Polyphasic Sleep Cycles

We’ve all been told we need seven to nine hours sleep a day. Although we might rage against this serious limitation on our free time, we know that missing out on sleep catches up with us, and severely affects the quality of our waking time. There is, however, a growing online community advocating the practice of polyphasic sleeping, which involves sleeping anything from two to six hours a day.

If you haven’t yet heard of this term, it simply means breaking up your sleeping schedule into multiple parts throughout the day. The theory is that REM sleep, the phase of sleep we need for real recuperation, can be entered into far more quickly and efficiently with polyphasic sleep. Whereas in monophasic sleep, our bodies waste considerable time reaching that optimum deep sleep phase.

If this sounds like something you’d consider experimenting with, here are the main types of polyphasic sleep cycles:

The Dymaxion Cycle:

Buckminster Fuller invented this sleeping pattern, which is the most extreme of all the cycles. Bucky slept for only 30 minutes every six hours, giving him only two hours of sleep a night. He claimed to feel the most alert and energetic he ever had in his life, and doctors who examined him after a few years declared him to be in healthy shape. However, he gave up on the sleeping pattern because his business associates were still on a conventional monophasic cycle, making business awkward. Also, his wife apparently expressed concerns and asked him to stop.

The Uberman Cycle:

The uberman (German for superman) cycle is another extreme sleeping pattern. The schedule requires 20 to 30 minute naps every four hours, resulting in two to three hours of sleep a day. There are reports that the uberman cycle can result in very vivid lucid dreaming. The down side to this sleeping pattern is that you have to maintain the schedule very strictly, or else you suffer from serious fatigue. The problem with this, as well as the Dymaxion, is that for many of us our daily timetables simply don’t allow for this.

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The Biphasic Cycle:

This is a two-phase sleeping cycle. While it is probably the most easy to implement, the rewards are not as great as the others, shaving off only a couple hours from your sleep time. The biphasic cycle consists of a four or four and a half sleep, with a 90 minute power nap during the day.

The Everyman Cycle:

This cycle consists of one longer core nap during the day, and then several shorter naps throughout the rest of the day, resulting in three to four hours of sleep a day. You could have one three hour nap, supplanted by three 20 minute naps, or one hour and a half nap, with four or five 20 minute naps. The attractiveness of this option is that the schedule is far more flexible than the uberman or Dymaxion cycles, in that you can adjust it to suit your day, while still efficiently reducing your sleeping time.

If you do opt to try an alternative sleeping cycle, just be aware of the drawbacks before you pull yourself away from your warm bed and cosy bedding. Firstly, there is not yet substantial scientific evidence of the long term benefits of drastically changing your sleeping pattern. Secondly, your body requires some time to acclimatise to this new regime. Therefore, for the first week or so you’ll have to battle grogginess and fatigue. So don’t experiment with this during a time when you need to be on your toes.

Nonetheless, for those of us who are frustrated with the feeling that we always have to compromise somewhere, whether being fully rested, working hard at a career, or having a personal life outside of work, this may be an option to at least test out.

Queenie Bates is an avid researcher and writer, currently based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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