Polyphasic sleeping is the practice of sleeping more than once per day, in contrast to the monophasic sleep consisting of single sleep block which is considered normal in today’s (western) society.
Sleeping more than once per day may initially sound strange or abnormal, however it is quite common. In fact our monophasic sleep cycle is a learned behaviour.
About 85% of mammals follow polyphasic sleep cycles, human babies start out life sleeping polyphasically, and before artificial (electric) lighting the vast majority of humanity followed a polyphasic sleep schedule1,2. These polyphasic sleep schedules generally manifested as siesta near the equator and transitioning to segmented as nights lengthened further away.
Throughout recorded history there are references to polyphasic sleeping as a “first sleep” in the early evening and “second sleep” during early morning, with several hours of waking in between1. This time in between sleeps was used for various activities such as prayer, writing, sex and dream interpretation.
The introduction of artificial lighting caused changes in our natural circadian rhythm resulting in a monophasic sleep pattern becoming the dominating way people slept since, to the point where most of modern society has forgotten our ancestors slept this way3.
Advantages of Polyphasic sleep
Polyphasic sleep has a number of advantages compared to monophasic sleep, namely:
Increased wake time
Polyphasic sleep can increase the time per day you spend awake, with the most extreme schedules lowering total time asleep to a mere 2 hours daily, though these may not be sustainable long-term for all people and likely pose health risks which have not been identified yet. The increased waking time is interesting for many people who rarely get time for themselves, allowing for activities that would otherwise be impeded due to sleeping times. Though it must be noted that learning to use the extra time effectively is equally, if not more important to get the most out of it.
Improved sleep quality
Polyphasic sleep can improve overall sleep quality by ensuring that sleep is aligned to your body’s natural rhythms while prioritizing the most important forms of sleep and reducing fragmentation of sleep phases. This raises overall sleep quality.
Short naps throughout the day ensure an increase in wakefulness that can significantly improve alertness, productivity and creativity while preventing sleepiness when compared to monophasic sleep.
Better dream recall
Due to REM-only naps one’s ability to recall dreams improves significantly from sleeping polyphasically. The amount of REM proportional to the amount of total sleep also increases, which makes it more likely that one’s sleep will end near REM, also boosting the dream recall possibility.
Potential lucid dreaming benefits
This builds on the dream recall. Because one is able to predict when dreams are going to occur one can use and train lucid dreaming techniques. Several people have also become lucid dreamers simply from adapting to a polyphasic sleeping schedule without any prior experience.
Faster sleep onset
Due to rigid sleep times and bodily mechanisms fighting sleep deprivation one will learn to fall asleep really fast from doing a polyphasic sleeping schedule. Some people have even used polyphasic sleep to manage their insomnia (more information in medical cautions), and people have regularly managed to cut down their sleep onset from sometimes as high as a few hours to a couple of minutes.
Many supporters of polyphasic sleep use these advantages to suggest that polyphasic sleep is strictly better than monophasic or that everyone should become polyphasic, however polyphasic sleep also has some substantial downsides that must be considered that make it incompatible with certain lifestyles or situations.
Disadvantages of Polyphasic sleep
Adapting to a polyphasic schedule is more difficult than people generally expect, with 3+ weeks of substantial sleep deprivation followed by a recovery period, assuming everything goes well. Often combined with having to implement substantial changes in lifestyle to ensure the schedule can work, and the body having to discover ways to combat the sleep deprivation in order to adapt to the new schedule.
Especially the harder schedules with less total sleeping time can have a very harsh learning curve.
Adaptation to polyphasic sleep can only work if the chosen schedule is adhered to strictly for at least the first month. There are schedules that are flexible, like SEVAMAYL and other schedules like E2 can be changed to allow for flexibility. But both of these require that you adapt to the rigid “base form” of said schedule first, then learn to shift the sleep blocks around after the schedule has been stable for a few months.
The rest of the world runs on a monophasic schedule. Not everyone will be capable of fitting a polyphasic sleep pattern into their social/working life, for instance not every employer allows naps during working hours, not every school has consistent break times and socializing at night isn’t possible with a lot of schedules. In addition the requirement of incorporating a “dark period” leading up to sleep can be quite troublesome to people.
Depending on your chosen schedule there are some activities that will not be possible, or will be substantially more difficult.
Substantial exercise (weight lifting, HIIT, and similarly high-impact exercise) achieves muscle growth by damaging muscle tissue, which requires additional SWS to repair. Nightlife will also be very impractical with most schedules. While almost everyone can succeed with a polyphasic sleeping schedule some people can’t reduce their sleep as much as others. See lifestyle considerations for more information about all this.
Quitting smoking, caffeine, alcohol and many other drugs during adaptation is somewhat of an advantage for polyphasic sleep, since each and every one of these can substantially alter your sleep and therefore affect your sleep schedule. Lifestyle considerations provides more info about this.
Due to an increased SWS requirement at a younger age as well as some studies indicating NREM2 plays a role in the structural development of the brain, it is recommended people avoid drastically reducing total sleep depending on one’s age. More information can be found in lifestyle considerations.
Hard to sustain
Though polyphasic sleep becomes substantially easier once you make it through adaptation, there are various reasons why you would drop back out of a schedule and have to potentially start over from scratch.
Sickness can increase SWS need to the point where your current schedule is no longer sustainable, in addition adaptation reduces the efficiency of your immune system so the chance you’ll get sick is increased during adaptation. Injuries may also increase SWS need in much the same way.
If your schedule changes, it is likely you’ll need to basically adapt from scratch unless you manage to fit to the new schedule with only very minor changes.
