Remember kindergarten, when afternoon naps were not only recommended but required for all students? In retrospect, we can see the value of the biphasic sleep pattern that our frequent childhood naps represented.
Modern studies suggest that getting two full nights’ sleep each 24-hour period (a sleep pattern also known as biphasic sleep, segmented sleep, or siesta sleep) can improve wakefulness, performance, and efficiency.
However, most of us learn as adults to cram all of our sleep into one long stretch at night. Most people in the modern United States only sleep once per day, and that sleep occurs at night.
Although “adults” are socialized to sleep all at once, new evidence suggests that we might benefit from resuming our biphasic sleep schedules. What is biphasic sleep? What are the benefits of switching to a biphasic sleep schedule? And how can you give it a try? All of these questions and more will be answered below.
Warning: While the information provided on Sleepopolis is intended to be helpful, it is not intended to replace the advise of a physician or other qualified medical practitioner. See a doctor right away if you suspect you have a sleep disorder or any other health problem.
What Is Biphasic Sleep?
Although you may not recall your infancy, it is safe to assume that you had many naps each day. The sleep you got was broken up into chunks spread out throughout the course of a 24-hour period, rather than one long stretch. It’s the same for every other person on Earth. This pattern is indicative of polyphasic sleep, which will be discussed further on.
It’s likely that as you got older, you gradually reduced the number of naps you took each day until you were just napping once and getting a full night’s sleep each night. This is one example of the biphasic sleep pattern.
Even though “biphasic sleep” is a scientific-sounding name, the principle it describes is actually quite straightforward. Simply put, it describes a pattern of sleep in which a person sleeps in two distinct phases. (For instance, they might get some of their sleep at night and then catch up with a nap during the day.) Biphasic sleep has many names, including siesta sleep, segmented sleep, divided sleep, and bimodal sleep.
These traits, taken together, best characterize biphasic sleep:
- A bi-somniac is someone who sleeps in two distinct bouts per 24 hours.
- It’s possible that both sessions will take place at night, or that there will be one longer session at night and a shorter session during the day.
- Contrast this with monophasic sleep, in which you only sleep for one long period of time, and you can see how biphasic sleep can be advantageous (usually at night).
- Polyphasic sleep, in which more than two sleep periods occur during a 24-hour period, is distinct from biphasic sleep.
What Are the Different Types of Biphasic Sleep?
There is more than one type of biphasic sleep pattern. Both of these methods are widely used, however the first is more prevalent:
Two Sessions at Night
Some people, called biphasic sleepers, sleep in two distinct shifts during the night. This is how it functions:
- The early evening or overnight is when they might be able to get a few hours of sleep.
- Then, at some point in the middle of the night, they’ll wake up.
- After that, they’ll sleep till morning (or maybe a bit later).
- This method of going to bed and waking up typically results in between six and eight hours of sleep per night.
One Session at Night and One During the Day
Most people who practice biphasic sleep do so by sleeping in on weekends and/or taking a nap in the afternoon. This two-stage sleeping schedule, commonly known as “siesta sleep,” is widespread across Europe. Briefly, here’s the rundown…
- A person’s preferred nighttime sleep duration and nap duration are both a matter of individual choice.
- Some people who sleep biphasically choose to sleep for longer stretches at night (often six hours or more) and then take a short afternoon nap (typically around 20 minutes).
- Some people, instead of sleeping for a full eight hours at night, choose to sleep for less hours overall (maybe five) and then take a longer nap in the afternoon (say, ninety minutes).
Most people who use biphasic sleep schedules would agree that finding the best method requires some experimentation. Because of this individual variation, some people may discover that they respond better to one biphasic pattern over the other.
What’s the Difference Between Biphasic and Polyphasic Sleep?
Polyphasic sleep is a word that is likely familiar to anyone who has studied biphasic sleep. Therefore, I ask, what is the distinction?
Each clue can be found in the initial sound of its corresponding word. The Latin prefix “bi” signifies “two,” while the Greek prefix “poly” indicates “many.” In contrast to biphasic sleep, which consists of two distinct phases every 24-hour period, polyphasic sleep encompasses many phases per 24-hour period.
