Welcome to Part 2 of this 2-part series on Polyphasic Sleeping. If you have not read Part 1, I highly encourage you to because it goes over the fundamentals of polyphasic sleeping and includes other resources that you can check out. For those of you that have, let’s recap on what we’ve discussed.
We now know what the definition of polyphasic sleeping is and the different schedules involved with this concept. More importantly, we know about the two main sleep phases, Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) sleep and Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS). We also know the difference between these two sleep phases, their function, and what times of the day (or night) that we are most likely to fall under which.
There are still quite a few unanswered questions however. Why would anyone want to adopt a polyphasic sleep schedule? What about the obvious decrease in total sleep time when transitioning from a monophasic schedule? Isn’t anything less than the recommended 7-8 hours unhealthy? How do I start? Do I just go cold turkey? We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this article.
Benefits of Polyphasic Sleeping
As we went over in Part 1, polyphasic sleep schedules can give us anywhere from an extra hour to extra 6 hours of free time. This is considering that we’re transitioning from a monophasic sleep schedule of 8 hours. I don’t think it’s necessary to talk about the benefits of having extra free time in the day. For most of us, this would be a dream, a luxury, almost a fantasy.
So besides the obvious benefits of having more time, what else does it do for us? Actually,another major benefit of polyphasic sleeping directly addresses the main concerns some of us may have. Since we’re sleeping significantly less, wouldn’t we be tired all the time? Let’s address this question first.
Elimination Minimization of Light Sleep
As mentioned in Part 1, the main components of sleep are REM sleep and SWS. Well, there is actually a third component in there that doesn’t contribute to either our mental or physical recovery in any significant ways. This is known as light sleep, or as I personally like to refer to as junk sleep.
This is what some refer to as Stage 1 and 2 of the sleep cycle (both stages are considered light sleep). People in light sleep can be woken up much easier than if they were in SWS or REM sleep. Body temperature and heart rate starts to lower during this type of sleep. After some time, sleep is transitioned to Stage 3, which is SWS, and then Stage 4, REM sleep.
During a monophasic sleep session, the sleeper cycles through the different stages during the session. As illustrated in the graph below, you can see the approximate amount of time spent in each stage for a typical monophasic sleeper.
The Stage 1 and 2 are the light sleep we’re talking about here. Multiple clinical studies has shown that over half of total sleep time during monophasic sleep sessions are spent in the light sleep stage. So for a 7.5 hour sleeper, that’s over 3.5 hours of sleep time spent NOT in SWS or REM sleep. That’s time that can be spent awake instead.
NOTE: No extensive research or clinical studies have been conducted to study the long term effects of polyphasic sleeping. Light sleep may be an integral part of our overall well-being. REM sleep and SWS has been researched and studied to be the recovery phases of our sleep so their importance are well established. The verdict is still out on light sleep but no benefits have been observed as of yet.
This is the exact stage of sleep that we’re minimizing with polyphasic sleeping. That 3-4 hours spent in the junk sleep zone are the hours that polyphasic sleepers spend awake. And because we can’t just “wish” our way into spending sleep time in REM sleep and SWS only, we have to manually adapt our body and mind into spending as much sleep time in those 2 zones as possible. This is known as increasing our sleep efficiency.
So by increasing our sleep efficiency, we’d still be getting the REM sleep and SWS that our mind and body needs without having
to spend on that time in the light sleep zones. This is the most important factor that makes polyphasic sleep worth it. You can sleep less and still feel like a million bucks, in some cases, even better than if you slept monophasically.
So this whole polyphasic sleep thing sounds like it can work in theory. But how do you go about manually adapting our body and mind into this type of sleep schedule? Before we get into that, there might be a more important question on your mind right now. What about our mental and physical health? Are there other potential downsides to this? Let’s take a look at that.
Potential Downside of Polyphasic Sleeping
As mentioned in the previous section, there are no recorded extensive research done on the long term effects of polyphasic sleeping on general health. I’d like to reiterate here that with as much research that has been performed on sleep in general, light sleep has not found to play a significant part in the recovery of our mental faculties or our physical bodies.
Sufficient REM sleep and SWS have been found to be the cornerstone of both mental clarity and alertness and physical recovery and hormonal balance. A more recent study has shown that SWS also has a role in memory consolidation as well, whereas previous studies conclude that REM sleep is solely responsible for that².
My point here is that new research is always being performed with new findings coming out. As of right now, the emphasis has always been placed on REM sleep and SWS, not light sleep. If a new research study comes out with evidence showing that light sleep actually has a significant role in our health and well-being, then I’d have to reevaluate polyphasic sleeping in a different light.
With the lack of scientific conclusive studies that highlights any potential dangers to health and well-being, the remaining “evidence” is that of experiences and anecdotal cases from others that have tried this before.
