By: Nellie Nguyen
The majority of our population are monophasic sleepers, which means that their sleep patterns consist of only one 6-8 hour period of sleep. This type of sleep has become custom in modern society, which may have happened due to the regular workday schedule. However, not everyone has a monophasic sleep pattern; some people have a biphasic or monophasic sleeping rhythm. Biphasic sleep involves two periods of sleep, such as sleeping for a few hours during the nighttime and taking a midday nap, while polyphasic sleep involves more than two periods of sleep a day. For some, biphasic or polyphasic sleep comes more naturally than monophasic sleep, but sometimes people seek to have biphasic or polyphasic sleep patterns. People usually intentionally pursue non-monophasic sleep patterns because they believe it will make them more productive and give them more time for activities.
Although there are many different sleep combinations for polyphasic sleep patterns, some common ones are Everyman, Uberman, and Dymaxion. Everyman involves a sleep time of approximately 3 hours accompanied with 3 twenty minute naps throughout the day. Uberman is only 3 hours of sleep per day in total, which is done through 6 thirty-minute naps throughout the day. Finally, Dymaxion is only 2 hours of sleep per day, in the form of 30-minute naps every 6 hours, which is actually possible for a few people, but really uncommon.
There are times where people have polyphasic sleep patterns because of a sleep disorder or disability, such as irregular sleep-wake syndrome. A person with this condition tends to sleep and wake at sporadic times, and he or she may struggle to feel awake or well-rested. If some actively pursue polyphasic sleep for benefits while others suffer from it because of a sleep disorder, this leads to the question: is biphasic or polyphasic sleep more beneficial or harmful for both our productivity and health?
People have different needs for their sleep cycles in order to be well-rested, so the research behind the health benefits has varying results; some may actually be healthier with a polyphasic sleep cycle while others may not. One article from 2016 shows a greater preference for a polyphasic sleep pattern worldwide, especially sleep patterns that include short naps. Numerous studies have proved the benefits of taking short naps, such as increased cognitive function. However, a couple of studies from 2012 and 2014 show that napping, specifically for children, reduces rest quality and cognitive development. For adults, napping may increase the risk of poor sleep patterns or sleep deprivation. However, most of these studies conclude by saying that further research needs to be done at a deeper level for more concrete claims.
With these varying results, it is difficult to answer the question of whether polyphasic sleep patterns are harmful or beneficial for the general population. However, it is important to be aware of the various sleep patterns because people who may benefit more from non-monophasic sleep styles do not know they can. Since the majority of the population are monophasic sleepers, it is considered the “norm,” and it is likely that people would assume that monophasic sleep is best for them. It is best to get approval from a physician before trying a new sleep schedule in case of potential increased health risks. Even if someone trying a polyphasic sleep cycle ends up not benefitting from it, it is still a good thing for people to try if they do not feel completely well-rested with their current sleep cycle.
Q: What is the difference between biphasic and polyphasic sleep patterns?
A: A biphasic sleep pattern refers to exactly 2 segments of sleep in one day, while polyphasic sleep patterns consist of more than 2 segments of sleep in one day. A common biphasic sleep pattern involves a 5-6 hour rest with a short period of rest that lasts around 60-90 minutes. Polyphasic sleep patterns usually have around 4-6 segments of rest in one day, such as six 30-60 minute naps in a day.
Q: Are biphasic and polyphasic sleep patterns more beneficial than monophasic?
A: There cannot be one answer to this question simply because everyone has different sleep patterns that come naturally to them. However, the majority of people in the modern world benefit most from monophasic sleep. Additionally, some people actually can function with less than 6-8 hours of sleep without any health issues—though this is pretty rare. This makes sleep patterns like the Dymaxion sleep pattern, which involves only 2 hours total of sleep in the form of 30-minute naps every 6 hours, possible for a select few. Again, this does not necessarily work for everyone, and it is crucial to stick with a sleep pattern that will not cause harm.