A wide variety of shift work schedules can be adopted by polyphasic sleepers. That’s the case, for instance,
- In a 24-hour period, they may take three naps. Triphasic sleep is another name for this cycle. It consists of three cycles, each of which consists of a 90-minute sleep period, a 6-hour wake period, and another 90-minute sleep period.
- They may find it more comfortable to get a few hours’ worth of sleep at night and then take multiple, shorter naps throughout the day.
- Two separate nighttime shifts and a single daytime nap could work for them.
These are just a few examples of the many possible variants of the polyphasic sleep pattern.
It’s important to distinguish between sleep disorders like insomnia and taking up a polyphasic or biphasic sleep schedule on purpose. It’s possible that some people are “accidental” polyphasic sleepers, waking up multiple times throughout the night.
Ultimately, what can we say? An important distinction between biphasic and polyphasic sleep is the number of sleep sessions each type requires; biphasic sleep requires only two, while polyphasic sleep necessitates three or more. In both circumstances, individuals are most likely to succeed when they settle on and regularly apply a single pattern.
What Is the History of Biphasic Sleep?
Biphasic sleep may seem strange to people who are used to a single, continuous sleep cycle. More and more evidence, however, reveals that biphasic sleep is actually more common than nighttime slumber when considering the complete scope of human history.
Throughout most of our species’ evolution, biphasic sleep patterns were the norm. The majority of people preferred a biphasic sleeping pattern in which they slept for four hours at night (dubbed “first sleep”), woke up for an hour or so (during which time they might think about their dreams, do chores, have sex, or just relax), and then went back to sleep for another four hours (dubbed “second sleep”).
Numerous works of art, diaries, novels, and even medical writings from different time periods make mention of this cultural sleeping practice.
Plutarch, Virgil, Homer, and Chaucer were only few of the historical figures who mentioned first and second sleep. Sleep expert Roger Ekirch suggests that this practice was widespread across the globe, not simply in Europe. He cites examples from Australia, Latin America, and the Middle East as proof.
The decline of the biphasic sleep pattern in the West may be attributable to the widespread adoption of electric lighting.
Workdays were not limited to the hours of daylight any longer thanks to the development of electricity and the subsequent Industrial Revolution. Consequently, most people didn’t have the luxury of getting two four-hour snoozes and staying up for an extra hour or so every night.
On the other hand, the advent of electric streetlights encouraged people to socialize after dark, cutting into their capacity to maintain their traditional biphasic sleep schedule. By the 19th century, many Western civilizations had formally abandoned polyphasic sleep in favor of monophasic sleep, and midnight sleeplessness was seen more as a medical condition than a cultural norm.
Western societies have generally accepted a monophasic sleep schedule, but our bodies have been slower to catch on. (For the record, there are still cultural groups that maintain bi-shift sleep schedules. Naps in the middle of the day are still common in many Latin American cultures and in Spain and Greece. Research implies that biological and evolutionary impacts will only become more prominent over time. Several studies conducted in the 1990s have found that when people are exposed to natural rhythms of sunshine and darkness, they tend to transition toward biphasic sleep. Strong circadian rhythms in the body are associated with a natural nighttime awakening in these people.
People in societies that frown upon siestas may come to appreciate the benefits of biphasic sleep as more and more studies on the topic become available to both sleep researchers and the general public.
Trying to get a quick summary of the development of biphasic sleep? We’ve got you covered:
- In the course of our species’ evolution, biphasic sleep has been a common practice.
- References to this sleep pattern can be found in works of art, literature, and even medical manuals dating back to the earliest days of written history.
- Based on studies of the past, it appears that biphasic sleep was the norm even during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
- The shorter sleep durations that were common throughout the Industrial Revolution’s late 18th and early 19th century eras were intended to maximize workers’ productivity. It was at this point when single-stage sleep became the norm.
- Thomas Edison created the light bulb in the late 1800s. This further messed with people’s regular biphasic sleep schedules. The late hours of work and new interests in the nighttime have led to fewer hours spent sleeping each night. Condensing one’s nightly sleep into a shorter period of time became the norm.
- While studies have shown that biphasic sleep is preferable for human bodies, modern culture still prioritizes monophasic schedules.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Biphasic Sleep?
