Biphasic / polyphasic sleep

In my late teens and early twenties, I experimented with polyphasic sleep. I would sleep for half an hour four times every 24 hours. It worked very well. I seemed to immediately go into very deep sleep, I never felt I didn’t get enough sleep, and I had a lot more time to study, do art, read, and so on.

So why didn’t I continue? For social reasons. If I was with others, I would sometimes need my sleep while others still wanted to be awake. I could have made it work, but it would have required prioritizing my sleep schedule over the social. (My university studies required me to only attend a couple of hours of lectures a day which I could easily arrange my sleep schedule around, and I had flexibility in when I did my work, so those aspects of my life worked nicely with polyphasic sleep.)

These days, I love going to bed early, getting up around 4 am, and then getting a second sleep in around 7 or 8 am for maybe one hour. I may also take one or two naps during the day, typically a shortish one (15-20 minutes) late afternoon. It seems to work well for me, and it feels very natural.

I enjoy my sleep more. When I sleep, it feels deeper and more satisfying. I also love being up early when the world is quiet and it feels like a bonus time and an extra gift. Knowing I can get up and sleep as needed gives me more flexibility. It reduces any felt pressure of needing to sleep at a certain time. It helps me be more in tune with my own bodymind and follow what feels right.

I am very aware that this is a luxury. Not everyone has the freedom to sleep and wake according to what feels right to them. We have created a society where schedule takes priority over our own natural cycles and what works better for us.

See below for what ChatGPT 4o has to say about this.

What are some of the benefits of biphasic/polyphasic sleep?

Benefits of Biphasic and Polyphasic Sleep

  1. Improved Sleep Quality: Some people find that sleeping in two segments allows them to get deeper, more restorative sleep. This can result in feeling more refreshed and energized.
  2. Increased Productivity: Splitting sleep into two segments can allow for a productive period of wakefulness in the middle of the night, which can be used for reading, writing, or other activities. This was common in pre-industrial societies where people would wake for an hour or two and then return to sleep.
  3. Alignment with Natural Rhythms: Biphasic sleep may better align with some people’s natural circadian rhythms. Historically, many cultures followed this pattern, suggesting it may be a natural human sleep cycle.
  4. Flexibility: Biphasic sleep can provide more flexibility in scheduling, allowing individuals to adapt their sleep patterns to their personal or work schedules.
  5. Reduced Sleep Inertia: Waking up after a shorter sleep period can sometimes reduce sleep inertia, the grogginess experienced after waking from a long sleep. A shorter, more frequent sleep schedule might make waking up easier.
  6. Stress Reduction: For some, knowing that there is a planned wakeful period can reduce anxiety about not falling asleep immediately, potentially improving overall sleep quality.

While biphasic sleep can have these benefits, it’s important to note that individual responses to sleep patterns can vary. What works well for one person might not be suitable for another. Additionally, consistent, high-quality sleep is crucial for health, so it’s essential to ensure that any sleep pattern adopted allows for adequate rest. Consulting with a healthcare provider or sleep specialist can help determine the best sleep pattern for individual needs.

What’s the history of biphasic/polyphasic sleep? How does it look in different cultures?

History of Biphasic and Polyphasic Sleep

Pre-Industrial Europe:

  • Segmented Sleep: In pre-industrial Europe, segmented sleep was common. People would have a “first sleep” (also known as “dead sleep” or “first nap”) starting shortly after dusk and then wake up for a couple of hours around midnight. This wakeful period was known as “the watch.” Activities during the watch included reading, prayer, socializing, or even visiting neighbors. After this period, people would go back to sleep for a “second sleep” until dawn.
  • Historical Evidence: Historical documents, literature, and medical texts from the Middle Ages and early modern period refer to segmented sleep. For example, the historian A. Roger Ekirch documented numerous references to first and second sleep in his book “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.”

Ancient Civilizations:

  • Roman Empire: There is some evidence suggesting that biphasic sleep might have been practiced in ancient Rome. References to a first and second sleep appear in various texts, indicating that this was a recognized and possibly common pattern.

Polyphasic Sleep in Different Cultures

Mediterranean and Latin American Cultures:

  • Siesta: The practice of taking a mid-afternoon nap, known as a siesta, is common in Mediterranean countries (such as Spain and Italy) and Latin American countries. This is a form of biphasic sleep where people split their sleep into a long overnight segment and a shorter nap during the day.
  • Cultural Adaptation: The siesta is traditionally linked to the climate and work patterns, allowing people to rest during the hottest part of the day and remain productive in the cooler evening hours.

