrent practice of interrupted sleep.
It’s true that sleep deprivation can exacerbate medical conditions and threats of inheritable diseases. Research on the lack of rest shows a spike in blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. However, the lack of enough studies fails to draw the line on sleep deprivation and fragmented sleep.
In fact, many sleep experts believe that gaming your system into entering REM sleep and slow wave sleep by bypassing other sleep stages is not natural or healthy. Evolutionary evidence from the last couple of centuries shows that people have preferred continuous stretches of rest over short bursts of naps. Our brain has evolved for millennia by optimizing the resources available to it and syncing its requisites for rebooting accordingly.
Neurologists and medical experts have reason to believe that going with polyphasic sleep is going against the path of evolution and natural history. Apart from the significant adverse effects on the endocrine system, circulatory system, and nervous system, the amount of rest you get per day can affect your lifespan directly.
Who succeeds at replacing 8-hour slumbers with short-duration naps?
There are a few lucky souls, who don’t need much sleep. These people can do with as less as four to six hours of sleep per day, and they usually don’t have much trouble transitioning to a polyphasic resting practice. However, only about 1% of the people in the world can regularly sleep as less and still maintain their regular level of productivity. The secret to their seemingly undaunted energy reserve is not their diet or the amount of caffeine intake. Research shows that some people inherit a unique copy of the clock genes from their parents that enables them to keep their level of productivity high without “wasting” close to eight hours in bed every day.
In the case of people who need seven to eight hours even to find the matching pair of socks each day before office or school, polyphasic cycles can lead to acute sleep deprivation. Rest does not add up like oranges in a basket – you put two now, then two later and finally four more and the total adds up to eight. Resting is a little more complicated than that. You can think of it as a bad personal loan, during which you borrow the wake time from the future at a costly interest rate.
If you are sleeping 1 hour less every day for four days, you will need more than a whole night’s rest on the fifth day to make up for it. Depriving yourself of sleep on a regular basis for socializing, watching the next episode of a TV series or for chatting with your significant other, often leads to unpredictable oversleeping within the next few days. In case you’re wondering if you could sleep less for five days a week and make up for it on the weekends, experts will tell you that it is a terrible idea.
Polyphasic sleeping patterns vs. sleep deprivation
Experiencing sleep deprivation is like going through a bad hangover. You will feel tired, pained, sleepy, and nauseous from time to time throughout the next 24 hours. There is enough evidence to show that our immediate ancestors are natural polyphasic sleepers. Several cohorts of orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos usually rest in short durations. This practice helps them stay alert when the predators are near, and it also helps them look for food during opportune moments.
Evidence from explorations of cave sites and ancient civilization also suggests that people in earlier times believed in sleeping for shorter durations throughout the day. However, the discovery also suggests that the practice is more environmental than biological. It could have aided the ancient human beings in their hunting-gathering lifestyles since it does not seem to contribute much to an agriculture-based civilization.
Several species of animals sleep in short cycles throughout their lives (from infancy to adulthood), but scientists are skeptical about the usefulness of adopting multi-phase sleep among adult human beings. The current nature of education, work and lifestyle do not aid the practice of polyphasic sleep. It’s much easier for a freelancer, homemaker, independent business owner or a self-employed individual to stick to a polyphasic resting cycle. In the case of a majority of human adults, the circadian genes execute cascading actions that lead to a prelude of sleep at around 9 pm to 10 pm each day, and this succeeds a sleeping cycle that ends between 6 am, and 8 am each day.
Is biphasic sleep a distinct form of polyphasic sleep?
Biphasic sleep is more common than polyphasic sleep. In fact, several cultures across the globe practice divided rest and have been doing so for centuries. Most people in Spain practice siesta or afternoon naps. People in parts of the Middle East and South East Asian countries also believe in napping during the peak hours of the day to dissipate fatigue and stress. It is like a quick rebooting mechanism that allows them to focus on the rest of the day with renewed vigor.
Variants of the afternoon nap have been around for centuries in several European cultures as well. In the early fourteenth and fifteenth century, Parisians often woke up after an initial four-hour slumber to write, read, play indoor games, have sex and pray. The interval would usually last for two hours, and then they would go back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
Therefore, a sleeping pattern is usually biphasic when a person sleeps in two distinct periods throughout the day. It turns polyphasic when more than two phases of sleep-wake cycles are involved in the process. In spite of the preached advantages of different modern and not-so-modern sleep patterns, people like to stick to monophasic sleep. You can think of it as the “norm” of the contemporary culture, where people spend at least eight straight hours in office or school.
There is not enough time for a nap during the office break. It is popular in a handful of the Asian and European companies to grant their employees nap-breaks during the regular work hours. Most of these enterprises have dedicated nap rooms. It is gradually picking up popularity among colleges, schools and western offices since daytime naps have the power to refresh memory, cognitive abilities, and boost the productivity of a person, irrespective of their age.
What are the different types of polyphasic sleep popular today?
