When you have an effective consistent sleep pattern, you can count on getting good sleep every single night. An irregular sleep pattern can easily cause insomnia. The secret to success is to pick a sleep pattern that you can stick to.
This does not mean that you have to wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day. When you know how sleep cycles work and understand the stages of sleep, you could sleep several times throughout the day and feel great, getting just 3 hours of sleep a day. It’s possible, but unless you know exactly what you’re doing and the science behind it, we don’t recommend you trying it.
This article will examine the theory of sleep patterns and give you understanding of how they work so that you can create one that works well for you. We’ll look at the various sleep patterns, from the more traditional ones to ones that might be considered insane!
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How Sleep Patterns Work
Your individual sleep pattern can be thought of as your inner clock. Your brain uses this to know when it’s bedtime and when to wake up. This works in conjunction with your body’s physical need for sleep, which is controlled by two factors:
- your daily routine (what time you go to sleep)
- how long you’ve been awake.
The timing of when you sleep is regulated by your circadian rhythm, which is the body clock deep within your brain. When your body clock tells that it’s time for rest, it collaborates with other bodily functions to get you ready for sleep. It stops numerous bodily functions that keep you awake. When it’s time for you to wake up, it all happens in reverse.
Your sleep-wake cycle starts developing soon after birth, guided by various cues that determine if it’s time for you to go to sleep. These cues include mealtimes, daylight, and the usual timing of activities that you perform at specific times of the day. Our brains have a way of naturally adjusting so that our sleep-wake cycles are aligned with the day-night cycles. Our bodies release the hormone melatonin when it gets dark to help us get to sleep. In daylight our bodies suppress this hormone so that we can wake up and stay awake.
However, the advent of electricity and lighting has totally upended the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Rather than allowing ourselves to naturally fall asleep at night when it’s dark, we stay up longer and longer because our melatonin is being suppressed for as long as we keep the lights on. Now that we have huge TV screens in many bedrooms, people all over the world are going to sleep much later.
You can easily return to your natural sleep-wake cycle on a camping trip. Once you spend a few days and nights living in a tent without any artificial lighting, you will start falling asleep at sunset and wake up at dawn thanks to melatonin.
In fact, the majority of blind people are regulated by melatonin and daylight. Even though they cannot see when it’s daylight, they still have neuronal connections between their eyes and brains. Their eyes still signal to their brains accordingly. The brain will then release melatonin when it gets dark and suppress it during daylight.
The Various Sleep Patterns
You know the inner workings of sleep patterns and how they’re in sync with the day-night cycle at this point. If you want to create a sleep pattern, you may be able to do so! Just like almost anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to doing so. But if you have a good reason to do so and don’t mind making a detailed plan and fully committing, you will succeed. But keep in mind that you need to be extremely careful, or you could mess yourself up!
Monophasic: 1 Period of Sleep a Day
This sleep pattern is what the majority of people consider normal. This is when someone sleeps about 8 hours a night, which varies among people. This typical sleep pattern has been adopted by most cultures and societies. There’s nothing unusual about monophasic sleep.
Biphasic: 2 Periods of Sleep a Day
This pattern involves someone sleeping twice a day - usually a short nap at some point during the day and a much longer period of sleep at night.
Although not at all common in the United States or Great Britain, a short nap after eating lunch is routine in Latin America and Spain. They call these naps siestas. The siesta takes advantage of the after-lunch dip in the early afternoon when you’ve had a meal and your body naturally feels drowsy, allowing you to easily nod off. Siestas usually last about half an hour. Sleeping any longer would pose the risk of going into deeper sleep, making it much more difficult to wake up. When done properly, a half-hour nap in the afternoon can certainly refresh you and create the same effect as an extra few hours of sleep would.
Some people take a longer afternoon nap of about 90 minutes. It works well since this gives the body enough time to get through a full sleep cycle ending in either nREM or REM stage. Once it’s time to get up, you naturally feel refreshed and awake.
Polyphasic: Several Periods of Sleep a Day
This is a more unusual sleep pattern when you sleep 4 to 6 times a day. While there are several combinations of this sleep pattern, the primary ones are Uberman, Dymaxion, and Everyman.
Uberman: 6 Naps a Day Not to Exceeding 30 Minutes Each
People adopting this sleep pattern take 6 naps a day with each one lasting no longer than 30 (usually only 20) minutes. As a result you can get the sleep you need in just 3 hours. These naps are taken at regular intervals throughout a 24-hour period.
