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Inside the Fascinating Polyphasic Sleep Movement

By Amit Harlev

Sleep. We all need it. Most of us don’t get enough of it. For many, it’s an annoyance, for some it’s a relief, and others still, a hobby. One of the most commonly cited ranges for necessary hours of sleep is seven-nine hours per night. However, very few people actually fulfill this necessity.

What if there was a solution to this near universal problem? An avid community of polyphasic sleepers claims there is. For those unaware, polyphasic sleep is the practice of sleeping in two or more periods a day. They are usually made up of a combination of cores (long periods of sleep) and naps. The claim made by this community, is that using this technique, you can get fewer hours of sleep, but not be sleep deprived. There are a number of common schedules in the community:

Segmented
Biphasic
Siesta
Triphasic
Everyman
Dual Core 1

What are some reasons for using a polyphasic sleep schedule? Athena Malmrose, a high school student in Michigan, said that she started her polyphasic sleep schedule to stop feeling lethargic, have more time, and to try something interesting. The latter two are some of the most common reasons in the community. Malmrose is currently on a biphasic sleep schedule, and before that, she tried out Everyman 2 (same as Everyman but with two naps instead of three and a slightly longer core).  She manages to make her schedule work with school, by taking her nap immediately after school. “During [Everyman 2] a while back, I had a homeroom style class that I always napped in” she recalled.

Tim Seger, a high school student from England, told me that he didn’t really have a reason for starting. He explains, “I had been doing something like biphasic sleep, I just didn’t know it, and [then I] realised that I needed a [consistent] schedule.” One of the most important things when using a polyphasic schedule, is consistency of bedtime and wake up, especially while adapting (getting used to a new sleep schedule). Seger also verifies that he feels fine even though he has less sleep, saying “During the first week, I definitely felt more tired than usual. But, after that, I was fine.” Another polyphasic sleeper from Germany, who requested anonymity, claimed to also have better memory, cognition, and mood throughout the day due to his sleep patterns.

A veteran polyphasic sleeper, who goes by the pseudonym generalNguyen, and is the administrator of the polyphasic sleep discord server and moderator on the polyphasic sleep Subreddit, has a lot of experience with a number of different schedules. “I have successfully adapted to Biphasic, Everyman 2, 3, Dual Core 1, 3, Triphasic, and Quadphasic” he said. Dual Core 1 is his favorite, he said, since it felt the most natural to him. He started as a polyphasic sleeper due to serious headaches and a sleep schedule that left him feeling very unproductive. Now, he recommends that others should try it, as long as they don’t have any physical or mental disabilities, and that teens can do it, as well as long as they don’t decrease their total hours of sleep per day. “They won’t reduce sleep, but they will improve their sleep quality with added naps,” he explained.

For those of you looking to try polyphasic sleep out for yourself, here are some tips from generalNguyen:

  1. Prepare for failures. Not everyone succeeds, and each person has a different limit for how many hours they can cut from sleep per day.
  2. Don’t think that Uberman is the only schedule this world offers. There are millions of schedules and variants that can ensure your success.
  3. Adaptation can range from slightly, to very painful. However, it is a necessary part of polyphasic sleep and you will have to get used to it.
  4. If you don’t have any mental or physical disorders, some type of polyphasic sleep should work for you.
  5. You need commitment, motivation, and discipline to pursue polyphasic sleep. You are trying to gain more waking time throughout the day, so make use of it.
  6. Don’t let “monophasers” (monophasic sleepers) discourage you. Regardless of what you do, there will always be someone against you. If you push through, you will succeed.

 

The schedule that he refers to, Uberman, is one of the most extreme schedules in the polyphasic community.

Uberman

What might come as a surprise to many, is that polyphasic sleep isn’t a new invention. According to award-winning author and Virginia Tech history professor, Roger Ekirch, segmented and biphasic sleep were the dominant modes of sleep in the Western world until the late 19th century. The prevalence of artificial lighting, along with the growing importance of efficiency and productivity during the industrial revolution made monophasic sleep the new standard. If you would like to read more about polyphasic sleep in history, read my Q&A with professor Ekirch.

 

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