What is Polyphasic Sleep and Should You Try It?

This sleeping trend has created some divisive opinions. Learn about the potential benefits and risks of polyphasic sleeping to decide if this sleep style is right for you.

By Katie Dyal

Mar 19th, 2021

At some stage in your life, you will probably have trouble sleeping. We all have different reasons for restlessness. Stress, insomnia, your living conditions, or even your partner who uncontrollably snores can be reasons for a poor night’s sleep, and no one wants to suffer from the gruesome effects of sleep deprivation.

When it’s hard for you to fall asleep at night, you may be willing to go to great lengths to find a remedy. Recently, more people have considered turning to an alternative form of sleeping, called polyphasic sleep, as a solution for improving their sleep quality. In fact, it’s even proven to work for some including the famous Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla who both followed this sleeping style.

It’s important to know all the facts before transitioning to a new sleep cycle. Here is everything you need to know about polyphasic sleep.

What is Polyphasic Sleep?

Polyphasic sleep is a certain type of sleep pattern that is most commonly practiced by animals, as well as in the infancy stage of human life. A polyphasic sleep pattern is a combination of several periods of sleep throughout the entire day.

The type of sleeping most people follow is called monophasic sleeping. This means one, long period of sleep during a 24-hour cycle. Instead of sleeping in one large chunk of time at night to recharge, some people are trying polyphasic sleeping, where you rest during different periods of the day.

How Polyphasic Sleep Works

A polyphasic sleeping schedule is combined of 20-minute naps throughout the day and one longer period of sleeping time. Most polyphasic sleepers will sleep between 2-7 hours total for the entire day.

Some would argue that when you take a short nap, you aren’t able to reach the ideal phase of sleep that you need in order to feel well rested. Although this sleeping style seems unnatural, it has been proven that the body can become familiar with this sleeping habit.

In fact, when your body becomes familiar with this segmented sleep pattern, you will be able to achieve REM deep sleep at a faster rate than other sleeping patterns. Your body knows that you need to experience slow wave sleep in order to feel energized when you awake. Because the body resists sleep deprivation, it will naturally adapt with the time allotted that you give it to rest.

Is Polyphasic Sleep Safe?

You can definitely find arguments on either side of the issue. Some supporters claim it is a far superior way to sleep, others caution against its potential dangers. Here are some pros and cons for your consideration.

Pros

More Time

A big benefit of this sleep pattern is the ability to have more time, accomplish more, and potentially make more money. Supporters cite high performers from the past like Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla who slept as little as 1.5 hours nightly, and contemporary leaders like the CEO’s of Yahoo, Twitter, and Square, or celebrities like Marth Stewart and Jay Leno.

The polyphasic movement believes that less sleep and more strategic sleep can be a route to greater accomplishment. Time is a commodity in our culture and polyphasic sleeping may enable you to have more of it.

Increase Slow-Wave Sleep

If in fact you can structure your sleep so you are tired and drop directly into a slow wave sleep state including REM, the theory goes that you will have more proportionate sleep time in these deeper healing states. This could possibly increase memory, be good for brain health, and contribute to restorative health throughout the body.

Lucid Dreaming

With polyphasic sleep, it is believed you are likely to have more lucid dreams. These are dreams where you are aware you are dreaming and can actually manipulate or change the outcome of the dream. There is a branch of psychology that is called lucid dreaming therapy, and it is used to work through things in the subconscious and eliminate nightmares and other psychological disturbances.

Mental Clarity

How do all these inventors and CEO’s accomplish so much with so little sleep? The lack of sleep puts them in a heightened state of mental clarity, and they are able to think more clearly, remember more readily, and have increased mental acuity. This is a large part of the draw to engage in polyphasic sleeping. Who wouldn’t want to in essence to be smarter and more able to function mentally?

Cons

Sleep Deprivation

Many experts will argue that for most people sleeping less than the recommended 7-9 hours will result in sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can have many negative effects on physical and mental health including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, anxiety, and depression to name a few.

Mania

If you force yourself to sleep in small amounts, it can cause a type of mania. A hallmark of bi-polar disorder, states of mania can cause an individual to do risky things and the heightened state is often followed by a depressive crash. Mood stabilization is considered a far healthier way to live.

Mania, however, may in fact be the hyper mental focus we see with very accomplished people who sleep very little. In theory this might have a negative effect on health and longevity, but both Edison and Tesla lived into their mid-eighties, quite elderly for their time.

Hormones

Polyphasic sleep is associated with sleep deprivation, and it can cause changes in hormone levels. These changes can result in increased appetite and issues with blood sugar. In addition to metabolism, it can affect heart rate and blood pressure, and suppress specific hormones that regulate the thyroid, growth, and aging.

Societal Norms

Another possible detractor of this type of sleep schedule is how it works with your life and society. Is your boss cool with you napping at work? Can you comfortably stop in the middle of a dinner party and tell your host you need to take a nap? Working a polyphasic sleep schedule around normal life activities could be very challenging.

Effects of Polyphasic Sleeping

The benefits of polyphasic sleep are not backed by science, but it has been said that this sleep pattern results in more productivity and allows the body to experience REM sleep at a faster rate.

Unfortunately, the risks outweigh the benefits. Polyphasic sleep isn’t considered a sleep disorder, but it can create problems as if it were one.

If the body isn’t getting enough sleep, then several health problems can occur. You may think skipping right to REM sleep is an advantage, but it’s unnatural and the body experiences certain stages of sleep for a reason.

Preventing the body from experiencing all stages of sleep can result in physiological dysfunctions. It can cause cognitive impairment and affect your circadian rhythm.

Final Thoughts: Should You Try Polyphasic Sleeping?

Core sleep is important but so are all the other stages. The body runs a certain way for a reason and it’s usually best to trust the body’s natural schedules. To maintain proper sleep health, sticking to your seven to nine hours of sleep all in one period of time at night is your safest bet.

If you have tried polyphasic sleeping before and found success, leave us a comment below!