If biphasic sleep is so beneficial, then why is it so highly prized by some societies and cutting-edge fashionistas? It seems that there could be some advantages to adopting this method of sleeping. There may be seven advantages to switching to a biphasic sleep schedule.
- The cognitive benefits may be significant. Two eight-hour stretches of sleep in a 24-hour period may be beneficial to brain health. The fact that it helps people feel less weary and concentrate better could be a contributing factor.
- Potentially, it would boost efficiency. According to the findings of several studies, splitting your sleep into two distinct phases may improve your productivity. Increased alertness and the improved cognitive function discussed above are major contributors to this increased productivity. There is no rise in fatigue or burnout with this productivity boost.
- Possible stress relief. In the past, when people used biphasic sleep patterns, staying awake for a period of time at night was seen as a stress-busting and deeply restorative exercise. Some researchers have suggested that those who adopt a biphasic sleep schedule now may reap similar benefits.
- The health benefits of a power nap are fully realized during a siesta. Studies show that short naps (or “power naps”) have several positive effects on health. Improvements in learning, originality in problem solving, logic, memory, and recall, and general mental acuity are all part of this category. It has been suggested that power naps can raise mental alertness, decrease fatigue, lower error risk, boost mood, and alleviate stress.
- That way, you can set your own hours. In order to better manage your time between work, family, and other commitments, you may find it helpful to divide your daily sleep time into two segments.
- The ability to recollect dreams could be enhanced. Evidence suggests that switching to a biphasic sleep schedule can help you remember your dreams and gain deeper insight into your thoughts. This can help us better understand ourselves and the world around us.
- It has the potential to aid sleep-deprived individuals. When people who have trouble sleeping when people realize that people have always had to get up in the middle of the night, it can make them feel better about themselves. Additionally, a decrease in anxiety is associated with an increase in the quality of one’s sleep.
With all these advantages, it’s no surprise that biphasic sleep patterns are gaining popularity among entrepreneurs and anybody else interested in increasing their cognitive performance and productivity.
What Are the Potential Downsides of Biphasic Sleep?
Even though there are many advantages to biphasic sleep schedules, there may also be some drawbacks.
To begin, there will most likely be a period of adjustment as you shift to a new bedtime routine. Some people may find that their usual levels of fatigue, grogginess, and bad mood spike at this time.
Changing your sleeping habits might also change the dynamic in your social circle. Sleeping earlier can mean fewer late-night hangouts with pals, while a midday nap could lead to friction at work. These societal effects are a major barrier to persons trying to adjust their sleeping habits.
A further issue is the paucity of available data. The long-term consequences of biphasic sleep schedules have not been studied extensively. This means that experts studying sleep have yet to determine whether or not adhering to a biphasic sleep pattern for an extended period of time has any unfavorable effects.
Research, however, suggests that splitting your nighttime sleeping in two is safe for your health. If you sleep for seven to nine hours a night, splitting it into two segments is probably not a problem.
Who Could Biphasic Sleep Be Good For?
Because of these individual differences, some people may find that a biphasic sleep pattern works better for them than others.
The elements that affect how the body reacts to biphasic sleep are still unknown. So far, scientists have shown that some people require a full eight hours of sleep every night in order to feel rested and perform at their best, while others do just fine on less hours of lengthy sleep spread out over the course of the night plus a few naps during the day.
There may be a hereditary component at play here. For instance, studies show that just 3%-5% of the population can function normally on only a few hours of sleep every night, and this may be due to a genetic mutation. Unless you’re ready to spend out for genetic testing, there’s no way to determine if you fall into this camp without experimentation. For the rest of us mere mortals, getting plenty of good sleep is crucial. The accessibility of the biphasic sleep pattern is enhanced by the fact that it does not necessitate sleeping for only a few short hours each night.
There’s also a lifestyle element. People who have to deal with conflicting job and family commitments may find that a biphasic sleep schedule works well for them.
Finally, the cognitive advantages of biphasic sleeping stated above may be useful for people who are wanting to further their careers.
Ultimately, what can we say? Different people have different optimal sleep routines, so you’ll have to try out a few before you settle on one that works for you.
How to Experiment with Biphasic Sleep
If you’re interested in giving biphasic sleep a shot, it’s important to keep the following tips in mind.
Choose your sleep pattern.
