Smart Polyphasic Sleep Schedules and Biphasic Sleep

Polyphasic sleep is gaining attention on social media, with many people experimenting and discussing various polyphasic sleep schedules. Polyphasic sleep involves having three or more sleep periods within a 24-hour time period. While this approach might seem appealing, it’s important to understand its implications fully. Let’s get down into the details of this trend, discuss some considerations, and when it may be right.

Polyphasic Sleep typically consists of multiple short naps spread throughout the day and night. Some people may hold the length of naps constant, and try to spread their sleep equally across the 24-hour day. Others may maintain a longer sleep period in the night, while taking a few shorter naps during the day. Some concerns arise about the polyphasic sleep schedule:

Insufficient Sleep

Each adult needs somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep during each 24-hour time period. Naps are known to boost energy and alertness for a short while though, so people may feel the positive effects in the short term. A nap will also decrease our sleep drive somewhat, making it more difficult to return to sleep easily.

While polyphasic sleep might seem like an efficient way to rest, it often results in a total sleep time that is less than what’s needed for optimal health. Chronic insufficient sleep, also called chronic partial sleep deprivation, is associated with many negatives in terms of physical and mental health, and performance. So, the short-term gains from the naps likely don’t fully compensate for long-term deficits from sleep deprivation.

A challenge is that for many people, three hours before bed is still a pretty active part of the day, what with homework, computer tasks, and TV. If changing the lighting isn't possible, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses to minimize blue light exposure. Check out our video on how to use Blue Blocking Glasses

Less Concentrated Deep Sleep

During normal, healthy sleep we cycle from light sleep, to deep, to REM and back to light sleep about every 9-110 minutes. The first half of our night we get much more deep sleep, then in the second half of the night there is more REM and less deep sleep. During consolidated extended stretches of deep sleep, especially at night, our body enters a restful state where blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and stress hormones decrease significantly. These prolonged periods of rest are essential for physical restoration and mental rejuvenation. The fragmented polyphasic sleep schedule can disrupt the body’s natural processes, not allowing those long periods with less demands on our organs.

There are also concerns about being out of sync with our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is programmed for us to sleep during night, and then be active and alert during the day. A polyphasic sleep schedule works against our circadian rhythm when we try to sleep at times we’re programmed to be awake. Sleep can end up being more light, without the restorative effects of deep and REM sleep.

Polyphasic Sleep Across the Lifespan

Newborns naturally follow a polyphasic sleep schedule, waking frequently for feeding and comfort. As they grow, their sleep patterns evolve. For example, an 11-month-old sleep schedule might include longer nighttime sleep with two daytime naps, while a 16-month-old sleep schedule often transitions to a single longer nap during the day, along with consolidated nighttime sleep.
It's essential to note that polyphasic sleep can sometimes mimic sleep patterns seen in certain age groups or medical conditions. For instance, infants often exhibit polyphasic sleep, and this pattern might reemerge in older adults or those with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Is Polyphasic Sleep Recommended?

While polyphasic sleep schedules might be an intriguing experiment, they are not typically recommended for long-term health. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule that aligns with natural circadian rhythms is crucial for overall well-being. If you're considering adjusting your sleep pattern, especially for young children, consulting with a sleep specialist can provide personalized guidance. 

This understanding can help you make informed decisions about sleep patterns, ensuring you and your family achieve restful and restorative sleep.

Here’s to you, have a great night!

Dr. Catherine Darley

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About the Author: Dr. Catherine Darley

Dr. Catherine Darley is a pioneering internationally recognized expert in the use of natural, behavioral and lifestyle medicine for the treatment of sleep disorders. Dr. Darley founded the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine to fill the need for natural, less invasive solutions to a common problem–poor sleep.  

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