Raise your hand if you ever felt like you needed more time in the day. Everyone at some point or another has dreamt of having more than 24 hours in their day. With more than 24 hours, you can squeeze in all the things you want to accomplish. But the truth remains: you only have 24 hours to eat, work, relax, socialise, exercise, and get some much needed shut-eye.
Our society is constantly trying to find ways to maximise the time in the day, as people continue to get less sleep than they need. This is where alternative sleep schedules come in. For those with irregular sleep, sleep disorders, and other problems with sleep, you can explore the world of alternative sleeping patterns.
The regular sleep schedule: monophasic sleep
Sleeping through the night is the standard, so it’s hard to imagine anything different. Normal sleep will have you going to bed at night, and you wake up the next day feeling refreshed and energised. This is called the monophasic sleep schedule or pattern, where a person sleeps for one, long period within 24 hours.
In this one period of sleep, your body repairs, rests, and heals, getting you ready for the following day. Natural sleep should last for around seven to nine hours, depending on your body’s needs. We recommend eight hours of sleep per night for optimal energy levels.
The problem with your sleep schedule
When our sleep schedules and circadian rhythms are disrupted, this leads to sleep deprivation, bad sleep habits, and sleep disorders.
Some have attributed the sleep problems to lowering melatonin levels brought about by electric light. Bright lights attempt to mimic sunlight, which keeps our bodies and minds awake even late at night. However, artificial lighting doesn’t cause as much disruption as other factors.
Poor physical and mental health can keep a person awake at night or wreck a sleep schedule. Night shifts also lead shift workers to varying sleep schedules and just trying to sleep whenever they can. This is mostly prevalent in hospitals as they specifically need the steady presence of healthcare professionals to attend to patients. The list goes on.
Whatever the reason for the disruption, monophasic sleep patterns have become challenging to maintain. People are exhausted. But there is a way to work around broken sleep, and that is adopting an unusual sleep pattern.
The workaround: polyphasic and biphasic sleep
Since people are getting less sleep, experiments have been done to hack the sleep-wake cycle. Enter polyphasic and biphasic sleep. These sleep patterns break down the usual large chunk of sleep time into a main period of sleep and shorter periods of napping.
The division intends to take advantage of the sleep-wake cycle, allowing a person to be at total capacity during times of wakefulness, even with less than eight hours of slumber.
How alternative sleep patterns work
Remember that there are different types of sleep stages. You have three stages of non-REM sleep and one stage of REM sleep. The deep sleep stage and REM sleep are the most crucial stages. They help you feel refreshed and strengthen your brain’s cognitive functions.
With a core sleep period and short naps, biphasic and polyphasic sleep schedules aim to get you to the crucial stages of sleep as fast as possible. In the grander scheme, they should decrease a person’s total sleep time without increasing sleepiness during periods of wakefulness. Your body then gets the sleep it needs even if you don’t get the ideal amount of sleep. How is rest then distributed in these patterns?
The biphasic sleep pattern: siesta time
The biphasic sleep schedule simply divides the monophasic schedule into two. You get 5-6 hours of sleep at night. You then compensate after lunch with an 1-1½ hour nap. The schedule is common for sleepers in Spain or other countries with warm climates like the Philippines. The post-lunch nap is known as a siesta.
The polyphasic sleep patterns: intermediate to extreme levels
The biphasic sleep schedule may be the easiest to adapt to. Polyphasic sleep schedules give you even less sleep. There are three patterns within polyphasic sleep and each pattern grows in difficulty. Polyphasic sleepers can choose between three patterns: everyman, uberman, or dymaxion.
Everyman schedule not for everyone
The everyman pattern allows for 3-4 hours of sleep at night. You can then sleep throughout the day three times with 20-minute naps. It will be up to you when to take these naps. This allows for 4-5 hours of sleep in 24 hours.
Uberman schedule for supermen
The uberman pattern kicks the everyman pattern up a notch by eliminating the core sleep period. One variation allows you to sleep for 20 minutes every four hours. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla followed this sleep pattern. A second variation gives you eight 20-minute naps within 24 hours.
Dymaxion schedule means the extreme
Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, reportedly invented the dymaxion pattern. In this extreme schedule, you only get 30-minute naps every six hours, for the entire 24-hour period.
Fuller adopted this pattern for two years before reverting to a monophasic schedule. He changed back since his dymaxion sleep schedule conflicted with the sleep patterns of his business associates, but still boasted about it’s effectiveness.
Sleep better: what’s the best schedule?
Biphasic and polyphasic sleepers have raved about the effectiveness of the alternative patterns. A 2017 study found, however, that tested undergraduates performed poorly in their academics when they slept in several chunks throughout the day instead of one considerable period of sleep at night. The researchers concluded that sleep regularity directly correlates with higher academic performance.
The biphasic and polyphasic sleep schedules decrease the overall amount of sleep. Still, they won’t provide you with the alertness, mental capacity, and physical energy to take on your daily responsibilities. Whilst they might work for some people, they don’t for the majority of the population.
Workers and professionals with irregular schedules may benefit from irregular sleep patterns. Those with physical or mental illnesses may also be able to cope better by sleeping irregularly rather than forcing a monophasic schedule. Yet the best sleep, in the end, is eight hours of continuous sleep at night.