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You probably already know what biphasic sleep and polyphasic sleep are, even if you have never heard these specific terms before. Both refer to alternative sleep schedules or cycles that differ from the traditional eight hours at a time, or monophasic sleep, that many in the United States and Europe practice today.
So what is biphasic sleep? What is polyphasic sleep? And are they healthy options that promote improved living? To answer these questions, an exploration of monophasic sleep is included as a way to compare and contrast what is known about biphasic and polyphasic.
Let’s find out if you want to experiment with any of these sleep patterns for yourself.
Different sleep patterns
There are three different types of sleep patterns: monophasic, biphasic, and polyphasic. Chances are you sleep in a monophasic pattern but there are other options you may not have heard about before. Each holds value for various people so let’s find out what different sleep patterns exist.
Monophasic sleep pattern:
A monophasic sleep pattern is when you sleep once a day. For most people, this happens at night and lasts for around eight hours. This is usually referred to as the natural human sleep cycle, making it the most common.
Biphasic sleep pattern:
A biphasic sleep pattern is when you break up a full night of sleep into two different periods of time during the day. Another name for this is a siesta nap or siesta sleep schedule.
Less commonly, biphasic sleep is referred to as bimodal sleep, diphasic sleep, or bifurcated sleep.
Polyphasic sleep pattern:
A polyphasic sleep pattern is when you break up a full night of sleep into multiple periods of time throughout the day. Usually, a full day’s rest is achieved through four to six nap intervals.
Are all sleep patterns healthy?
All sleep patterns hold health benefits for some people, but not all sleep patterns hold health benefits for all people. They affect different individuals in different ways and it is usually very easy to tell which works best for you with some brief experimentation.
Is monophasic sleep healthy?
Your internal circadian rhythm determines your sleep-wake cycle. This is natural a cycle for most people as it correlates waking with the sun. Sleeping at night enables us to be productive in the natural light. So yes, monophasic sleep is good for your health.
However, some argue that monophasic has not always been the standard. There is evidence that suggests this did not become normal until the industrial revolution began. This is when people began working for longer periods of time during the day which in turn forced them to sleep in one long shift overnight.
Is biphasic sleep healthy?
Many people around the world believe this is healthier than monophasic. Central and South America, the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, and large parts of Asia have largely adopted this as the primary sleep pattern because it allows them to rest during the hottest part of the day. Countries from these regions practice a biphasic sleep pattern and it is considered the cultural norm.
Some health benefits attributed to biphasic sleep stem from taking naps. Having a nap in the middle of the day allows you to be more alert, have improved memory, increased learning ability, and even an elevated mood after. A second sleep can also provide you with an energy boost which can help you be more productive and efficient.
Biphasic sleep utilizing the segmented sleep schedule is considered by some to be the most natural of all the different types of sleep patterns. This is because it mirrors your natural sleep rhythm and progression through cycles like R.E.M. and deep sleep. Many people wake up naturally in the middle of the night as a reflection of this pattern or simply because they need to go to the restroom, making this feel natural.
One theory briefly previously mentioned suggests that before the industrial revolution, people generally practised segmented sleep. This meant they had a ‘first sleep’ and then a ‘second sleep’ which are about an hour or two apart.
In short, biphasic sleeping is also good for our health, some say even healthier.
Is polyphasic sleep healthy?
Everyone is different and sleep requirements are no exception to this. What works for some, does not work for all. That being said, polyphasic sleep cycles can be healthy for some, but usually only for short periods of time. The majority of people require a monophasic or biphasic sleep pattern for optimal functioning throughout the day.
Some researchers and medical professionals advise against it because it can lead to sleep deprivation resulting in insomnia, which is not good for our health.
In extreme circumstances, it is said to help maintain functionality. Though, this is usually not advised for extended periods of time (see the section on long-term effects below for more on this topic).
Others point to prominent people in the past who allegedly practised this to verify and reaffirm its perceived health benefits. Well-known figures include Nikola Tesla, Napoleon, and Leonardo da Vinci. However, there are not many reliable sources that confirm the legitimacy of claims regarding the sleep preferences and patterns of historical figures.
Ultimately, it is up to you to determine how you feel after experimenting. That is if you choose to do so. Only you can decide what makes you feel the healthiest, alert, and well rested.
Sleep schedule examples
Here are some examples of what alternative sleep schedules look like in practice:
Biphasic sleep schedule example
People who practice a biphasic sleep schedule usually sleep for a longer period of time at night. Five to six hours is typical. This is followed up with a shorter nap, or siesta during the day. It can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. With a longer nap, around 90 minutes, it is possible to complete an entire sleep cycle using the biphasic sleep cycle pattern.
Another biphasic sleep schedule example is commonly referred to as segmented sleep. This is when a person sleeps for a total of six to eight hours overnight but in two shifts.
The term divided sleep can also refer to segmented sleep, but not always. It can also be used to refer to interrupted sleep. This can be caused by internal disturbances like needing to go to the bathroom or external disturbances like a noise that leads to one or more periods of wakefulness.
