Yoga: The Ultimate Ally of Polyphasic Sleep?

Introduction to yoga

Yoga is a sum of multiple spiritual discipline practices that originate from India – these practices include, but not limited to stretching, breath control, meditation, guided relaxation, static postures1,2. One of the core premises of yoga is to achieve balance and calmness in the mind. A lot of benefits of yoga have been recorded with little to no adverse effects. Up to date, there are a few polyphasic sleepers who practice yoga, with decent to good results for nocturnal sleep. More research is needed between polyphasic sleep and yoga especially on schedules with higher amount of sleep reduction (more shortened nocturnal core sleep than traditional biphasic schedules). At face value and current anecdotal reports, yoga is claimed to be a good addition in most polyphasic sleepers’ lifestyle. 

Acknowledged benefits of yoga

There are many variants of yoga, and as a result, there are multiple research reports on different yoga variants. One study about yoga asana practice concluded that 26 healthy adults aged from 20 to 58 benefited from the following yoga’s therapeutic effects: reduced stress, decreased blood pressure, increased muscular strength, endurance and stamina3. The age range of participants from the study indicates that many different age groups can make use of yoga techniques. There are also multiple other studies on how potent yoga can be when it comes to balancing the mind, increasing physical strength and boosting individual well-being. 

In terms of sleep, yoga has also demonstrated its potency in raising overall sleep quality. This includes deeper sleep, reducing wake after sleep onset (WASO)1 and sleep onset latency1,4, improving sleep efficiency1,2,6,7 and even alleviating insomnia symptoms6. The side benefits resulting from these quality of life improvements include better cognitive functions in school, which is very necessary for teens who are often perpetually sleep deprived, uninterrupted sleep (which is hindered by WASO), better learning, better control in mood and memory, and several others. The above studies were conducted with different types of subjects: the elderly, pregnant women, cancer subjects and even small children (aged 3-4). 

In what ways can yoga help polyphasic sleep?

Unfortunately, there has been no research between how yoga directly affects polyphasic sleep, and whether yoga is fully compatible with polyphasic sleeping, and if so, to what extent. All linked research articles in this blog post apply to normal monophasic nocturnal sleep, with the exception of one. However, polyphasic sleep can still make use of certain aspects of yoga. The following 2 aspects are chosen as they are main concerns for beginner polyphasic sleepers. 

1. Sleep Onset Latency Reduction: 

In the study about small children, it was shown that a mere 5-minute yoga session can facilitate falling asleep in daytime naps4. From this study and indirect implications of other studies, it seems reasonable to expect that yoga at least suits biphasic sleeping lifestyles. Being able to fall asleep in naps is a great asset to train napping skills and make use of napping abilities to transition into other polyphasic patterns of choice. Up to date, there are few cases that regularly practice yoga (at least most days of the week) while staying on different biphasic schedules with great success. Most of these cases have a good start into adaptation, with no trouble falling asleep at night thanks to the consistent sleep time of nocturnal sleep. The potentially greater implication is that practicing yoga some time before a nap is a good idea – this is a practice of cooling down and relaxing the brain before sleeping. Working up the brain close to sleep times will make falling asleep much more difficult! And so being able to fall asleep faster is a great benefit from yoga. 

2. WASO Duration Reduction:

WASO remains a big threat during adaptation to polyphasic schedules, especially schedules with higher total sleep time (TST, typically biphasic group with long core sleeps). The common WASO observation is that sleepers would wake up from their sleep at night for different reasons (e.g, bathroom use, woken up by a dream, slight noises) and take a long time to go back to sleep. This sleep interruption can often result in unrestful wakes in the morning. Common, normal WASO duration in healthy women is estimated to be 5-10% of TST, and beyond 15% (at least 1h) is considered heavily negative5. Approximately 3% decrease in WASO duration was observed in the second-trimester group who practiced yoga5

Biphasic sleepers who practice yoga in the community report to have no problems sleeping through the long core sleep, implying that their WASO duration is often minimal. Even if nocturnal awakening occurs (e.g, bathroom use), they have no trouble going back to bed. These biphasic patterns also include both reducing variants (reduce TST compared to monophasic baseline) and non-reducing variants (having similar TST to monophasic baseline). 

Under the context of long nocturnal sleep, yoga improves TST by extending sleep duration. Sleep deprivation from restricted sleep results in poorer performance under quizzes and tests despite more wake time for studying1. This can be understood that sleep quality and architecture are enhanced. Polyphasic sleep is not the same as nocturnal monophasic sleep, so such comparisons between sleep deprivation and more wake time should be considered with a grain of salt. 

In what ways can yoga hurt polyphasic sleeping?

Despite its potential, yoga’s effects are predicted to be more limited on extreme polyphasic schedules. On these schedules, homeostatic pressure is overall higher, which facilitates falling asleep and reduces sleep onset duration on their own. And since all sleep blocks are shorter compared to those on milder schedules, polyphasic sleepers may or may not have any WASO occurrences. Thus, it is unknown if yoga drastically improves these aspects of sleep quality on these polyphasic schedules compared to higher TST schedules, where homeostatic pressure is lower throughout the day. 

Risk of oversleeping: 

During polyphasic adaptation (where sleep deprivation usually gets to an intense or uncomfortable level), closing eyes can initiate sleep and cause an involuntary oversleep. This situation is very similar to microsleeping (dozing off for a couple seconds without knowing). Therefore, it is important to keep your eyes open during the adaptation period when it is not time to sleep on your schedule yet. A lot of common yoga exercises (e.g, meditation), however, require or at least recommend closing your eyes for better focus. But as of now, meditating in certain postures (e.g, Tree Pose) can be done with open eyes8. Another reason for why your eyes should be kept open is that closing your eyes can lead to more daydreaming (like you’re trying to run away from them) while opening your eyes keeps you still and your line of sight connects you to the present state9

Alternatively, there are also yoga positions that favor standing up instead of sitting. Sitting with open eyes can potentially still induce sleep with enough sleep deprivation. Such yoga activities include the Mountain Pose, Chair Pose, and Triangle Pose to name a few10. Thus, it is highly recommended that you keep your eyes open during these meditating activities and choose standing poses when you are adapting to a polyphasic schedule to avoid falling asleep. Accidentally falling asleep can mess with the timing of the following sleeps and also counts as an oversleep. 

Conclusion

To sum up, yoga promises good prospects for polyphasic sleeping, as it helps with two of the biggest concerns during the adaptation period – sleep onset duration and WASO duration. However, more experiments are necessary to determine how much effect yoga has on more extreme polyphasic schedules. The potential downside of yoga is that it can trigger microsleeping during adaptation, so closing your eyes in yoga activities during adaptation is discouraged. Regardless, since no negative reports have been collected from more difficult polyphasic schedules, it is reasonable to add yoga to the polyphasic regime without any harm, as of the current date. 

Main author: GeneralNguyen

Page last updated: 27 March 2020

  1. M. Perfect, M., & Smith, B. (2016). Hypnotic relaxation and yoga to improve sleep and school functioning. International Journal of School & Educational Psychology, 4(1), 43–51. doi:10.1080/21683603.2016.1130558. 
  2. Wikipedia Contributors. “Yoga.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Jan. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga. Accessed 4 March. 2020.
  3. Cowen, V. S., & Adams, T. B. (2005). Physical and perceptual benefits of yoga asana practice: results of a pilot study. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9(3), 211–219. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2004.08.001 
  4. Henderson, Natalie. “Yoga Before Naptime.” Masters of Arts in Education Action Research Papers, 1 May 2018, sophia.stkate.edu/maed/264/. Accessed 4 Mar. 2020.
  5. Bankar, M., Chaudhari, S., & Chaudhari, K. Impact of long term Yoga practice on sleep quality and quality of life in the elderly. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2013;4(1):28. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.109548 [PMC]
  6. Mustian, Karen M. “Yoga as Treatment for Insomnia Among Cancer Patients and Survivors: A Systematic Review.” European Medical Journal. Oncology. 2013;1(1):106–115. [PMC]
  7. Beddoe, A. E., Lee, K. A., Weiss, S. J., Powell Kennedy, H., & Yang, C.-P. P. Effects of Mindful Yoga on Sleep in Pregnant Women: A Pilot Study. Biological Research For Nursing. 2010;11(4):363–370. doi:10.1177/1099800409356320. [PMC
  8. “Should You Keep Your Eyes Open in Yoga.” Melissawest.Com, melissawest.com/keeping-eyes-open-in-yoga/. Accessed 10 Mar. 2020.
  9. Naughton, Julia. “Meditating With Your Eyes Open: A Guide.” Huffington Post, 13 Jan. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/01/12/meditating-with-eyes-open_n_8965240.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2020.
  10. “Basic Yoga Moves Cheat Sheet.” Greatist, greatist.com/move/common-yoga-poses#easy. Accessed 12 Mar. 2020.

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