Polyphasic sleep schedules: are multiple sleep periods right for you?

If your life is too busy, maybe it's time to change your sleep patterns from monophasic (a single sleep period) to polyphasic (multiple sleep periods).

Polyphasic sleep schedules: are multiple sleep periods right for you?

Few individuals would argue that regular sleep promotes health, wellness and mental function. But in today's hyperactive, hyper-vigilant world, many people simply can't fit the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep into a single, practical block of time, and those who try often find sleep elusive. If your life is too busy, maybe it's time to change your sleep patterns from monophasic (a single sleep period) to polyphasic (multiple sleep periods).

Natural sleep patterns

Sleeping more than once within a 24-hour period is nothing new to the countless individuals who regularly grab an afternoon nap to make up for a shorter-than-ideal sleep the night before. There's actually no physical law that requires human beings to crowd all their sleep into one single snooze. In fact, the concept of monophasic sleep didn't become commonplace until the late 17th century. Before then, people typically observed a segmented sleep schedule — going to bed after sundown, arising for an hour or two in the middle of the night, and then drifting back to sleep for a few more hours. Research indicates that this sleep pattern is quite common in the animal kingdom and may, in fact, be the way we are naturally wired to sleep. If you find yourself doing it habitually, don't just toss and turn; get up, read a book, surf the web, and then simply fall asleep again when your body tells you to.

Alternative sleep schedules

If your routine demands shorter nights, then there are several alternative sleep schedules worth trying. A "siesta" schedule, for instance, might mean getting six hours of sleep at night and an additional 90-minute nap in the afternoon. The 90-minute duration is important because it allows your body to complete all the phases of a sleep cycle, including REM and deep sleep. More adventurous experimenters have actually cut their sleep into multiple short chunks, sleeping fewer total hours but training themselves to drop right into the most beneficial phases of sleep.

The most challenging of these schedules, known as the Uberman, involves getting all your sleep from six short naps per day, and nothing else. Few people have successfully transitioned to this schedule long-term, and scheduling a nap every few hours isn't the most convenient option for busy professionals.

Try making relatively minor changes to your sleep schedule. If you tend to suffer from insomnia, try a segmented sleep schedule. If you need to work late nights or early mornings, get a little less sleep at night and grab a nap during the day. Don't be afraid to try new ways of giving your body the restful, refreshing sleep it needs.

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