We have been speaking about polyphasic sleep and the other forms of sleep that people practice across the world, but we have not mentioned the different types of polyphasic rests that are already popular. Although it sounds pretty straightforward, it has multiple variants. Depending on which one suits the resting needs and work hours, people adopt either one throughout the lifetime or switch from one to another over the months.
Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Sleep
Popular literature shows that Buckminster Fuller slept for only about two hours per day for over two years. Contrary to Voltaire or Balzac, who drank about 50 cups of coffee per day, he solely relied on the smart distribution of the naps to enjoy the same invigorating effects. He devised life hacks that could minimize the time a person spends sleeping and maximize his output throughout the day.
Fuller is one of the revolutionaries, albeit controversial thinkers of today, who have tried and tested several theories on himself before releasing them to the market. According to his philosophy of polyphasic sleep, human beings have a primary store of energy and a secondary reserve. The first repertoire takes a short while to replenish, whereas the second one takes much longer. He further stated that most artists and researchers could perform uniformly throughout the years, due to their ability to selectively replenish the primary reserve instead of the secondary once. One of his most controversial yet popular theories is the Dymaxion sleep theory. Only the ones with a mutated DEC2 gene can follow this schedule, and it is a hypothesis that Fuller was one of them.
The classic Dymaxion sleep schedule consists of evenly spaced four thirty-minute naps. Therefore, you should be able to dedicate only about two hours every twenty-four hours for resting. Over the last few decades, the comprising naps and their distributions took a more realistic form. It’s through the realistic Dymaxion schedule people rest for 1.5 hours during the night and in short bursts of 30-minutes, 30-minutes and 20-minutes throughout the day. Each resting phase is 4-hours, 5-hours, 6-hours, and 6.2-hours away from each other throughout the day.
Uberman Sleep Cycle
The first known Uberman sleeper was Puredoxyk. He had developed a sleeping schedule that consists of six 20-minute naps entirely. The Uberman sleeping schedule takes months of practice, self-control, determination and active immunity to failure. The replacement of a six to eight-hour long slumber with six counts of short naps is not going to be easy. Firstly, you will need to renounce your love for sleep altogether and see it as another chore of the day. If you have any sentiments for the warm afternoon snuggles and cold winter morning sleep-ins, you will not succeed at the Uberman.
The exaptation process is a jolt to the system for most regular Joes who are used to 8-hour long resting phases. This phase involves a 24 to 36 hour waking period. The exact duration of this state can vary since people usually wait for the second wind or the second round of energy to hit them as they are going through the deprivation state. As the second wind hits, people begin napping for every 1.5 to 2 hours. Sometimes, it is wiser to enter the adaptation phase directly. The adaptation phase is easier to understand and execute as compared to the exaptation phase. According to this step, you need to take scheduled naps every 3 to 4 hours. You need to be punctual about these hours. You cannot hasten the rests because you are feeling sluggish or you cannot defer them to watch another episode of your favorite TV series.
Plunging into adaptation by exempting the exaptation can land you in the middle of the zombie mode. If you have a reliable guidance system that can help you with exaptation, you should always see it through. Sometimes, people need more than a month to adapt to their new sleeping cycles without feeling sleep deprived and fatigued. There are several sub-variants of the Uberman including the Long Naps at night and non-equidistant Uberman. Research into the mechanics of Uberman shows that only 5% of the global population can get by on this one.
Everyman Sleep Schedule
Although it is famous as the Everyman sleep schedule, it is impossible for every human being to get as less sleep and yet remain functional throughout the day. The everyman schedule came after the Uberman schedule, and they share quite a few similarities. Both of them require the person to retrain their internal circadian rhythms for adjusting to a new sleeping time and duration. One of the more famous examples of this schedule includes four phases of naps. The first one between 9 pm and 12:30 am, the second one at 4:10 am, the third one at 8:10 am and the final one at 2:40 pm.
A reliable alarm or a dedicated sleep management application on your smartphone is mandatory to be able to adopt this rather “erratic” resting habit. Always keep the core sleep duration as close to dusk hours as possible. It will give you enough restorative sleep. People, who have practiced the different polyphasic sleeping patterns throughout their lives state that the everyman schedule is more relaxed than Fuller’s Dymaxion or Puredoxyk’s Uberman. You can see that Everyman does not consist of regularly spaced naps and keeps people from napping multiple times during the afternoon. Thankfully, it is also more flexible than other predominant poly-sleep patterns. A longer sleeper can extend one of the naps (not the core sleep) to replenish their energy reserve for the day.
How does credible research shed light on the effects of controlled fragmented sleep on the human mind and body?
Dr. Claudio Stampi is the celebrity of polyphasic sleep research. There is no one more aware of the effects of it on human life and culture than him. During his medical career, he has studied sailing champions for their varying sleep schedules, and he has studied the impact of different sleeping habits among the NASA astronauts. Apart from in-vivo studies outside a laboratory setup, he has conducted several in-Virto experiments that highlight the effects of polyphasic sleep in controlled laboratory conditions. His studies have paved the path for all future research on the necessities of optimal sleep for the restoration of brain activity in mammals. His work gives the busy millennials a way to cheat rest and remain just as active as the baby boomers, who swear by 8-hours of sleep.
