Polyphasic Sleep: How Many Hours of Sleep You Need and Why Less Can Mean More

Remember when you were a small child in kindergarten? Your teacher would make you line up at the door as you eagerly waited for them to swing open; so you could run outside on that cool summer day and play in the sandbox, or swing on the swing, or slide down the slide? And remember afterwards, when you would get to come in and sit down at the table with all your other little classmates and have snacks and listen to story time? Or to top it off . . . do you remember when after all the playtime was done, and the empty glasses of milk was set down, and all there were was a little sleeping mat with your name on it? Now that I have taken you down memory lane as you reminisce about the “good ‘ole days,” let me now take you back to reality. Back to where playtime is work, snacks is mostly junk food, and naps consist of 8 hours at night, or more likely broken sleep that leaves us feeling less than productive after we have woken up.

But what if our childhood down memory lane could be our reality even in adult hood? What if I were to say that I sleep less than five hours a day? Would you believe me? Of course you would. There are millions that get less than that. But what if I told you that I sleep less than five hours a day and I was more productive, more alert, and better rested than the average human being? You might be a bit more skeptical to believe that. However, there are thousands, just like me, that know the secret to sleeping less and having a better, more productive life for doing so. And that, my friends, is what this article is all about.

Polyphasic sleep has evolved into several different modern day terms, but has been practiced for centuries. It is a sleeping process designed to maintain high alertness while compressing 8 hours of sleep into nothing more but 2 to 6 hours of sleep. You might be thinking that 2 to 6 hours of sleep is unproductive, unreasonable, and/or even impossible for such a high paced society that we live in. But it is very possible, reasonable, and highly productive as many of the world’s richest, high achieving, and intelligent individuals have discovered and implemented in their daily lives for years. Einstein (scientist), Mozart (musician), da Vinci (artist/inventor), Thomas Jefferson (American president), and others such as Nikola Tesla (scientist) and Winston Churchill (politician) all saw the astounding benefits of polyphasic sleep.

One of the most productive and innovative cultures in the world happens to be the Asian culture. Why? Perhaps it is because the majority of Asians take short naps throughout the day. Now those in the Western Hemisphere might find that, for a better term, non-productive and a waste of valuable daylight hours. But by such cultures, like that of the Asian world, they have been able to decrease the amount of sleep cycles needed to feel refreshed and well-rested; which in turn leaves them with more time for productivity and a higher sense of alertness throughout their busy days.

Do you know that the average individual that gets less than 8 hours of sleep will feel tired and groggy after awakening? Do you know that the average individual that gets over 8 hours asleep feel the same way? Or how about those that receive exactly 8 hours of sleep? Believe it or not, there are quite a few of those individuals that wake up feeling tired and groggy throughout the day as well? This is because our extremely unique bodies are not normally given what they are needed to run at optimal levels. Just like our bodies are unique, our brains are even more so unique. They are intricate and precise. Our brains are designed to run and maintain many of the functions in our body. And sleep is one of the most important things that we must have to ensure that are bodies are healthy, refreshed, and well-rested. The brain functions better when it has been able to achieve a certain amount of sleep cycles. This is achieved by the brain tapping into your body’s biological alarm/sleep clock. That’s right; you have your own natural alarm clock.

Sleep cycles work on an average of 90 minute increments. There are a total of five stages in the cycle: Stages 1-4 and then the well known REM (rapid eye movement) cycle. Keeping this in mind, let us break down what an average night of sleep would be for an individual who sleeps a solid 8 hours a day. In stages 1 thru 4 an individual would sleep approximately 65 to 70 minutes of normal (without REM/non-dreaming) sleep, and then 20 to 25 minutes of REM sleep; which is when you began to dream. Stages 1 thru 4 are where we go from falling asleep (light sleep) to being in a deep state of sleep before we began to dream. Since the said average person sleeps 8 hours a day, they typical go through 5 and a half hour cycles. But there are five stages to the cycle, so what happens when you wake up in the middle of a cycle? You feel groggy. Tired. Cranky. Which is why so many individuals that implement the “get your 8 hours of rest” regimen, feel as if they haven’t gotten any rest at all?
The idea behind polyphasic sleep, which is widely and incorrectly dubbed the Uberman or da Vinci sleep, is breaking down your sleep cycles into several phases, hence the term “polyphasic.” In essence, you’re taking short naps in full cycles throughout the day.

Since one cycle typically consist of only 90 minutes an individual can nap 90 minutes three, four, and five or even six times throughout the day and feel completely rested and refreshed. It’s been done for centuries, and with very effective results.

I have personally been implementing the polyphasic sleep into my daily routine for the past few years. After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t understand how she was able to maintain a steady, busy, and uninterrupted life without any setback to her health or her body’s energy level. My curiosity had reached its peak and I finally asked her one day how she was able to maintain a steady energy level, she simply stated that she took naps throughout the day. I was impressed. And at the time, being the chronic insomniac that I was, I was highly interested in seeing if attempting to take short naps would help me with my own sleep problems and energy levels.

The first week was, to put it nicely, a living hell. I found myself tired and cranky, as I attempted to take on what many call the “Uberman Sleep.” The Uberman sleep is NOT the polyphasic sleep, but simply one of many sleep schedules/methods you can take to achieve polyphasic sleep. The Uberman sleep schedule consists of taking six naps a day in 20 to 30 minute increments every four hours. After the first week, the results were incredible. My insomnia had been broken, my productivity sky rocketed, I was able to do more in my daily routines, my alertness was increasingly higher than normal, and my creative streak had morphed into an all time high.

But at the time that I was implementing the Uberman sleep schedule, I had been a work-at-home individual, writing screenplays and doing freelance photography. I was living the childhood dream. I had playtime (the job I loved), snacks (an important part of any individual’s day) and lots of naps. However, several months ago this had all changed when I was hired on as a full time photographer for a large corporation. This required heavy traveling and over 16 hours of consistent photo shoots, equipment handling, and working with the public. The Uberman sleep schedule was no longer an option for me. And like any child who goes from nap times to math classes and no more lying out on little blue mats after story time; I too had some crankiness that was to be reckoned with.

After several days of researching sleep cycles, I had finally came to the conclusion that as long as the body had received several sleep cycles in a 24 hour period, productivity and a high state of alertness could still be achieved. I had then begun to experiment on a sleep regimen that would provide me with less sleep and yet still maintain a healthy and mentally alert mind. Eventually I adopted the 90 minute method in which I take one 90 minute nap in the early evening and then two consecutive 90 minute naps (3 hours) at night. The results were the same: very effective.

With only 4 and half hours of sleep I am refreshed, mentally alert, and highly productive throughout my work days. I am only one example of what many others have achieved before me, and what thousands more are discovering every day.

So, if 8 hours isn’t cutting it for you, it may be time to try something new that has been around for centuries. Something innovative that may just very well change the way you live your life. Sleep isn’t just about how much you get, but how you obtain it and how you implement it into your daily life. The key is to remember that the body requires several full sleep cycles (typically 90 minutes a cycle) within a 24 hour period. For many working class individuals, adulthood is efficiently run through organization. Sleep . . . is no different.

AUTHORS NOTE: The polyphasic sleep is not for everyone. Due to certain health conditions such as sleep apnea or other chronic illnesses, polyphasic sleep may not be effective and/or could cause more harm than good. Even healthy individuals may not find polyphasic sleep an effective method for their lives, especially working class individuals who cannot maintain the consistent schedule that is vital to the polyphasic sleep method. So be smart, conduct some research, and experiment to see what works best for you.

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