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Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy?

Sleep Science · 07/02/19

Sleep Phases - Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy?

Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy?

 

Many people experience a lack of sleep and try to sneak in a nap whenever they could. Despite the common belief that sleeping longer is better for your brain and productivity, there is a small group of individuals experimenting with the benefits of spending less time sleeping, and more time being productively awake. They are called polyphasic sleepers. These people are pursuing a way to increase productivity that is rumored to have fueled great minds such as Tesla’s inventor, Elon Musk, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo DaVinci. A polyphasic sleep pattern is an emerging trend among young professionals trying to increase productive hours. But what is this type of sleep pattern, and is polyphasic sleep healthy for you?

 

Polyphasic Sleep

What is Polyphasic Sleep?

 

People are commonly monophasic sleepers, which means that they sleep for one long period, usually during the night. On the other hand, polyphasic sleepers for brief periods throughout a 24 period, instead of just during the night.

There are several schedules that polyphasic sleepers follow, but the most popular involves a “core” sleep that can range from 90 minutes to 6 full hours and 20-minute naps to supplement it. The core sleep and the number of short sleep bursts vary from person to person, but a total of 3-7 hours of sleep should occur every 24 hours. Some polyphasic sleepers seek rest in reclining chairs to get their much-needed naps. Others find adjustable beds may lead to a better sleep experience than recliners.

 

Polyphasic Sleep

Polyphasic sleep advocates claim that spacing out sleep helps maximize the amount of time you spend in both the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and slow wave sleep, as your body resorts to these stages when it is tired. The REM sleep phase assists with mood regulation and memory storage. Dreaming takes place during REM sleep. Slow wave sleep, when a person achieves the deepest sleep, is the most restorative stage of rest. For polyphasic sleepers, other phases of sleep cycles are irrelevant, and eliminating them allows them to have more productive hours while awake. For some though, this is easier said, than done.

When did people start sleeping in polyphasic sleep phases?

There is historical evidence proving that humans are naturally biphasic sleepers.[1] Our ancestors tended to sleep in groups which might have led to increased fragmented sleeping patterns. Depending on the season and environment, they might have exceeded their natural sleep needs, eventually leading to more extended periods of wakefulness during the night. There is also historical evidence suggesting that sleeping at night was divided in half by a period of wakefulness. This was often the case for people who worked as sailors, night watchers, and religious communities with midnight matin services. Later on, this type of sleep was referred to as first and second sleep.

 

Polyphasic Sleep

The hours between the two sleep periods were long enough to include work, small meals, discussions, and other social activities. This period of wakefulness may have caused people to exceed their ability to sleep. Generally, the two-phase sleep pattern total of sleep hours resulted in a monophasic sleeping.

As our lives get busier, some people are interested in using a modified sleep-wake pattern to maximize productivity and reduce total sleep hours. This trend may appeal to workers on odd shifts or and those who work during the night. In many cases, these unusual sleep schedules lead to a certain degree of sleep deprivation because the required amount of sleep is not fulfilled. It takes time to change sleep patterns.

 

When did People Stop Sleeping in Polyphasic Phases?

Despite the promising productivity that comes with polyphasic sleep phases, there are also plenty of potential drawbacks that made people cease to practice this kind of sleep schedule.

Inadequate time sleeping may lead to sleep deprivation, which is associated with severe health consequences. Short sleep bursts may not meet the demands of the sleep drive, negating any benefits wakefulness quality. When this happens, people become more impaired cognitively, as well as physically, along with experiencing an apparent lack of insight.

A lack of sleep may provoke periods of mania, especially for people who are predisposed towards bipolar disorder and personality disorders.[2] People with inadequate sleep may also experience appetite changes, moodiness, eye strain, chills, and constipation.

Also, people who try practicing the polyphasic sleep pattern may soon realize that society is not very accepting of the demands of the practice. These sleep patterns can easily have a negative social impact on professional relationships. Polyphasic sleepers may find it challenging to maintain a routine while being on a schedule different than most of society. They may struggle to stay awake when it dark, as well as after short bursts of sleep during the day. Sometimes, this schedule leads to an unhealthy increase in caffeine use and a general feeling of being unwell.

