What is a polyphasic sleep schedule?

September 21, 2020 3 mins read
What is a polyphasic sleep schedule?

Is polyphasic sleep a genuine sleep hack or just another fad? Some of the brightest minds in history (Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Napoleon Bonaparte) swore by polyphasic sleep, but what was it?

Before you’re tempted to try it yourself, let’s take a closer look at this controversial method and see if a polyphasic sleep schedule is indeed fact or fiction.

What is polyphasic sleep?

Our normal 7-8 hour sleep schedules are monophasic, which means one period of sleep over 24 hours. Polyphasic sleep refers to napping multiple times throughout the day and night.

There are many different types of polyphasic sleep schedules, but generally, it’s a blanket term for sleepers that get their shut-eye over short stints during the day rather than one big chunk of sleep at night. Typically, the most accepted polyphasic sleep schedule consists of a 6-hour sleep, complimented by several 20-minute naps during the day.

We know this sounds exhausting, but if babies and animals sleep in these micro phases, surely it works?

The fact is, more than a third of us don’t get enough sleep and are regularly playing catch-up from the day before (read: the night before). As most of us are monophasic sleepers, could a change in our sleeping pattern help us catch-up on our sleep?

Is polyphasic sleep healthy?

There is no qualified data to prove that sleeping in stints has health advantages. However, advocates claim that we are naturally bite-size sleepers. They suggest that sleeping over 8 hours is only beneficial when we are in REM stages (and that all the other sleep stages are just fillers and don’t give us any benefits). Polyphasic sleepers can (they say), with discipline and practice, extract the same amount of deep sleep (REM sleep) from shorter periods, spread over 24 hours.

Is broken sleep better than no sleep?

According to sleep experts, napping can’t replace a good night’s sleep, and less sleep will inevitably lead to sleep deprivation. Practising a polyphasic sleep schedule is essentially removing sleep stages that are vital in managing your physiological functions, as the aim is to get to REM sleep as fast as possible. Disrupting these sleep stages can lead to sleep deprivation, which causes memory problems, disrupts our hormones (melatonin, growth hormones, thyroid, leptin, and ghrelin hormones), throws our metabolism out of sync, and can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

To polyphasic or not to polyphasic?

Despite the evidence claiming that a bite-size sleep schedule is damaging to our health, there are still many that swear by it and claim that it leads to a more productive life.

What we do know is that sleep is essential, and without a good dose of it, we’re unable to function at our best. Our advice? Make sure you’re getting enough of it, whatever your schedule.