Pros and Cons of a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

Is it safe to sleep for brief periods several times each day?

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Individuals who are interested in a polyphasic sleep schedule may wonder if it can help them be more productive, while also meeting their sleep needs. A polyphasic sleep schedule is one in which you sleep multiple times in a 24-hour period. This may not involve a consolidated period of sleep at night. For example, an individual may take six 20-minute naps throughout the day.

Keep in mind that a polyphasic sleep schedule may only offer the opportunity to be more productive, instead of actually increasing productivity overall. In addition, following this type of sleep schedule increases your risk of sleep deprivation and other associated side effects.

This article discusses what polyphasic sleep is and four types of polyphasic sleep schedules. It also covers polyphasic sleep pros and cons, as well as how much sleep you really need.

High Angle View Of Young Man With Kitten Sleeping On Bed At Home
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Concept of Polyphasic Sleep

Those who advocate for a polyphasic sleep schedule propose that individuals do not need one sustained period of nighttime sleep, or a monophasic sleep pattern, in order to function normally. They contend that circadian rhythm—the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle that repeats on each rotation of the Earth—can be adjusted so that a polyphasic pattern becomes normal, routine, and even beneficial.

While the circadian rhythm can change based on an individual's environment, this is not necessarily a good thing. Polyphasic sleep can confuse the natural light-dark cycle that signals your brain to create its internal clock. This can negatively impact your body's hormonal and biological processes that rely on the circadian rhythm to function properly, and puts you at risk of developing certain health conditions.

From a historical perspective, the sleep needs of a hunter-gatherer society vary enormously from those of an industrialized society in which daylight work schedules largely dictate sleep routines.

Polyphasic Sleep Schedules

Examples of four polyphasic sleep schedules include:

  • Dymaxion schedule involves four 30-minute naps every six hours
  • Uberman schedule involves six 30-minute naps every four hours
  • Everyman schedule involves a sleep period of three hours and three 20-minute naps
  • Triphasic schedule involves three sleeping periods after dusk, before dawn, and in the afternoon for a total of four to five hours

Keep in mind that the body of evidence supporting polyphasic sleep has largely been anecdotal and has often bordered on pseudoscience, with practitioners claiming that it improves their productivity and mental function compared to traditional monophasic sleep schedules.

Dymaxion Schedule

Developed in the 1920s by Buckminster Fuller, noted American architect and futurist, the Dymaxion schedule is one of the most well-known polyphasic sleep schedules. It is also the most drastic, requiring four 30-minute naps every six hours, for a total of only two hours of sleep per day.

Fuller reportedly slept on this schedule for two years—working for several hours, taking a brief nap, then working again—affording him 22 hours to work, socialize, and perform daily tasks.

Some claim that Fuller was able to succeed due to a rare mutation of the DEC2 gene, which is also known as the "short sleep gene." Accordingly, unless you naturally require only a few hours of sleep each night, this schedule is likely to lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

Uberman Schedule

Drawing inspiration from Fuller's work, Marie Staver, an amateur scientist and IT professional who for years was plagued by insomnia, developed the Uberman schedule in 1998. Named after Friedrich Nietzche's Ubermensch, this regimented schedule allows for six 30-minute naps every four hours for a total of three hours of sleep per day.

Proponents of the Uberman schedule often claim that they have increased energy levels and are able to enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep more quickly than with a monophasic pattern of sleep. It has been suggested that it does so by sustaining concentrations of adenosine, an organic compound that helps regulate sleep recovery, in the blood rather than letting them plummet during prolonged sleep.

However, these benefits have yet to be scientifically established because most people are unable to stick with the program for very long. Even Staver eventually left the Uberman schedule when she started a job that wasn't compatible with round-the-clock napping.

Everyman Schedule

For those unable to withstand the rigors of the Dymaxion or Uberman schedules, a modified version called the Everyman schedule allows you a "core" sleep period of three hours (typically from 1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.) followed by three 20-minute naps throughout the day.

