Polyphasic Sleep – What You Need To Know

Polyphasic sleep is a concept that derives its name from the Greek word ‘polus’, meaning ‘muc’ or ‘many’. It is so called because it is the practice of sleeping multiple times during a twenty-four hour period.

Technically an individual who has two sleep sessions a day is a practitioner of polyphasic sleep, but the term is usually used to refer to people who have more than two sleep sessions, with people who have two more commonly referred to as biphasic sleepers.

These are both in contrast to the much more common monophasic sleepers, who have one period of sleep every twenty-four hours.

There’s a lot of interest in polyphasic sleep among people who seek to optimize their sleep patterns so as to be able to spend more time awake each day. It is a somewhat contentious issue; it has its advocates and its critics.

Some people claim that people such as Napoleon, Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla employed polyphasic sleep, but there isn’t much in the way of reliable evidence that can support this.

The most common criticism of the practice is that people who use it in the long-term will eventually exhibit the same symptoms as people who suffer from sleep deprivation: a weaker immune system, irritability, diminished physical ability, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety and stress.

Critics tend to point to the fact that polyphasic sleepers often report having to find an “engaging activity” in order to stay awake in-between sleep cycles.

We asked Charlie Henderson, a personal trainer course tutor at Discovery Learning and an expert in behavioural change and motivational interviewing, who uses polyphasic sleeping himself, to find out more about how it’s supposed to work:

“The first thing to understand is that not all sleep is of equal value. There is light sleep, in which we do not dream and in which our bodies do not recover energy, and there is deep sleep, in which we dream and which is necessary for our bodies to recover.”

“A human being who sleeps in an eight hour block will usually spend about 65% of that time in light sleep, which is something of a waste of time. The point of multiple shorter sleep sessions is to minimize the less useful light sleep while maximising the essential, dream-filled deep sleep.”

“One of the things I enjoy most about my polyphasic sleeping is that my dreams are lucid more often. Lucid dreams are those in which one is aware that one is dreaming, and in which one can sometimes exert some measure of control over characters and surroundings in the dream, as well as make oneself wake up if the dream is a bad one.”

If polyphasic sleeping interests you, then what we recommend is that you try it yourself for a time and decide whether you think it’s helping you. It’s good to read information from many sources and listen to lots of different opinions from knowledgeable people, but ultimately you must decide what is best for your own body.