Nightmares and Polyphasic Sleep

DISCLAIMER: This blog is focused on anecdotal evidence and in-depth personal experience of a longtime polyphasic sleeper as well as the reflection on nightmare incidents before and during the polyphasic journey. Some scientific data mentioned in this blog post is used for reference and basis for certain claims. More research on polyphasic sleep’s physical and mental effects and nightmare occurrences is required to determine if polyphasic sleep generates more or less nightmares. 

NIGHTMARES

Nightmares are annoying and unpleasant occurrences during our sleep. During our lifetime, the vast majority of us go through at least one nightmare in one way or another. There are a lot of depictions for how nightmares sound or look like or what directly causes them, but their cause has not been fully understood. The generic consensus on a nightmare’s definition is that it evokes intense, horrifying or in the worst cases, disgusting imagery during dreams as sleep is interrupted. The sleeper then wakes up and is able to recall the nightmare with intense reactions such as sweating in some cases, and feelings of uneasiness and fear sometimes. 

MECHANICS OF NIGHTMARES

To gain a clearer insight into how nightmares work, it is necessary to know what potentially causes nightmares. The most nerve-wracking finding is that nightmares can occur in any stage of sleep, ranging from NREM2 to REM sleep, where it is common to recall vivid dreams. This makes it very difficult to statistically determine whether nightmares only occur during REM sleep most of the time or any other possible triggers can start during other sleep stages. Factors that can contribute to more nightmares include desynchronized sleep, drug use, genetics and mental conditions such as schizophrenia. Environmental factors such as constant stress, PTSD-like events that drastically affect one’s experience. Those that have lifelong nightmares also tend to run into more of them, and psychotic patients have reported to encounter nightmares on a more regular basis than healthy individuals1. One of the more important factors is that having trouble sleeping, or insomnia, plays an important role in increasing the occurrences of nightmares. 

NIGHTMARES IN POLYPHASIC SLEEP

Polyphasic sleeping centers on the efficiency of sleep. Mechanistically it is focused on quality sleep and getting enough REM and SWS for optimal body functions while potentially giving more waking hours in the day. However, until that point, an adaptation process needs to be done before sleep architecture is stabilized. The rigidity of sleep times is effective in helping the body learn the waking and sleeping hours each day. Over time, the distinction becomes clearer and the body automatically knows when resting and waking times are. The correlation between insomnia and the frequency of nightmares has been postulated2. Although not entirely concrete, it was a reasonable statement for assessment of how polyphasic lifestyle can help reduce the amount of nightmares. 

During my 5 years of polyphasic sleeping and being adapted to a wide array of schedules in the system, I barely ran across any nightmares. While I was on monophasic and up until the first time I practiced polyphasic sleeping, I ran into a lot of nightmares, up to a few each month. Granted, it was not that monophasic sleep was the worst idea in existence for me; it was more about my chaotic sleep times during teenage years as well as sleep deprivation during school, which is also a common phenomenon in teenagers. I noticed that I had more headaches that occurred at least once a week with different intensities, mental fatigue and the lack of productivity with subpar quality sleep. During polyphasic sleep, not only do I manage my waking hours better, I also had close to zero nightmares. I think that having a stable circadian rhythm is very important to not confuse the body. Messy sleeps do not do any real favor and they sound more unhealthy if left unchecked. Given that insomnia is shown to relate to nightmares, unstable and broken sleep architecture can give rise to insomnia, and more nightmares. On a polyphasic sleep regime I also learn to fall asleep very quickly depending on schedules, but overall, a lot faster than on monophasic sleep. By controlling my sleep on a daily basis I think it’s a very healthy thing to do for my body. And even though healthy sleep is definitely a subjective matter when it comes to the conventional monophasic sleep and the unorthodox polyphasic sleep, I now found the best sleeping regime to avoid those pesky bad dreams.
-GeneralNguyen

WHAT DO OTHER POLYPHASIC SLEEPERS SAY?

Before the making of this blog post, 17 experienced dreamers in the polyphasic sleep community were asked about their experiences with nightmares during or after their polyphasic adaptations. All of them claimed that bad dreams occurred more frequently, however the same couldn’t be said about nightmares. The exposure to nightmares also seems to be independent of sleep deprivation, as even during adaptation periods where sleep deprivation occurs, no full-blown nightmares were remembered or left any strong impressions on these sleepers. Around half of the surveyed polyphasic sleepers have adapted to at least one polyphasic schedule, and the remaining number did not manage to adapt to any polyphasic schedules. 

IS POLYPHASIC SLEEPING WORTH IT?

Yes. To me at the very least I can comfortably sleep without ever worrying about nightmares, while still being able to enjoy horror materials like movies and clips. I figure that polyphasic sleeping by itself might not help with nightmares at all. The more well-rounded approach to prevent nightmares the best way possible is to have consistent sleep times, or at the very least, consistent sleep window, have good sleep hygiene such as blue light filtration during nighttime, a nutritional diet and exercising.
– GeneralNguyen

Main author: GeneralNguyen
Page last updated: 16 February 2020

  1. Murray, J. B. “Psychophysiological Aspects of Nightmares, Night Terrors, and Sleepwalking.” The Journal of General Psychology. 1991;118(2):113–127. doi: 10.1080/00221309.1991.9711137. [PMC]
  2. Wong, Maria M., et al. “Sleep Problems, Suicidal Ideation, and Self-Harm Behaviors in Adolescence.” Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2011;45(4): 505–511. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.09.005. [PMC]

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