To begin, select a biphasic sleep schedule that works for you. To review, the two basic choices are:
- Sleeping for six hours or more at night and then napping for twenty minutes during the day is considered a “normal” sleep schedule.
- Five hours or more of sleep at night, followed by a nap of an hour to an hour and a half in the afternoon.
Think about when you usually feel tired to help you decide which method could work best for you. In the event that you typically feel tired in the afternoon, this would be a great time to arrange a sleep. Getting two nights’ worth of sleep at once can be the best option if you frequently wake up in the middle of the night.
Determine what you’re trying to achieve.
I’m curious as to your motivation for trying out a split-night sleep regimen. Is it so you can get more done at work, sharpen your mind, deal with the stress of being a new parent, make up for lost sleep, or something else entirely?
The response may change how you proceed with the experiment. If you want to know if switching to a biphasic sleep schedule is improving your life, you need to know what you hope to achieve. In this regard, it is recommended that, once you have settled on a target, you keep a sleep journal in order to monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your daily routine, including your time spent sleeping.
Limit your exposure to artificial light.
Getting to sleep and staying asleep during sleep cycles can be challenging when exposed to artificial light. Dimming the lights and turning off the TV in the hours before bedtime, removing devices from the bedroom, employing blue light blockers, and so on are all smart ways to reduce your exposure to artificial light and improve your quality of sleep. If you’ve decided to use a midnight wake period as part of your sleep schedule, avoiding as much artificial light as possible at that time will help you get to sleep again for your second sleep period.
For your body to learn when it’s time to go to sleep, a regular bedtime routine is crucial. This will aid in making each night’s sleep more restful. Keeping an erratic sleep schedule can be counterproductive because it has been linked to diminished performance and restlessness at bedtime.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
If you want to improve your chances of falling asleep and staying asleep during each sleep session, you should create an environment that is conducive to sleep. Thus, it’s important to choose a calm, dark, cold, and undisturbed spot to get some shut-eye. As was mentioned up top, this area should be dark. Not drinking alcohol or working out just before bed is also recommended.
Be on the alert for red flags.
Some people, as mentioned above, function better on a non-monophasic sleep cycle. Keep an eye out for symptoms such as inability to focus, anger, unusual exhaustion, risky behavior, and/or excessive daytime sleepiness as indicators that your body is not responding well. If you have any of these problems, it may be time to revert to a monophasic sleep schedule.
If, on the other hand, you wake up feeling rested, happy, and able to work, you may be successfully transitioning to a biphasic sleep schedule.
Consult your physician.
Before making any major adjustments to your sleep schedule, it’s wise to consult with your doctor, who can provide light on whether or not your individual medical history could be influencing your experience. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, for example, maintaining a regular sleep schedule is crucial because disrupted sleep patterns have been linked to worsening these symptoms.
Be willing to drop the experiment if necessary.
If you have tried a biphasic sleep schedule for a few weeks and found that it did not increase your energy levels or help you reach your goal, you may choose to abandon the plan. If you find that switching between two different sleep schedules is difficult, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It merely means that biphasic sleeping isn’t the best option for you. Even if you think you know what’s causing your sleep problems, there could be underlying causes that you’re ignoring. For example, some people’s sleep schedules need to shift with the seasons to ensure they continue getting good sleep.
Drawing Your Own Conclusions on Biphasic Sleep
Everyone may not benefit from switching to a biphasic sleep schedule. However, many people find that by switching from monophasic to biphasic sleep, they are able to reap benefits such as improved daytime alertness, scheduling versatility, and increased productivity. The fact that biphasic sleep patterns have been documented in both history and science should encourage a more accepting attitude toward persons who like to sleep at different times.
What Kind of Sleep Is Best for Me?
Some people thrive on a monophasic sleep pattern, while others believe that biphasic sleep is the way to go.
A biphasic sleep schedule may have been the norm for humans in the past, as this theory is supported by historical records. Taking a short nap in the middle of the day has also been shown to be beneficial. In order to ease into biphasic sleep, a 20-minute nap in the early afternoon may be helpful.
Sleep is crucial to our health, so before making any significant changes, it’s best to consult with your doctor. If you want to get better sleep and feel more refreshed during the day, they can make some more suggestions.