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What is Polyphasic Sleep?

When most people think of sleep, they think of that sweet, restful slumber that lasts several hours at night. Scientifically, this is known as monophasic sleep – and it is how most of us, including animals, sleep. However, people who work unusual jobs or are involved in day-to-day tasks that require a high level of alertness cannot afford the luxury of monophasic sleep. They need to supplement their sleep with shorter naps during the day. This is known as a polyphasic sleep cycle.

When most people think of sleep, they think of that sweet, restful slumber that lasts several hours at night. Scientifically, this is known as monophasic sleep – and it is how most of us, including animals, sleep. However, people who work unusual jobs or are involved in day-to-day tasks that require a high level of alertness cannot afford the luxury of monophasic sleep. They need to supplement their sleep with shorter naps during the day. This is known as a polyphasic sleep cycle.

Babies tend to follow a polyphasic sleep schedule before they are taught to sleep through the night. Most primates, such as apes and monkeys, are monophasic sleepers, while other mammals tend to be polyphasic sleepers (1).

But before you think of switching up your sleep schedule, we’re sharing the benefits and side effects of this type of sleep, so you have a complete picture of what you’re getting into! Read on to learn about polyphasic sleep and how it affects your body.

What is polyphasic sleep?

This type of sleep is based loosely on the idea that sleep is not a unitary process, but rather cycles between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep every 80-120 minutes (2).

Polyphasic sleepers recommend dividing sleep into multiple, brief episodes distributed across 24 hours, with the aim of minimizing time spent asleep. They argue that sleep can be a nuisance that takes up time that can be put to better use. Multiple short naps throughout the day are believed to enhance the ‘efficiency’ of sleep. However, there is not enough empirical evidence to support this claim.

On average, polyphasic sleepers sleep for two or three hours a day, spreading their sleep across 20–30-minute naps at regular intervals. This practice usually requires ending the sleep episode with the help of an alarm or an external stimulus, rather than spontaneously waking up.

Most often, people employ the polyphasic sleep schedule to reduce the amount of time spent in bed. Such individuals try to schedule their sleep in 90-minute cycles, even though REM/non-REM sleep cycles differ in period and length between people. Sleep cycles also vary in duration within individuals during the night and between different nights.

Benefits of polyphasic sleep

There is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that a polyphasic sleep schedule is better or more efficient than a monophasic sleep cycle. However, those who practise a polyphasic sleep cycle suggest that this type of sleep cycle benefits them in several ways.

For instance, anecdotal evidence suggests that a polyphasic sleep cycle can lead to increased productivity and alertness (3). However, people who reduce their sleep hours from seven hours a night to two fragmented hours a day, are likely to have more time on their hands to complete tasks. This helps them feel more productive overall.

Additionally, polyphasic sleepers claim that this sleep cycle can help you live longer while improving your memory and mood. There can be some truth to this, given that sleep helps memory consolidation and retention (4). However, research argues that sleep periods shorter than 30 minutes do not significantly impact performance (5). Therefore, this might not be a benefit of polyphasic sleep, but of napping during the day. Naps help you feel more awake and alert during the day, which leads to enhanced cognitive performance. They can also reduce your stress and improve your overall mood (6).

So instead of adopting polyphasic sleep, it may be more beneficial to get a good night’s sleep and augment it with a nap during the day. Polyphasic sleep might only really be beneficial for people with irregular work schedules or highly demanding jobs (7).

Types of polyphasic sleep

In polyphasic sleep, there are multiple sleep episodes across the 24-hour day, sometimes in addition to deep sleep during the night. A few different types of polyphasic sleep schedules have emerged over the years, with three being the most popular:

Everyman:

This sleep pattern is designed to achieve a total targeted sleep duration of 4 hours per 24 hours. It involves a 3-hour core nightly sleep, augmented by three 20-minute naps in the daytime.

Uberman:

The goal in this sleep pattern is to achieve six 20-minute sleep episodes spaced evenly across the 24-hour day. You will sleep for a total of 2 hours per 24 hours with this sleep cycle.

Dymaxion:

You get two hours of sleep per day, in the form of six 30-minute naps every six hours, when practising this sleep pattern.

How much sleep do we need?

Somnologists or sleep specialists recommend that adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep for optimal physical and cognitive performance. These hours are essential for your body to rest. This is because even when you are asleep, your brain and internal organs are working hard to prepare you for the next day (8).

However, many people suffer from sleep disorders that prevent them from falling asleep or staying deep asleep. This is usually triggered due to an imbalance in your body’s sleep hormone, melatonin. For such individuals, it is best to turn to melatonin supplements. Setu’s Sleep: Relax Mints, for example, are perfect for people who want to fall asleep faster.

Setu’s Sleep: Sustain capsules are better for those who have interrupted sleep all night, aka those who keep waking up every few hours. Each capsule is infused with 5 mg of immediate-release melatonin, which helps you fall asleep, and 5 mg of sustained-release melatonin, which helps you tide over those midnight interruptions and stay asleep until morning.

FAQs

1) How long does it take to get used to polyphasic sleep?

It can take up to four weeks to adjust to the polyphasic sleep cycle. This duration can sometimes be longer, depending on the type of sleep schedule you choose.

2) Are melatonin products safe?

Melatonin must be taken in the right quantity in order to avail its benefits. Each of Setu’s sleep products contain the recommended dosage of melatonin for adults.

3) Should I be worried about an insufficient amount of sleep?

If you can’t get enough sleep all the time, that could be a cause of worry. Maybe you’re missing out on quality sleep due to a hectic work schedule or an underlying health problem. Despite taking necessary measures to sleep, if you’re still suffering from insomnia, visit your doctor for the right advice.

References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/polyphasic-sleep#what-is-it
  2. Adverse impact of polyphasic sleep patterns in humans: Report of the National Sleep Foundation sleep timing and variability consensus panel – ScienceDirect
  3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/polyphasic-sleep
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-84625-8
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32099493/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8899936/
  7. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02678378908256879
  8. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep

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