Polyphasic sleep is the practice of sleeping multiple times in a 24-hour period, as opposed to sleeping for 8 hours through the night. The phrase was introduced by psychologist J.S Szymanski, and in the last 5 years has become popular among the “Uberman” sleeping community.
There are in fact many people who experience a kind of polyphasic sleep unintentionally, waking multiple times during the night. This can be a life-hindering experience, leaving a person feeling unrested and tired throughout the day.
Polyphasic sleep is common in the animal kingdom, particularly in dogs, but is not natural to humans, and is potentially dangerous because it can interfere with daily cognitive ability.
However, it's influence over the Uberman community came about because it enables a person to fit more in to their schedule, eliminating the counter-productivity of the lengthy, nightly sleep period.
How Does the Uberman Sleep Schedule Work?
The idea is to hack your sleep by sleeping six times a day for 2o-3o minutes, training the brain to quickly enter deep stages of restorative sleep at will. So you might sleep at 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, and 10pm. In theory this can work, and challenges the conventional need to lie in bed for 8 hours a day.
The problem with our 8-hours of sleep is much of the time we spend in bed is not spent in stages 3 & $, the deep sleep stages required for bodily recovery. So the concept of ubersleeping is to cut out unnecessary bedtime in the early stages and get straight to REM sleep.
The Highly Debatable Claims
Many people claim to be living productive lives and feeling healthier with polyphasic sleep, yet I have never met one in person, and have only read as much in forums and blogs.
The fundamental flaw in polyphasic sleep is that habitually the body, since birth, and through heritage, has been trained and has ultimately evolved to sleep through the stages of sleep during the night.
However, the body is highly adaptable and resilient, and for a period of time it will adjust to and cope with the uberman sleep schedule.
But eventually sleep deprivation will kick in as the body struggles with falling asleep and constantly being woken up: you know that groggy feeling you get when you are woken before your usual waking time, or in the middle of a deep cycle of sleep, expect that feeling indefinitely with the uberman sleep schedule.
If you are someone that has no problem nodding off, then this sleep hack might work for you for a while because it is likely that you access stages 3 & 4 faster than the average person.
Let's not forget, the body is highly adaptable and is designed to endure far more physical strain than most people ever expose it to. A healthy person can easily survive on a few hours sleep per night for a couple of weeks until the body just says, “that's enough”, and fails.
And so a polyphasic sleep schedule could really benefit travelers or multi-day endurance racers. But let's not forget that it is a proven fact that the body works with nature – lightness and darkness – to trigger sleep, which therefore renders sleeping intermittently during the day completely unnatural, and there will be negative effects on the body.
For those that have a history of poor sleep and trouble getting to sleep, I do not recommend polyphasic sleep. It could seriously harm your natural sleeping routine, after which you will need sleep hygiene training to correct your rhythm.
If you are a good sleeper and you want to experiment with polyphasic sleep by all means do so, but be very careful how long for, and make sure you are in good health. If you are struggling with good sleep already then I think it's best you address that first before undertaking such an unnatural sleeping routine.