Recent research shows that there is no better way to counter the effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation than by seeking naps during opportune moments. Extending the rest remains irrelevant as long as you get to enter the REM state and slow wave state during the resting phase. You can nap twice, thrice or even six times throughout the day to satiate the need for your body’s rejuvenation. Dr. Stampi formulated his theories and studies on the sleeping habits of hobby sailors and professional sailors during long distance boat racing.
Dr. Stampi’s work adds the touch of science every logical man craves. Using polysomnographic tools, he highlights the crests and troughs of alertness and relaxedness of a person, who may be adapting to a new resting routine. While most people believe that his research goal is to popularize polyphasic sleep, he aims to minimize sleep deprivation among the time-challenged youth. Over the years, his research has played a vital role in determining the different factors that can improve rest and rejuvenation among the sleepers.
How does your brain activity depend on sleep?
We have experienced the lack of enough sleep, or the curse of the alarm clock right when we’re about to find out the ending of a beautiful dream. However, most of us do not understand why complete sleep is necessary for us. Why do our body and brain seem to shut down without sufficient rest? Interestingly, understanding the relationship between our mind and sleep becomes straightforward when we switch to a computer metaphor. If you think of your daytime activity as the time the computer writes new data into the RAM, then REM is synonymous with the disk fragmentation step. During this step, the data from the RAM moves to the long-term storage. It’s an automated cycle, and it takes some time (or at least, it used to even a couple of years ago) for complete data transfer.
Rebooting the PC before complete data transfer will result in fragmented data on the long-term storage that makes no sense. This long-term storage is the technological equivalent of the hippocampus of the human brain. At night, when a person enters the REM stage, the process of transfer of data from the short-term storage space to the hippocampus begins. In fact, melatonin is a neuro-hormone that’s responsible for the control of the duration of these stages. The alarm clock is like the ill-timed reboot option that can result in breakdown and corruption of your data (memories). It’s one of the reasons why teachers, and education specialists always insist on complete rest before the exams. Experiencing full REM cycles will help you remember the lessons, numbers, names, and dates much better. Smart academicians and students make flash cards that they use to jog their memory immediately before sleep.
Why would polyphasic sleep is not possible without external wakeup calls?
Sleep experts around the world agree that using alarm clocks is not healthy for you. However, our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have used different types of wake up calls for centuries now. Although it is unhealthy, alarm clocks do aid in polyphasic sleep, by alerting the new sleepers when it is time to nap and when it is time for them to wake up. In spite of the deleterious effects of sudden awakening from REM sleep, alarm clocks can help you master the art of multiple naps throughout the day. The sleeping habits and quirks of Thomas Jefferson, Sir Winston Churchill and Thomas A. Edison show us that fragmented sleep is necessary to bring out the inner genius in some instances.
Polyphasic sleep is impossible to master with some external expert help. Here are the reasons you must be struggling with it right now.
- Many types of polyphasic sleep schedules require the sleeper to nap during the morning. In general, unless you are going through a shift change at work or you have not slept for days before, you will find it impossible to nap during the early morning hours. There isn’t enough melatonin in your body to enable you to rest during this time of the day. You might end up wasting a couple of hours in the process.
- Napping during the afternoon is much more comfortable than falling asleep in the morning. The mental energy and physical energy take a hit, although the level of the sleepy hormone is still not significantly high. The slack in energy levels might enable you to take a nap at around 2 or 3 pm. It is the ordinary siesta time for many people around the country, and it is quite a natural time to fall asleep.
- Evenings are more difficult than afternoon naps since the 21st century believes in socializing through websites or face-to-face in bars and pubs. Sometimes, these soirees go on until midnight. Only those, who are ready to sacrifice an active social life and family life can embrace an evening nap. Although, evening naps are usually 20 to 30 minutes in duration only, imagine trying to fall asleep while your roommate is watching the Game of Thrones or your kid is running around the house with his or her loudest toy!
- At night, falling asleep for a nap is not tricky, waking up after a brief period is. Imagine waking up at 12:30 am or 1:00 am beside your significant other while they are in a deep sleep, unbothered by the ordeals of tomorrow! Waking up in the middle of the night with the hope of catching a wink of sleep in the morning is impossible without an alarm clock. Polyphasic sleepers prefer to sleep alone since the alarm clock wakes anyone up, who shares the bed. Waking up naturally from a night’s slumber after only 2 or 3 hours is not just tricky, but it is impossible without some help from your SO or your mom.
Getting people on board with the “polyphasic sleep insanity” is almost impossible. When you start off with the crazy short bursts of rests and second wind energy cycles throughout the day, it will be almost impossible for you to explain to your peers, friends, and family that you are not losing your marbles. Mastering polyphasic sleep takes months of practice, and failure is a daily part of it. The idea is never to give up even when you oversleep or fail to fall asleep during one nap hour. Always remember that the routine is not ideal for students, 9-to-5 office goers, dedicated homemakers, and children. Nonetheless, you can make a few modifications to the method to suit your work-life schedule.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic