Introduction to polyphasic sleep

Polyphasic Sleep Introduction

Polyphasic sleep is the practice of sleeping more than once per day. This contrasts with monophasic sleep, which consists of a single sleep block. In today’s (western) society, monophasic sleep is the most dominant sleep pattern. 

  • Sleeping more than once per day may initially sound strange or abnormal. However, it is quite common. In fact, our monophasic sleep cycle is a learned behavior.
  • About 85% of mammals follow polyphasic sleep cycles.
  • Human babies start life with polyphasic sleep.
  • Before the advent of artificial (electric) lighting, the vast majority of humanity followed a polyphasic sleep schedule1,2. These polyphasic sleep schedules generally take the form of a siesta near the equator and transition to segmented as nights lengthened further away.

Throughout history, there are references to polyphasic sleeping as a “first sleep” in the early evening and “second sleep” during early morning. There are also several hours of waking in between1. This wake period was dedicated to various activities. Examples include, but not limited to, praying, writing, having sex and interpreting dreams.

The introduction of artificial lighting caused changes in our natural circadian rhythm. This results in a predominant monophasic pattern people slept since. In a more extreme way, most of modern society has forgotten that our ancestors slept this way3.

Advantages of Polyphasic sleep

Polyphasic sleep has a number of advantages compared to monophasic sleep, namely:

Increased wake time

Polyphasic sleep can increase the time per day you spend awake; the most extreme schedules lowering total time asleep to a mere 2 hours daily. However,  these may not be sustainable long-term for all people and likely pose health risks that remain unidentified.

The increased waking time is interesting for many people who rarely get time for themselves. This allows for activities that the normal monophasic sleep hours would hinder. Nevertheless, using the extra time effectively is equally, if not more important, than getting the most out of it.

Improved sleep quality

Polyphasic sleep can improve overall sleep quality through the following ways.

  • Ensure that your body’s natural rhythms align with your sleep times.
  • Prioritize the most important forms of sleep (SWS and REM)
  • Reduce fragmentation of sleep phases.
  • If sleep reduction is absent, polyphasic sleep can also reorganize the overall sleep architecture in each sleep block.

All in all, with the consistency of sleep times, this raises overall sleep quality.

Increased wakefulness

Short naps throughout the day can increase wakefulness. This in return can significantly improve alertness, productivity and creativity during waking periods. Frequent sleep also prevents sleepiness compared to a single monophasic block.

Better dream recall

Due to REM naps, one’s ability to recall dreams improves significantly from sleeping polyphasically. The amount of REM proportional to the amount of total sleep also increases; one’s sleep will end near REM sleep, which boosts the dream recall possibility.

Potential lucid dreaming benefits

This builds on the dream recall utility. Because one is able to predict when dreams are going to occur, they can train lucid dreaming techniques. Several people have also become lucid dreamers simply from adapting to a polyphasic sleeping schedule without any prior experience.

Faster sleep onset

Thanks to rigid sleep times and sleep deprivation fighting mechanisms, one will learn to fall asleep really fast from a polyphasic sleeping schedule. Some people have even used polyphasic sleep to manage their insomnia. People have regularly managed to reduce their sleep onset from as high as a few hours to a couple of minutes.

Many polyphasic sleep proponents use these advantages to suggest that polyphasic sleep is strictly better than monophasic sleep. Likewise, everyone should become polyphasic sleepers. However, polyphasic sleep also has some substantial downsides that make it incompatible with certain lifestyles or situations.

General benefits of napping

There are several benefits of napping during the day! Here are a few points that nappers may benefit from:

  • Alzheimer’s prevention4.
  • Improved physical and mental health5-6
  • Increased sleep quality5-6
  • Increased alertness5,7-18
  • Augmented productivity5.
  • Improved vigilance8,19
  • Boosted logical reasoning8.
  • Improved reaction time10,12,13,17,19-22
  • Reduced fatigue10,14,21
  • Improved coordination11,23
  • Decreased sleep latency12.
  • Improved task performance and accuracy13,14,18,21,23,24
  • Enhanced learning on perceptual tasks22,25
  • Improved mood13.
  • Improved memory consolidation5,26-29
  • Enhanced attention30.

Thus, even if reducing the total sleep time is not on your agenda, it is clearly beneficial and reasonable to add a daytime nap.

Disadvantages of Polyphasic sleep

Difficult adaptation

Adapting to a polyphasic schedule is more difficult than people generally expect. 

  • 3+ weeks of substantial sleep deprivation followed by a recovery period, assuming everything goes well.
  • It often requires implementing substantial changes in lifestyle to ensure the schedule can work. The body also has to discover ways to combat the sleep deprivation to adapt to the new sleep regime.
  • Most notably, the harder schedules with less total sleep time can have a very harsh learning curve.

Rigid scheduling

Adaptation to polyphasic sleep can only work if one strictly adheres to the chosen schedule for at least the first month. There are also very flexible schedules like SEVAMAYL. Sleepers can also modify other schedules like E2 to increase flexibility.

However, you have to adapt to the rigid “base form” of said schedule first. Then, learn to shift the sleep blocks around after the schedule has been stable for a few months.

Unconventional

The rest of the world runs on a monophasic schedule. Not everyone will be capable of fitting a polyphasic sleep pattern into their social/working life.

  • Not every employer allows naps during working hours.
  • Consistent break times at school may not be possible.
  • Socializing at night isn’t possible with a lot of schedules.
  • In addition, the requirement of incorporating a dark period before sleep can be quite troublesome.

Restricted activity

Depending on your chosen schedule, there are some activities that will not be possible, or will be substantially more difficult.

  • Substantial exercise (weight lifting, HIIT, and similarly high-impact exercise) achieves muscle growth by damaging muscle tissue. Therefore, this requires additional SWS to repair.
  • Nightlife will also be very impractical with most schedules.
  • While almost everyone can succeed with a polyphasic sleeping schedule, some people cannot reduce their sleep as much as others. See lifestyle considerations section for more information.

Usually No Stimulants

Quitting smoking, caffeine, alcohol and many other drugs during adaptation is somewhat of an advantage for polyphasic sleep. This is because each of these can substantially alter your sleep quality. Eventually, they will affect your sleep schedule. Lifestyle considerations provides more info on this.

Underage

Because increased SWS requirement at a younger age and NREM2 plays a role in the structural development of the brain, people should avoid drastically reducing total sleep. This heavily depends on their age. More information is available in lifestyle considerations section.

Hard to sustain

Though polyphasic sleep becomes substantially easier after adaptation, there are various reasons why you would drop out of a schedule and have to potentially start over from scratch.

  • Sickness can increase SWS need to the point where your current schedule is no longer sustainable. In addition, an adaptation period reduces the efficiency of your immune system. Thus, you will likely be exposed to sickness when adapting.
  • Injuries may also increase SWS need in much the same way.
  • If your schedule changes, you likely will need to basically adapt from scratch. This is unless you manage to fit into the new schedule with only very minor changes.
  • Travelling to a different time zone can prove to be problematic. This is especially if you travel across multiple time zones; doing so likely destabilizes your schedule unless you’ve been on the schedule for a long time or manage your day-night cycle well. Traveling in general is also likely hard on your schedule. You may have to skip naps and cannot maintain a consistent schedule.

See lifestyle considerations and medical cautions.

Potential long-term health risks

Though we are fairly confident that polyphasic sleeping is generally a safe thing to try, there are some potential health concerns. This is the case with both long-term sleep reduction and extreme sleep reduction. There are, so far, two known cases where polyphasic sleeping appears to have negatively affected a person’s health in a major way.

  • In one case, several decades of polyphasic sleep combined with a high-stress lifestyle appears to have caused a breakdown in vitamin D processing.
  • In the other, 8 months of following the Tesla sleep schedule might have caused blackouts, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.

This is hardly a full list of potential risks related to polyphasic sleep. However, it should be enough to show that the decision to start polyphasic sleep should not be taken lightly. You will need a strong motivation and reason to start following a schedule and a suitable environment.

Finally, it is possible to fail to adapt to a schedule. As a result, all the time you have spent adapting will go to waste. You will potentially have to start over. In fact, polyphasic sleep is more likely to become a long-term process if you’re continuously learning from your mistakes. It may be an encouragement to work towards a personal goal than something you do on a whim to get some extra time.

Starting a polyphasic lifestyle

Before you start your polyphasic journey, there are some basic steps you should follow.

  • Gather as much information about polyphasic sleep as you can.
  • Figure out which schedules are suitable for you and your needs.
  • Determine which schedule you would prefer to try. Lifestyle considerations, medical cautions and scheduling has more information about this.
  • Prepare for the adaptation period to the best of your ability.

Gathering information is particularly important. You should definitely make sure the information comes from reputable sources. Way too many people try polyphasic sleeping with a lack of accurate data and have no idea what they are doing. This will very often lead to failure. This website attempts to provide an exhaustive compilation of available information.

There is information anecdotally from long-term successful polyphasers and thousands of attempters from the polyphasic Reddit and Discord. Some individuals even have sleep tracking devices. Therefore, you should be able to learn about pretty much everything necessary to succeed with polyphasic sleeping. However, you may also want to visit other sources with different views on polyphasic sleep.

Polyphasic Sleep Discord

A public chat server operated by people with a good amount of polyphasic sleeping experience. This is the best place to ask if this website doesn’t answer your questions! Furthermore, this platform also entails help, advice with scheduling or just polyphasic sleep discussion in general. The operators of this guide reside in the Polyphasic Sleeping discord server!
Link: https://discord.gg/7w2T3NF

Polyphasic Sleep Subreddit

/r/polyphasic: This is a subreddit for polyphasic sleeping. It has been around for a long time. Thus, it is possible to view how recommendations and general information has changed over the years. A majority of the Polyphasic community resides here.
Link: https://www.reddit.com/r/polyphasic/

The history of polyphasic sleep

Ever wondered what the history of polyphasic sleep is like? Check out this in-depth article on it!

Other sources of information

Ubersleep: Nap-Based Sleep Schedules and the Polyphasic Lifestyle – Second Edition

Marie Staver (or Puredoxyk) wrote the book. She is often known as the inventor of the Uberman and Everyman sleep schedules. The second edition went public in 2013 and some aspects may be outdated. If you choose to pick up this book, you should note that the schedule names in the book differ from schedule naming on this website.

The book also appears to underestimate the true difficulty of adaptation to polyphasic sleep; The adaptation difficulties that the community has observed in many adaptation attempts in the past 2 years tell a different story.
Link: http://a.co/d/gsDYkHU

Puredoxyk’s slack

The author of Ubersleep operates a Slack server with a chat room. Currently, however, the slack does not have many members; it is also largely inactive, including Puredoxyk. However, it is a good way to get in touch with Puredoxyk if you have questions regarding her book or other contents.
Link: https://ubersleepchat.herokuapp.com/

Polyphasic Society

The website PolyphasicSociety.com is one of the few information sources regarding polyphasic sleeping currently online. In the past, Forevernade, who authored some of the content there, ran the website. Unfortunately, after he stopped being active in the community, some individuals have taken over and do not focus on the centered polyphasic contents. 

This website is now heavily marketing their sleep mastery e-books, which offers very little information over other sources. In addition, while much of the information on the Polyphasic Society website is known to be reliable, other parts are only speculative or experimental. They have very minimal proof for the validity of said information. As a result, this makes it quite difficult to distinguish the accurate from the speculative. Thus, beginners may want to avoid this site.
Link: https://www.polyphasicsociety.com/

YouTube

Be cautious of the information in YouTube videos! Many new polyphasic experimenters have a habit of making a video blog about how great it is going to be; however, they only fail and then abandon the project.

  • They misleading others by bragging about the ease of adaptation.
  • Their strange adaptation methods guarantee to work.
  • These Youtubers also try to drag down polyphasic sleep as a whole by claiming it is not possible. This usually happens after a swift failure on their own extreme schedule.

Blogs

As with YouTube, you should be wary about certain blogs on polyphasic sleep. Blog writers that stop logging after only a brief amount of time has passed is a major red flag. There is also a huge likelihood they will also claim to have adapted in a very short timespan. They may also advocate strange schedules, etc. 

SuperMemo

This site utilizes some scientific data when talking about polyphasic sleep. However, a lot of facts are misconstrued and the author explores only a very narrow part of the problems in discussion.

  • The author has also NEVER tried any polyphasic schedules.
  • He is NOT a true sleep researcher either.
  • The author only researched about polyphasic sleep as a short-term project. Most notably, he aimed at extreme schedules like Uberman, Dymaxion and E3 to prove polyphasic sleeping does not work.
  • It is also noteworthy that the author tries to promote a sleeping technique that involves free-running sleep, which researchers have proved to be unhealthy31.

Not all information on SuperMemo is incorrect; however, you may choose to read it to get a different view on polyphasic sleep.
Link: https://www.supermemo.com/en/articles/polyphasic

Steve Pavlina’s blog

Steve Pavlina did the Uberman sleep schedule for just under 6 months in the period of 2005-2006. Unfortunately, like Puredoxyk’s book, he understates the adaptation timescale in his articles.

Additionally, he also has some questionable views on the human body as well as talking about psychic abilities. Thus, you should take what you read there with some very healthy skepticism.
Link: https://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/10/polyphasic-sleep/

There are many other possible places not included in here where you can also find information on. Some are better than others. Nonetheless, If you want to suggest some other good information sources you have found, please contact the administration team over in the Discord or Reddit!

Main author: Crimson

Page last updated: 24 December 2020

1.
Ekirch AR. Segmented Sleep in Preindustrial Societies. Sleep. 2016;39(3):715-716. doi:10.5665/sleep.5558
2.
Napping. National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping. Published 2018. Accessed November 4, 2018.
3.
Wehr T. The durations of human melatonin secretion and sleep respond to changes in daylength (photoperiod). J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1991;73(6):1276-1280. [PubMed]
4.
Asada T, Motonaga T, Yamagata Z, Uno M, Takahashi K. Associations between retrospectively recalled napping behavior and later development of Alzheimer’s disease: association with APOE genotypes. Sleep. 2000;23(5):629-634. [PubMed]
5.
Tanaka H, Shirakawa S. Sleep health, lifestyle and mental health in the Japanese elderly: ensuring sleep to promote a healthy brain and mind. J Psychosom Res. 2004;56(5):465-477. [PubMed]
6.
Tanaka H, Taira K, Arakawa M, et al. Effects of short nap and exercise on elderly people having difficulty in sleeping. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2001;55(3):173-174. [PubMed]
7.
Milner C, Cote K. Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. J Sleep Res. 2009;18(2):272-281. [PubMed]
8.
Bonnet M. The effect of varying prophylactic naps on performance, alertness and mood throughout a 52-hour continuous operation. Sleep. 1991;14(4):307-315. [PubMed]
9.
Tietzel A, Lack L. The recuperative value of brief and ultra-brief naps on alertness and cognitive performance. J Sleep Res. 2002;11(3):213-218. [PubMed]
10.
Sallinen M, Härmä M, Akerstedt T, Rosa R, Lillqvist O. Promoting alertness with a short nap during a night shift. J Sleep Res. 1998;7(4):240-247. [PubMed]
11.
SMITH SS, KILBY S, JORGENSEN G, DOUGLAS JA. Napping and nightshift work: Effects of a short nap on psychomotor vigilance and subjective sleepiness in health workers. Sleep and Biological Rhythms. 2007;5(2):117-125. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00261.x
12.
Gillberg M. The effects of two alternative timings of a one-hour nap on early morning performance. Biol Psychol. 1984;19(1):45-54. [PubMed]
13.
Caldwell J, Caldwell J. Comparison of the effects of zolpidem-induced prophylactic naps to placebo naps and forced rest periods in prolonged work schedules. Sleep. 1998;21(1):79-90. [PubMed]
14.
Hayashi M, Motoyoshi N, Hori T. Recuperative power of a short daytime nap with or without stage 2 sleep. Sleep. 2005;28(7):829-836. [PubMed]
15.
Taub J. Effects of habitual variations in napping on psychomotor performance, memory and subjective states. Int J Neurosci. 1979;9(2):97-112. [PubMed]
16.
MILNER CE, COTE KA. Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of Sleep Research. 2009;18(2):272-281. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x
17.
Dinges D, Orne M, Whitehouse W, Orne E. Temporal placement of a nap for alertness: contributions of circadian phase and prior wakefulness. Sleep. 1987;10(4):313-329. [PubMed]
18.
Hayashi M, Ito S, Hori T. The effects of a 20-min nap at noon on sleepiness, performance and EEG activity. Int J Psychophysiol. 1999;32(2):173-180. [PubMed]
19.
Purnell M, Feyer A, Herbison G. The impact of a nap opportunity during the night shift on the performance and alertness of 12-h shift workers. J Sleep Res. 2002;11(3):219-227. [PubMed]
20.
Schoenberg M, Ts’o T, Meisel A. Graves’ disease manifesting after maintenance lithium. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1979;167(9):575-577. [PubMed]
21.
Porta F, Petrini C, Perolini S, et al. Additional data on albumin variants in Italy (one new type of slow variant, two new homozygotes for rare variants, four cases of analbuminemia). Ric Clin Lab. 1980;10(1):277-280. [PubMed]
22.
Batéjat D, Lagarde D. Naps and modafinil as countermeasures for the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1999;70(5):493-498. [PubMed]
23.
Creighton C. Effects of afternoon rest on the performance of geriatric patients in a rehabilitation hospital;: a pilot study. Am J Occup Ther. 1995;49(8):775-779. [PubMed]
24.
Takahashi M, Fukuda H, Arito H. Brief naps during post-lunch rest: effects on alertness, performance, and autonomic balance. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1998;78(2):93-98. [PubMed]
25.
Mednick S, Nakayama K, Stickgold R. Sleep-dependent learning: a nap is as good as a night. Nat Neurosci. 2003;6(7):697-698. [PubMed]
26.
Tucker M, Hirota Y, Wamsley E, Lau H, Chaklader A, Fishbein W. A daytime nap containing solely non-REM sleep enhances declarative but not procedural memory. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2006;86(2):241-247. [PubMed]
27.
LAHL O, WISPEL C, WILLIGENS B, PIETROWSKY R. An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. J. 2008;17(1):3-10. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00622.x
28.
Schmidt C, Peigneux P, Muto V, et al. Encoding difficulty promotes postlearning changes in sleep spindle activity during napping. J Neurosci. 2006;26(35):8976-8982. [PubMed]
29.
Lahl O, Wispel C, Willigens B, Pietrowsky R. An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. J Sleep Res. 2008;17(1):3-10. [PubMed]
30.
De B. [Uncertainty variants in population forecasts for the Netherlands]. Maandstat Bevolking. 1991;39(9):31-39. [PubMed]
31.
Kitamura S, Hida A, Enomoto M, et al. Intrinsic circadian period of sighted patients with circadian rhythm sleep disorder, free-running type. Biol Psychiatry. 2013;73(1):63-69. [PubMed]