Travelling to a different timezone can prove to be problematic especially if you travel across multiple time zones, since doing so is likely to destabilize your schedule unless you’ve been on the schedule for a long time or manage your day-night cycle well. Traveling in general is also likely to be hard on your schedule due to the high chance of having to skip naps of other ways of not maintaining a consistent schedule. More information regarding these issues is available in lifestyle considerations and medical cautions.
Potential long-term health risks
Though we’re fairly confident that polyphasic sleeping is generally a safe thing to try, there are some potential health concerns with both long-term sleep reduction as well as extreme sleep reduction. There are, so far, two known cases where polyphasic sleeping appears to have negatively affected a person’s health in a major way. In one case several decades of polyphasic sleep combined with a high-stress lifestyle appears to have caused a breakdown in vitamin D processing. In the other, 8 months of following the tesla sleep schedule appears to have caused blackouts, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.
This is hardly a full list of potential risks related to polyphasic sleep, however it should be enough to illustrate that the decision to start polyphasic sleep isn’t one to be taken lightly, you will need a strong motivation and reason to start following a schedule as well as an environment that allows for it.
Finally one more important thing to realize is that it is possible to fail to adapt to a schedule, in which case all the time you have spent adapting will go to waste and you will potentially have to start over. In fact polyphasic sleep is more likely to become a long-term process where you’re continuously learning from your mistakes in order to work towards a personal goal than it is something you can do on a whim and get some extra time.
Starting a polyphasic lifestyle
Before starting your polyphasic journey there are some basic steps you should follow. Gather as much information about polyphasic sleep as you can.Figure out which schedules are suited for you and your needs, and which you would prefer to try. Lifestyle considerations, medical cautions and scheduling has more information about this. Prepare for the adaptation period to the best of your ability.
Gathering information is particularly important, and you should definitely make sure the information comes from reputable sources. Way too many people try polyphasic sleeping with a lack of accurate data, and thus have no idea what they are doing. This will very often lead to failure. This website attempts to provide an exhaustive compilation of available information, gathered anecdotally from long term successful polyphasers and thousands of attempters from the polyphasic Reddit and Discord, some with sleep tracking devices. You should be able to learn about pretty much everything necessary for you to succeed with polyphasic sleeping from this guide, however you may want to visit other sources which can provide different views on polyphasic sleep. Notably, feel free to visit our active discord server and subreddit:
Polyphasic Sleep Discord: a public chat server operated by people with a good amount of polyphasic sleeping experience. This is the best place to ask if this website doesn’t answer your questions! It can be used to ask for help, advice with scheduling or just to discuss polyphasic sleep in general. The operators of this guide reside in the Polyphasic Sleeping discord server!
/r/polyphasic: This is a subreddit dedicated to polyphasic sleeping. It has been around for a long time, and it is thus possible to view how recommendations and general information has changed over the years. A majority of the Polyphasic community resides here.
Other sources of information
Ubersleep: Nap-Based Sleep Schedules and the Polyphasic Lifestyle – Second Edition: a book written by Marie Staver (also known as Puredoxyk), often reported as the inventor of the Uberman and Everyman sleep schedules. The second edition was published in 2013, and therefore can be dated in some aspects. If you choose to pick up this book, you should note that the schedule names used in the book differ from the ones used on this website. The difficulty of adaptation to polyphasic sleep also appears to be underestimated in the book when compared to adaptation difficulties over many adaptation attempts observed over the past two years by the community.
Puredoxyk’s slack: The author of Ubersleep operates a Slack server with a chat room. Currently, however, the slack does not have many members and is not as active as it used to be. It is a good way to get in touch with Puredoxyk if you have questions regarding her book or other content.
Polyphasic Society: The website PolyphasicSociety.com is one of the few information sources regarding polyphasic sleeping currently on the internet. In the past it was run by Forevernade, who authored some of the content there. Sadly, after he stopped being active in the community, the site ended up being taken over by some individuals who stopped working on the useful polyphasic-centered content on the site.
The Polyphasic Society site is now heavily marketing their sleep mastery e-books which offers very little information over other sources. In addition, while much of the information on the Polyphasic Society website is known to be reliable, other parts are only speculative or experimental with very minimal proof for the validity of said information. This makes it quite difficult to distinguish the accurate from the speculative which is why beginners may want to choose to avoid this site.
Youtube: Try to be cautious about the information found in Youtube videos, as many new polyphasic experimenters have a habit of making a video blog about how great it is going to be, only to fail and then abandon the project; either misleading others by bragging about the ease of adaptation, their invented adaptation method that’s sure to work, or dragging down polyphasic sleep as a whole by claiming it is not possible.
Blogs: As with Youtube you should be wary about what blogs you read about polyphasic sleep, especially those that seem to stop after only a small amount of time has passed. There’s a big risk they will also claim to have adapted in a very short timespan, advocating strange schedules is common and so on.
SuperMemo: This site utilizes some scientific data when talking about polyphasic sleep, but a lot of facts are misconstructed and the author explores only a very narrow part of the problems discussed. It is also noteworthy that the author tries to promote a sleeping technique that involves freerunning sleep, which is proven to be unhealthy4. Not all information on SuperMemo is incorrect, however, which is why you may choose to read it to get a different view on polyphasic sleep.
Steve Pavlinas blog: Steve Pavlina did the Uberman sleep schedule for just under 6 months in 2005-2006. Unfortunately, like with Puredoxyk’s book, he understates the adaptation timescale in his articles. He also has some questionable views on the human body, talking about psychic abilities and such, so you should take what you read there with some healthy skepticism.
There are many places not mentioned here where you can find information online and some are better than others. If you want to suggest some other good information sources you have found, please contact the administration team over at Discord or Reddit!