The usual schedule for the Uberman is a 20-minute sleep at 4-hour intervals: 2a.m., 6a.m., 10a.m., 2p.m., 6p.m., and 10p.m.
This is one of the most difficult sleep patterns to stick to because it offers no flexibility. If you skip a nap, you will feel severely sleep deprived while waiting for the next nap. While it absolutely stretches human limits, it can be done if there’s a strong motivating factor and enough time.
Dymaxion: 30-Minute Naps at 6-Hour Intervals
The Dymaxion pattern is the one that the world-renowned American architect, inventor, author, and futurist Buckminster Fuller was said to have used for a number of years. You would take a half-hour nap every 6 hours in a period of 24 hours. This pattern would allow you to have just 2 hours of sleep per night.
No one knows of anyone other than Fuller who has ever stuck to the Dymaxion sleep pattern for any length of time. He might have been one of the rare individuals who naturally required less sleep than others, or this could just be a myth and he never tried this sleep pattern for very long at all. In any case, this is not a pattern we would recommend you to try.
Everyman: 1 Core Period of Sleep + 3 Naps
In adopting the Everyman you would have 1 core period of sleep lasting no more than 3 hours, which gives you enough time to experience every stage of nREM and REM sleep. You would follow up with 3 naps lasting about 20 minutes each to keep you fresh throughout the day.
People consider Everyman to be one of the easiest, most sustainable, and most flexible of the polyphasic patterns. However, no one can say that this is easy. Any of the polyphasic patterns require enormous willpower and commitment just to survive the adjustment as you are likely to be sleep deprived throughout the first couple of weeks.
The usual schedule for the Everyman is a core period of sleep from 1 to 4a.m. + 20-minute naps at 9a.m., 2p.m., and 9p.m. Of course, these times can be altered to best suit your needs.
Polyphasic Sleep Patterns Should in Theory Work Quite Well
Oddly enough, polyphasic sleep patterns aren’t as crazy as they seem. Theoretically they should work much better than the common monophasic sleep pattern.
We need a good sound deep sleep in order to wake up refreshed. However, with the standard monophasic sleep pattern only the initial 3 hours are spent in deep sleep. The rest of the time is spent sleeping in REM sleep and the lighter stages of sleep, which are not nearly as effective as deep sleep. We could spend a lot less time sleeping if we could spend more of our sleep time in deep sleep rather than in light and REM sleep.
This is the goal of polyphasic sleep patterns - to maximize the time spent in deep sleep and reduce the time spent in light sleep. This would allow you to spend less time asleep while still feeling fresh. Because the only time we get into deep sleep is when we first fall asleep, it would seem to make sense to try falling asleep more often by scheduling a higher number of sleep and wake periods.
Choosing the Best Sleep Pattern
Polyphasic and biphasic sleep patterns offer many benefits, which include the following:
- Improving your quality of sleep by spending more time in nREM than in REM sleep
- Reducing the time you spend sleeping each day
- Feeling more energetic throughout the day
- Improving your ability to remember dreams.
With this in mind, should we all try incorporating polyphasic sleep patterns into our lives? It would not be realistic. People find it difficult to deal with just one sleep-wake cycle, so you can forget trying to sell them 6!
Changing your sleep pattern would take a tremendous amount of willpower. You could plan to undergo severe sleep deprivation during the first few weeks of adjustment. There would also be times when you would be completely awake at night and asleep during daytime, so your body’s release of melatonin would make the adjustment even more difficult.
The one thing that kills the idea of trying alternative sleep patterns the most is the society. Societies around the world accommodate monophasic sleep patterns. This means that it would not necessarily be comfortable to do normal everyday things like working, shopping, and socializing when everyone else is asleep. It wouldn’t be very productive or much fun either.
Even if these factors wouldn’t be enough to discourage you, trying to schedule your entire life, day and night, around an alternative sleep pattern would be exhausting! The most important factor in getting sufficient restorative sleep is consistency and predictability. It needs to remain the same every single day. One small change to your sleep pattern can mess things up so much that it could take days to get back on track. Once you mess things up, you may as well kiss your new sleep pattern goodbye.
If you’ve been unable to stick to the usual monophasic sleep pattern, it may not be wise for you to try anything more difficult, such as a biphasic or polyphasic sleep pattern. Adjusting your sleep pattern should not be taken lightly!
But if you’re determined to try an alternative sleep pattern, choose one that best suits your schedule. You should also plan on going through hell and back trying to adopt it. With a lot of willpower and determination you may be able to stick to your new sleep pattern for long enough to adjust. Good luck and sleep tight!