Asian Cultures:

  • Polyphasic Sleep in Japan: In Japan, napping at work, known as “inemuri,” is socially acceptable and often seen as a sign of diligence. Workers may take short naps throughout the day, leading to a polyphasic sleep pattern.
  • Chinese Napping Practices: In China, taking a nap after lunch is common and supported by some workplaces and schools. This is similar to the siesta tradition in Mediterranean cultures.

Modern Practices and Interest

Polyphasic Sleep Schedules:

  • Alternative Schedules: In recent times, some people experiment with polyphasic sleep schedules, such as the Everyman or Uberman schedules, which involve multiple short sleep periods spread throughout the day and night. These schedules aim to reduce total sleep time while maintaining alertness and productivity.
  • Sleep Experiments: Modern interest in polyphasic sleep often stems from the desire to maximize productivity or align with personal rhythms. However, these patterns are not widely adopted and can be challenging to maintain long-term.

Technological Influences:

  • Artificial Lighting: The advent of artificial lighting and the industrial revolution shifted most people to a monophasic sleep pattern, where sleep occurs in one continuous block. This shift was driven by changes in work schedules and the need for longer uninterrupted periods of wakefulness during the day.

Conclusion

Biphasic and polyphasic sleep have deep historical roots and varied cultural practices. While segmented sleep was common in pre-industrial Europe, modern society’s reliance on artificial lighting and structured work schedules has led to a predominantly monophasic sleep pattern. However, practices like the siesta and napping at work indicate that biphasic and polyphasic sleep patterns continue to be relevant in certain cultures and contexts.

What about indigenous cultures and pre-civilization cultures?

Indigenous Cultures and Pre-Civilization Sleep Patterns

Indigenous Cultures:

Many indigenous cultures around the world have sleep patterns that differ significantly from the modern monophasic norm. These patterns are often more flexible and influenced by the environment, social structures, and daily activities.

  1. Hunter-Gatherer Societies:
    • Hadza of Tanzania: The Hadza people, who lead a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, tend to have flexible sleep patterns. They often sleep in multiple bouts, napping during the day and having shorter, more fragmented nighttime sleep. This biphasic or polyphasic pattern is influenced by their need to be alert to environmental changes and potential threats.
    • San People of Southern Africa: Similar to the Hadza, the San people also exhibit flexible sleep patterns. They often sleep around communal fires, taking turns to keep watch and maintain the fire, which leads to fragmented sleep segments.
  2. Amazonian Tribes:
    • Tsimane of Bolivia: The Tsimane people have a more segmented sleep pattern, with a primary sleep period at night and a rest period or nap during the day. Their sleep is closely tied to natural light and darkness, as well as daily activities like hunting and gathering.
  3. Indigenous Australians:
    • Indigenous Australians traditionally had a polyphasic sleep pattern. They often took multiple naps throughout the day and night, adapting to the harsh climate and their nomadic lifestyle. Sleeping in short bouts helped them remain alert to dangers and efficiently manage their energy.

Pre-Civilization Cultures:

Before the advent of agriculture and settled civilizations, early humans likely had sleep patterns similar to those of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. These patterns were adapted to the natural environment, social structures, and the need for safety.

  1. Flexibility and Vigilance:
    • Early humans needed to be vigilant against predators and environmental threats. Flexible sleep patterns, including multiple short sleep periods, would have allowed them to remain alert and responsive to dangers.
  2. Social and Communal Living:
    • Sleeping in groups around a fire was common. This communal setting provided safety and warmth but also required individuals to take turns keeping watch, leading to segmented sleep patterns.
  3. Natural Light Cycles:
    • The absence of artificial lighting meant that early humans’ sleep was closely aligned with the natural light-dark cycle. They likely went to sleep shortly after sunset and woke up at dawn, with periods of wakefulness during the night.

Evidence and Research

Anthropological and sleep studies provide evidence for these patterns:

  • A study of three hunter-gatherer groups (the Hadza, the San, and the Tsimane) found that their sleep patterns were influenced by environmental factors, with shorter nighttime sleep and frequent naps during the day .
  • Historical and anthropological research by A. Roger Ekirch suggests that segmented sleep was common in pre-industrial societies and may reflect a more natural human sleep pattern.

Conclusion

Indigenous and pre-civilization cultures often exhibit biphasic or polyphasic sleep patterns that differ from modern, industrialized societies. These patterns are adaptive responses to environmental conditions, social structures, and the need for safety and vigilance. Understanding these patterns provides insight into the natural variability of human sleep and challenges the notion that monophasic sleep is the universal norm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.