Thankfully for us, there are quite a few instances where others have tried polyphasic sleeping schedules and recorded how they have functioned. Although no comprehensive medical screenings or health exams were performed, we can at least gain some insight into that such ones experienced.
One such experience is actually that of 99 sailors involved in an ocean sailing race³. The ones that had the best performance had sleep episodes between 20 minutes and 1 hour with total sleep times between 4.5 to 5.5 hours per every 24 hour period. This only shows the short term effects, what about long term?
An avid polyphasic sleeper name Marie, who coined the Uberman and Everyman sleeping schedules, had been sleeping polyphasically for 10 years as of writing of this article. Instead of reports of problems, she has actually reported that some of her previous health problems had diminished due to polyphasic sleeping. An example is that the shorten duration of sleeping has alleviated her neck pain and soreness from monophasic sleeping4. You can read more about her here.
Another polyphasic sleeper (also a personal development speaker) name Steve Pavlina also reported no health side effects from his experience with his schedule5. In fact, his only complaint was boredom and the adaptation period. He noted the benefits to include heightened sense of alertness, increased energy, no jetlag, increased productivity, and more. His take on potential health risks is to keep paying close attention to the feedback from his mind and body.
There are more examples of others that have successfully adopted sleeping this way. No health problems resulted from long-term polyphasic sleeping has been reported. Granted, the adaptation period can be a struggle, and energy, alertness, how you feel, and pretty much everything are at their lowest at that time. But that’s not the case once we’re adapted to the schedule.
This is probably the best time to point out that about 1% to 3% of the population has a gene variation that allows them to operate on only few hours of sleep. This was discovered in animals as well6. We have examples of ones that are not polyphasic sleepers but who seem to be able to function just fine with half the amount of sleep that’s generally recommended by health
practitioners. People like Oprah Winfrey, Barrack Obama, Tom Ford, and many others in the past such as Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison are all examples of people that slept very little compared to modern day monophasic sleepers.
Could these people be actual polyphasic sleepers? Possibly. But the experiences from others show that we don’t necessarily have to have the right genetics in order to get away with sleeping less.
Strict Adherence Required
This may be the only negative that I can think of with the current available data on polyphasic sleeping. Especially during the adaptation phase, the sleep schedule must be followed to the minute. There have been experiences where a nap was missed by more than a few minutes and detrimental effects such as decreased alertness and tiredness followed.
Once the mind and body has adapted to the schedule however, a little bit more leeway is allowed without any effects. And even in the case where a nap is missed or pushed back, the remaining sleep episodes can be modified to accommodate. But schedules such as the Uberman or Dymaxion requires strict adherence even after adapting due to the short nature of the naps and total sleep time.
Transition Period- The Make or Break of Your Attempt
As mentioned before, one of the negatives of polyphasic sleeping is the transition stage. I’ve personally have tried and failed at adopting the Everyman E3 schedule. After reading about the experiences of others that have tried to adapt to different schedules and having failed once on my own, I can say that the adaptation period can be grueling. It’s no wonder since sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture in recorded history.
Personally, I feel that my failed attempt at adapting to the Everyman E3 schedule was because I tried going into it cold turkey, meaning that I started with that exact sleeping schedule. Long story short, I couldn’t fall asleep at the times that the schedule required, which left me with a huge sleep deficit of over 24 hours. I then overslept on a nap which I awoke from right before work. I was still too tired at that point and decided to throw in the towel as I had important work projects coming up.
Obviously, the transition period broke my attempt.
I have done some research and it seem that those with a “weaning” period seem to have much better success at adaptation. I wonder if this actually works because by slowly decreasing our sleep time, aren’t we’re simply slowly building our sleep debt? And if we’re supposed to adapt to the decreased sleep time in increments, would that not take at least months to adapt to?
There is no right adaptation method or routine in my opinion. It all really comes down to how much you can handle and for how long you need the adaptation period to last. I will personally be trying a less aggressive approach to cold turkey next time, but it will not last more than a month, if that. I will keep you guys updated on that!
Is it Right For Me?
So here’s the big question to ask ourselves: “Is it right for me?” No one else but you know the answer to that. Just like we discussed, there is a genetic variation that predisposes a few to sleep much less than the general population. Could there be a gene that does the opposite, requiring some to sleep extra?
If there is such a gene, would polyphasic sleep be an option for them? Would it be a wise option?
Needless to say, this is something that most of us can use to not only increase our productivity, but feel more alert and energetic during our waking hours. Which schedule you pick and how you do it is completely up to you.
This has been my longest article so far! Did not expect sleep to be such a lengthy topic. Please let me know what you guys think. Have you ever attempted polyphasic sleeping? If so, how is it going for you? Any advice you may have for me and the rest of the readers here? Feel free to leave a comment below!
- RazerM (talk) 12:44, 29 January 2011 (UTC)