 

Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy?

For most people, unless there is a need to practice polyphasic sleep, it is best to maintain a full seven to nine hours of nighttime sleep. A regular sleep cycle is about 90 to 110 minutes per cycle, and a person goes typically through six sleep cycle each night. During this time, both the body and mind recover and regain all that is lost during the day. The body goes through a detox of the brain cells to improve cognitive function and prevent diseases. It is advisable to have a comfortable sleeping system to ensure that you complete the six sleep cycles for the body to finish all that is needed to be repaired.

 

Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy

 

With polyphasic sleep patterns, you may be compromising the quality of your sleep, and this can put you in an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Some people also become unreliable at work. The risk of accidents at work can increase, as can car accidents.  Sleep is vital to sustaining optimum brain health. A lack of sleep is believed to increase the chances of dementia and may be a precursor to Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.[3]

 

How Does Polyphasic Sleep Compare With Other Sleep Patterns

 

Everyone has individual sleep needs and different sleep patterns. Some people may benefit most from a polyphasic sleep schedule, others from a biphasic or monophasic sleep pattern. Our sleep patterns depend on the individual, but there is also a cultural element to sleeping patterns.

Some individuals are more comfortable with two periods of sleep or the biphasic sleep pattern. In fact, there are countries that practice “siesta sleep.” The individuals will sleep for 5-6 hours during the night, and for 30-90 during the day. This sleep pattern is popular in countries, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Greece. Another type of biphasic sleep is called segmented sleep. People who practice this type of sleep will slumber for 6-8 hours during the night but in two periods. 

For most people, the monophasic sleep pattern is still believed to be the most beneficial for a regular healthy adult. Eight full hours of sleep allows the brain and the body to repair itself and detoxify from all waste materials. A full night’s sleep will help you get all the energy you need for the next day. You also won’t suffer from sleep deprivation, resulting in better cognition, logical functions, quick motor reflexes, as well as a brighter and more optimistic outlook.

People have explored various sleeping patterns in search of the healthiest and most productive habits. When possible, it is still best to adhere to a monophasic or biphasic sleeping pattern. However, some working situations may require people to practice a polyphasic sleeping pattern. 

Regardless of whether you are a monophasic, biphasic, or polyphasic sleeper, a comfortable sleeping area, bed, or recliner chair is necessary to help you achieve your sleeping goals and obtain optimal results.

Some polyphasic sleepers can “hit the sack” wherever and whenever they feel the need for a nap. At home, they can invest in a reclining or adjustable bed which can help them attain deep sleep quickly. This is much better than taking a nap on a couch, slumped on the chair or slouched over a work desk. An uncomfortable sleep position makes restorative sleep impossible.

Polyphasic and biphasic sleepers are at their most productive when they have completed their required hours of sleep. Sleeping in comfortable beds can help accomplish this. Depending on the job, an adjustable bed can serve as both a work and play station.

Monophasic sleepers need complete and uninterrupted sleep for at least seven to nine hours. Depending on the bed, the person can place the adjustable bed frame in a zero-gravity position, relieving spinal pressure. Or, the person can elevate their head or feet for the night, boosting circulation or increasing ease of breathing. These days, adjustable beds include a remote control for an easy and quick transformation from a recliner chair position to a comfortable sleeping bed in an instant. Often, they come with other perks as well, such as USB cords, increasing convenience, and reducing the risk of tripping.

Is polyphasic sleep healthy? The answer is that it depends on the individual and their ability to adjust to a very different sleeping pattern. These people must be able to adjust their schedules so that they can still complete their tasks. Most of all, they must be able to adjust their sleep patterns so that they can still get the required hours of sleep necessary to thwart sleep deprivation. If they can accomplish these two items, a polyphasic sleep pattern is fine.

 

Resources

  1. https://edlab.tc.columbia.edu/blog/11786-People-Are-Naturally-Biphasic-Sleepers
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
  3. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-sleep-disorders-may-precede-parkinsons-and-alzheimers/
  4. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences
  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-sleep-disorders-may-precede-parkinsons-and-alzheimers/

 

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