Polyphasic sleep schedule example
People who practice a polyphasic sleep schedule typically rest between four and six times in a 24-hour period. There are several common combinations that have proven successful for some:
1. Uberman sleep schedule:
The Uberman consists of six naps throughout the day that last for only 30 minutes each. This gives you three total hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
It is also referred to as the da Vinci sleep cycle because it is commonly believed that he practised this pattern to maximize his time awake.
Everyman sleep schedule:
The Everyman consists of one longer period of sleep that typically lasts around three hours followed by three 20-minute naps spaced out throughout the day. This gives you four total hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
Dymaxion sleep schedule:
The Dymaxion consists of four naps throughout the day that last for only 30 minutes. The resting periods are spaced out and taken once every six hours. This gives you two total hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
What are the long-term effects of each different type of sleep cycle?
This varies from person to person but most people share similar responses to each of the different types of sleep schedules. Regardless of who you are, the longer you maintain a specific type, the more you will experience its benefits and/or negative effects.
Monophasic sleep long-term effects:
The long-term effects of monophasic sleep are well known. Most people in the United States, and many more around the world, naturally fall into this sleep pattern so it commonly understood how it will affect you.
According to research, sleeping for a consistent eight hours of sleep each night for an extended period of time will lead to the elimination of sleep deprivation. It will allow your brain and body to function at its highest capability allowing you to be efficient, productive, and alert. It will also help to stabilize your moods and make you more receptive and responsive to others.
Some people may not require quite as much time to achieve these results and may be perfectly fine with as little as six hours of sleep per night. On the other hand, some require a bit more than eight hours of sleep per night to reach optimum functionality. Many have done research on teenagers and children. They, for example, may need up to ten hours of sleep per night to support the growth of their minds and bodies during these stages of development.
Overall, the only long-term effects experienced from monophasic sleep are positive. This does not mean that it is the best option for everyone though.
Biphasic sleep long-term effects:
Many people around the world have practiced biphasic sleep for extended periods of time and it has proven to be healthy for them. Some research even claims this is the true natural sleep cycle of the human body.
The long-term effects of biphasic sleep are the same as monophasic sleep. The only time that this does not work is when you fail to get an adequate nap during the day, or your first sleep or second sleep is significantly interrupted.
Some find that biphasic sleep helps them to wake up earlier and get a lot of things accomplished before they typically would. Of course, the nap later in the day slows down productivity during that time which can counteract the progress made earlier.
Interestingly, many people already experience a lull in productivity in the afternoon, specifically after meals. Sleeping after eating happens regardless which sleep cycle they are practicing. So for many, it is best not to fight it and just rest so they can function on an even higher level once fully recharged. Even young children get to experience biphasic sleep when they have their afternoon naps. This keeps them from becoming overtired and in turn, lets them sleep better at night.
Polyphasic sleep long-term effects:
Polyphasic sleep is mainly adopted by people who wish to maximize their waking hours. They want to sleep as little as possible so they can stay awake and not waste any unnecessary time sleeping. There is little reliable research that suggests this should be sustained for extended periods of time.
Of course, prominent historical figures are often offered as evidence. But, there is no credible research provided that they actually practiced this long enough to be certain of its long-term effects. Without tested scientific trials, it is hard to say what is fact and what is hearsay or exaggeration. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some examples.
1. Leonardo da Vinci
As mentioned before, Leonardo da Vinci is thought to have practiced the Uberman sleep cycle in his daily life. If this is true, he is proof that the mind can function on an extremely high level even if you get only three hours of sleep per night.
2. Buckminster Fuller
An architect, author, designer, inventor, futurist, and theorist; Buckminster Fuller made the term Dymaxion popular through his discussions of architecture and transportation. So it is no surprise his sleep schedule is also named Dymaxion. He claimed to have practiced the Dymaxion sleep cycle for two years. According to him, he eventually was forced to abandon it due to his wife’s objections and difficulty scheduling business meetings.
There is a lot of criticism surrounding these kinds of sleep schedules. It is unclear whether or not your natural circadian rhythms can ever adjust to this pattern. Any actual testing that has been conducted suggests that while you can survive on one of these abbreviated sleep cycles, you will not be functioning on a high level. You will still get to experience the negative effects of sleep deprivation which include irritability, mood swings, low brain functionality, poor memory, and low productivity just to name a few.
Overall, the long-term effects of these do not look positive. Some may be able to perform like this, but most will not be able to sustain it for an extended period of time. It is considered best to only use this sleep pattern under extreme circumstances.
What to take away from all this talk about sleep
In conclusion, biphasic sleep has been practiced by many people around the world for a long time. It is proven to be a healthy, viable option for many. For some, it even surpasses monophasic sleeping in value. Some regions even regard it as part of their culture.
Biphasic sleeping is generally thought of as positive because it is easy to fit into your school or work timetable. Many people enjoy naps and may already be practicing a biphasic sleep cycle without even knowing it. So think about it and sleep on it. Tell us if you would give it a try!