What Is Polyphasic Sleep?

When most people go to bed, they usually sleep during the night for 1 chunk of time. This is called a monophasic schedule, but some cultures adhere to a bi-phasic schedule, as detailed in a 2020 study published in Nature and Science of Sleep. This involves sleeping partially at night and integrating a daily afternoon nap. These are the most common sleep schedules around the world, but some people have adopted a polyphasic sleeping schedule.

Polyphasic sleep involves sleeping multiple times a day for shorter amounts of time. Babies follow this schedule until they are 3 months old and soldiers sleep this way out of necessity, according to the Sleep Foundation. This schedule was rumored to have been employed by historical figures, including Leonardo de Vinci and Nikola Tesla. Now, polyphasic sleep is primarily used by people in the tech industry and entrepreneurs looking to squeeze as much productivity out of their day as possible, explains TIME.

Polyphasic sleep means sleeping multiple times during the day

Polyphasic sleep is when there are multiple intervals of sleeping and waking up throughout a 24-hour period, rather than just 1-2 sessions of sleep per day. While many animals, including mice, follow a polyphasic schedule, humans do not naturally sleep this way because of our bodies' preference for a standard sleep-wake cycle, according to the Sleep Foundation.

There are many variations of the polyphasic sleep schedule, but the most common is sleeping for a short period of time, usually a few hours, and then taking multiple 20- to 30-minute naps throughout the day, explains TIME. People who follow this schedule claim different benefits, such as increased productivity, stronger lucid dreaming, and better memory and learning ability (via the Sleep Foundation). However, unless someone's only other option is to not sleep at all, polyphasic sleep has been shown to be a poor sleeping habit that can negatively affect your health.

Polyphasic schedules lead to chronic sleep deprivation

Despite the claims by proponents of this schedule, polyphasic sleep leads to chronic sleep deprivation, which can cause many health problems. These include anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, obesity, psychosis, and more, according to Healthline. It doesn't help with productivity, either, even though you are awake for more hours of the day. In a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports, polyphasic sleep in students was associated with worse performance in class compared to students who had a regular sleep schedule. The polyphasic schedule users had disruptions in their circadian rhythm, similar to them having traveled back 2 or 3 time zones.

Polyphasic sleep schedules should only be used in specific situations, such as doing shift- or on-call work, where shorter sleep cycles are required, according to the Sleep Foundation. Monophasic or bi-phasic schedules are much better options for getting extra hours of sleep and avoiding the risks of sleep deprivation.