Tip: The Truth About Polyphasic Sleep

Here's what that means and what science has to say about it.

Polyphasic sleep is a term used to describe the practice of sleeping multiple times per day in short bursts instead of the traditional way (monophasic sleep).

These various bouts of sleep can be as frequent or infrequent as you’d like, but the idea is to get less total sleep while apparently achieving enhanced cognition and productivity.

Does It Work?

Polyphasic sleep is the epitome of favoring hype over facts. It’s one of those things that has no foundation of evidence and logically makes no sense, yet young, gullible people often jump all over it because they’re being promised an unfair advantage.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to gain a few more productive hours per day?

Biohackers claim polyphasic sleep is optimal because babies and animals have polyphasic sleeping patterns. They insist human adults are denying their natural physiology if they don’t practice polyphasic sleep.

Babies certainly use polyphasic sleep because their optimal slumber time harbors on 17 hours (1). As for the animal argument, well, humans are animals, but our physiology and lifestyle are obviously different.

The scientific literature not only discourages polyphasic sleep for adults, but suggests it might be suboptimal. For example, night workers who notoriously suffer from poor sleep quality accumulate sleep debt that can only be fixed by sleeping more continuous hours, not fewer catch-as-catch can hours (2).

In another study, college students who adopted a polyphasic-like sleep schedule were linked with poor academic performance (3).

Furthermore, our bodies simply aren’t designed to have disrupted sleep. We all go through cycles of sleep each night, but these cycles are best strung together. If sleep is repeatedly interrupted, it impacts cognition in both the short and long term (4). Having irregular wake times is literally classified as a disorder (5).

If you want to perform your best in everyday life, nothing beats getting the recommended 7-9 hours of continuous, high-quality sleep – not an earth shattering recommendation, but one that has stood the test of time and research (6,7).

References

  1. Chaput, Jean-Philippe, et al. “Sleeping Hours: What Is the Ideal Number and How Does Age Impact This?” Nature and Science of Sleep, Dove Medical Press, 27 Nov. 2018.
  2. Stampi, Claudio. “The Effects of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep Schedules.” SpringerLink, Birkhäuser, Boston, MA, 1 Jan. 1992.
  3. Phillips, Andrew J K, et al. “Irregular Sleep/Wake Patterns Are Associated with Poorer Academic Performance and Delayed Circadian and Sleep/Wake Timing.” Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group UK, 12 June 2017.
  4. Medic, Goran, et al. “Short- and Long-Term Health Consequences of Sleep Disruption.” Nature and Science of Sleep, Dove Medical Press, 19 May 2017.
  5. Zee, Phyllis C and Michael V Vitiello. “Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder: Irregular Sleep Wake Rhythm Type.” Sleep Medicine Clinics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 June 2009.
  6. Worley, Susan L. “The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research.” P & T : a Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, MediMedia USA, Inc., Dec. 2018.
  7. Chaput, Jean-Philippe, et al. “Sleeping Hours: What Is the Ideal Number and How Does Age Impact This?” Nature and Science of Sleep, Dove Medical Press, 27 Nov. 2018.