Many people do not work independently as freelancers and cannot set their own work schedules, so inevitably there will be times when people’s jobs or school come in the way of polyphasic sleep. Not everyone has the opportuníty to schedule their lives around naps, and this has to be taken into consideration when dealing with polyphasic sleep. Some work schedules allow for certain polyphasic schedules, some for others. There are also times when it is best to temporarily hold off on attempting a polyphasic schedule, which are detailed in this article.
When you are adapting to a polyphasic sleeping schedule your mental capacity and learning ability will be impaired. If you are in a stage in your life when you should be performing to the best of your ability, reconsider adapting to a new sleep schedule. Reexamining the adaptation to a polyphasic sleep schedule when the hectic part of your life has passed; wait for a vacation or until the exams are finished may also offer you a greater freedom in your schedule selection.
The first shift usually runs from 08-16, with a lunch break around noon. This allows almost every polyphasic schedule, and should only require minor tweaking. You will possibly need to sleep at work, and possibly immediately before or after work in a car or similar place. You may want to make arrangements with your employer ahead of time to make sure they are happy with you sleeping during your lunch break. You might also want to make arrangements with your coworkers or find a quiet place to avoid possible disturbances during your nap time which may result in less restful sleep. Remember to avoid eating and excessive physical activity too close to the sleep sessions which may cause delay in sleep onset during your naps. This may be prohibitive if your work requires you to perform physical activity.
The second shift usually runs from 16-24 (or 4 pm to 12 am). This should still allow for several schedules to be pulled off, as the the shift time basically coincides with the time people feel most alert during the day. Dual Core schedules could prove difficult , as the first core should cover as much of the SWS peak (21-24) as possible. Sub 5h schedules are also a challenge for the same reason. This can be handled by shifting and maintaining the shifted circadian rhythm. Depending on the placement of the break(s), having naps too late increases the risk of them containing SWS, and sufficient time between the last nap and the core is still needed which should to be taken into consideration when designing an adjusted sleep schedule.
The third shift usually runs from 00-08. This is the most difficult of the three shifts to pull off. Depending on the break times, transportation times, etc., it could still be possible to do a schedule that deviates little from a standard schedule, and a shift in circadian rhythm would thus not be needed. Shifting the circadian rhythm will most likely be necessary, however – refer to later parts of this article for more info. The SWS core would need to be either before or after the shift, with the time before being easier since the circadian rhythm doesn’t need to change as much.
As a side note, having such a third shift or “graveyard” work schedule long term has been linked to several systemic diseases, like shift work disorder, which is associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, cancer, depression, heart disease, excessive sleepiness and accidents, and decreased productivity1 , or directly associated with many other problems such as sleep deprivation, decreased cognitive performance, increased human errors, and fatigue2. Chronic sleep deprivation is also associated with shift work3, and is therefore best avoided.
If you have no option of napping at consistent times during work, the variety of schedules possible will decrease significantly. Biphasic schedules should pose little problems (at least some of them should be doable), but harder schedules are likely not going to be an option. Some people have reported problems adapting to an 8h gap between the naps on E2, but others had no problems. The triphasic schedule could also be a possibility, as it can have an 8h break. Other than these, the work schedule needs to be at very specific times for alternative polyphasic schedules to work.
Some jobs use rotating shifts, on a daily, weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. If this is the case for you, pulling off any regular polyphasic sleeping schedule will be very difficult. Adapting to a schedule requires consistent sleeping times for at least a month. After adaptation, the whole schedule can be shifted (in some cases), however it will most likely take a week for the body to get used to the new schedule, similar to jet lag when traveling. Circadian light and food management may be required to keep cores and naps in good circadian placements.
Being sleep deprived this frequently is very unhealthy, regardless whether one is doing polyphasic sleep or monophasic sleep. The quality of your life should improve if you’re working with extended schedules, for example doing Siesta-extended with the shorter core before work.
3 shift rotation, 8h each: You should also aim to be able to do a schedule most days, try to do a schedule that copes with 2 of the 3 shift times and so on. Every time you have to switch schedules your adaptation will be set back, and thus will take longer, so having the rotations happen too often (more often than once every 2 weeks) or at random will not be possible. Shifting bedtimes frequently is correlated with poor health, so it is probably wise to only do this for a limited amount of time or out of absolute necessity, regardless if you’re on a monophasic or polyphasic sleeping schedule.
2 shift rotation, 8h each: Some workplaces have people rotate between first and second shift. Make sure your polyphasic sleep schedule takes into account both shifts break times. If the break times are inconsistent, there is the possibility of Siesta, E1, or E2 with the afternoon sleep positioned at the switch change; so you’ll only need to rotate it about 20 minutes ideally, or realistically 30-40 mins or so. This can only be pulled off if the work schedule changes infrequently.
2 shift rotation, 12h each: This will be nearly impossible to pull off, unless the shifts are rotated more seldom than once a month. If this is the case, then biphasic sleeps are likely the best bet.
3 shift, 8h each, random: Switching schedules randomly will not be possible if done on a regular basis. This will be possible to pull off if it is done infrequently, every 2 weeks at most. If it is very rare to do actual work during one of the shifts, e.g. waiting on call, then switching more frequently might be possible, since it would be very similar to the 2 shift rotation.
Switching schedules for infrequent rotations
During adaptation it is unwise to do a circadian shift (as it will confuse the body regarding where to place the sleep times, etc.), but it can be done if it is a necessity. Best option will be to switch to the new schedule cold turkey (see adaptation), possibly with the aid of fast release melatonin if needed. Sleep deprivation can also make it very easy to fall asleep at your new times. Every switch is going to set your adaptation back, but how much depends on the amount shifted, what adaptation stage you’re on, individual factors, and so on. You should be able to notice if the shifts change too frequently, as it’ll leave you perpetually disoriented during the whole time between switches. You will get unpredictably tired or awake during this adjustment. If you only have a few days of feeling good between switches, then adaptation will also be very hard, and will likely drag out for months. This is not recommended!
Many people are not able to nap during their travel to work, and some are also not able to nap directly before or after work. If this accompanies inconsistent break times, almost all schedules will be impossible. As long as you have time to have a 2-3 hour gap between cores, Segmented should still be possible. If you don’t even have enough time at night to split your core with a 2-3 hour gap, polyphasic sleep is not for you. If you have to sacrifice sleep to have enough time for daily activities, it might be wise to reconsider your life choices.
If your job consists of driving a lot, for example by being a trucker, you should avoid adapting to schedules with a low amount of sleep. Ideally you would wait until a long holiday before attempting a polyphasic schedule, since sleep deprivation increases the risk of having microsleeps, which can lead to a crash. Please exercise extra caution when executing tasks with possible high risk requiring constant attention and avoid adaptation and extreme sleep schedules as during both you may experience sleep deprivation or sudden waves of tiredness and you could pose danger to yourself and others. When you are sleep deprived, your cognitive functions are also weakened and reaction time is slower, which may be hard to subjectively assess and could lead into poor judgement in critical situations, leading to adverse outcomes4.