Sleep is important, and getting the right type of sleep (meaning completing all the cycles, including REM sleep) is essential to your total health. The different parts of the sleep cycle help restore you on both a physical and mental level.
So let me get this straight. I absolutely need to sleep 8 hours at night so that my body can successfully make it through all the sleep cycles and then I will wake up feeling refreshed and energized…right?
Surprisingly enough, this is not necessarily the case…
Sleep Patterns throughout History
Did you know that our ancestors didn’t sleep like we do? OK, maybe our great-great-grandparents did, but prior to the 1800s sleeping a full 8 hours at night was not typical. Our ancestors slept twice! The standard way to sleep, they would start off by sleeping around 3-4 hours, then be awake for 2-3 hours, and then resume their sleep until morning.
What would they do during these wakeful hours in between their two sleeps? What do you think? Some used the time to pray, others socialized. Some considered this the ideal time to study. Many typically had sex, which explains why people used to conceive more children at this point in history.
Why did we ever stop the practice of sleeping twice? Some believe the change came with electricity and street lighting. With street lighting, people could socialize at night and stay out longer, which makes two sleeps (which used to start earlier at night) seem like a waste of time.
Types of Sleep Cycles
By default, our bodies adjust our sleep-wake cycle according to the day-night cycle, thanks to a hormone called melatonin. When you are in the darkness, your body naturally secretes melatonin to promote sleepiness. Of course, thanks to electricity and artificial lighting (including bright TVs, computers, and smart-phones), we tend to stay up later since the light suppresses our melatonin.
The most commonly accepted “ideal” sleep cycle in our society today is called a monophasic sleep cycle. This implies an uninterrupted 6-8 hour sleep at night, which is about one third of your life.
Even though most societies today have adopted a monophasic sleep pattern, there are other recognized alternative sleep cycles that many believe to be effective and some even claim are superior to monophasic. Biphasic sleep is when a person sleeps twice a day, and polyphasic sleep consists of multiple sleeps per day.
In biphasic sleep, most people sleep a long night with a shorter “nap” during the day. In some countries in Asia and Latin America, an afternoon nap (or siesta) is common practice to regenerate after lunch. Such naps should ideally be between 15 and 30 minutes; any longer and it would be hard to wake up.
Another biphasic option is a much longer nap of approximately 90 minutes. It takes on average 90 minutes to make it through all the cycles of REM and non-REM sleep, so when you wake up from a 90 minute nap you feel refreshed. Of course, the sleep pattern of our ancestors as mentioned above (two sleeps in one night) is a biphasic sleep option as well.
Though there are many different combinations of polyphasic sleep patterns, the three most common are known as Uberman, Everyman, and Dymaxion.
An Uberman cycle entails 20-30 minute naps every 4 hours. This comes out to 6 equally spaced naps each day. Unfortunately the strict schedule is not practical for most people, though individuals who have tried out this sleeping pattern claim to feel healthy and refreshed, and experience vivid dreams.
The Everyman cycle consists of one longer “core” nap (of around 3 hours) supplemented by numerous shorter naps (such as 3 naps of 20 minutes). Unlike Uberman, with Everyman there is more flexibility in nap times and the possibility to skip naps.
The Dymaxion cycle reportedly leaves you feeling vigorous and alert. This is surprising, considering it entails you sleeping 30 minutes every 6 hours for a total of 2 hours! It’s definitely the most extreme option.
Have you ever attempted an alternative sleep cycle? Which one would you consider trying? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.