Also created by Staver, the Everyman schedule affords you a total of four hours of sleep per day and recognizes that a certain amount of consolidated core sleep at night is vital to maintaining circadian rhythm. It is also more compatible with a nine-to-five job.

Given that COVID-19 ushered in the expansion of remote work from home, some people have argued that sleep schedules similar to the Everyman are not only sustainable but provide daytime naps that can help improve mental clarity and productivity.

Triphasic Schedule

The Triphasic sleep schedule offers the highest amount of sleep out of all of the polyphasic sleep schedules, totaling four to five hours within a 24 hour period. The Triphasic sleep schedule involves three sleeping periods that typically occur after dusk, before dawn, and in the afternoon.

Like the Everyman schedule, the Triphasic sleep schedule is more compatible with a nine-to-five job.

Pros and Cons

Before adopting a polyphasic sleep schedule, it is important to consider some of the potential benefits and risks:

Pros
  • Opportunity for increased productivity

  • May better accommodate irregular work schedules

  • Better reflects the circadian desire for afternoon naps

  • Reduces stress associated with bouts of insomnia

  • May "train" the brain to enter short-wave sleep (deep sleep) faster

  • Sustaining adenosine levels may improve mental clarity

  • May meet your sleep needs if cumulative hours are met

Cons
  • May lead to sleep deprivation and associated side effects, which can be severe

  • Does not reflect the circadian rhythm for most people

  • Difficult to sustain in many workplaces

  • Daytime naps can be easily interrupted

  • Effects of seasonal daylight pattern, including daylight saving time, may be more jarring

  • Hormone production influenced by day-night patterns, such as thyroid hormones, may be impaired

  • Unless strict adherence is assured, daily sleep needs may not be met

Polyphasic Sleep Benefits

Polyphasic sleep schedules provide the opportunity for greater productivity given the increased number of working hours, but whether more during those hours is achieved has not yet been established. This depends on the individual, how long they use a polyphasic sleep schedule, and whether they have the "short sleep" gene.

For individuals who have irregular work schedules and/or have the "short sleep" gene, polyphasic sleep may work well at meeting their needs, increasing productivity, and potentially improving mental clarity. However, more research is needed to support these claims.

Is Polyphasic Sleep Healthy?

There is little evidence that supports that polyphasic sleep is associated with physical or mental health benefits.

Polyphasic Sleep Risks

There is little scientific evidence to support the claims that polyphasic sleep schedules are inherently safe or improve mental clarity and productivity.

In fact, there are serious dangers associated with short and long-term sleep deprivation, as well as circadian rhythm misalignment, including increasing the risk of:

Suicide Prevention Hotline

Sleep deprivation is strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

What the Current Research Says

According to a 2017 study from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, irregular sleep and light exposure patterns in college students correspond to lower academic scores compared to students who maintain a routine monophasic sleep schedule.

A cross-sectional study conducted in Oman involving 400 volunteers similarly concluded that polyphasic sleep is associated with high levels of daytime sleepiness and impaired performance compared to adults on a monophasic schedule. Interestingly, however, biphasic sleep schedules, which involve sleeping in two segments per day, were seen to afford the most favorable results overall.

Is Polypasic Sleep Good for Your Brain?

Research suggests the polyphasic sleep is not good for your brain and can lead to harmful side effects, such as a negative impact on mood, memory, and decision making abilities.

How Much Sleep You Need

Getting a good quality of sleep is important and your specific needs will vary depending on your age. In general, adolescents should get around eight to 10 hours of sleep, while adults should sleep at least seven hours a night. Babies and children will need more sleep, including naps, totaling about nine to 17 hours depending on age.

If you aren't sleeping well, you may wake up feeling exhausted and groggy. To ensure you're meeting your sleeping needs, it's important to practice good sleep hygiene. This may include:

  • Going to bed and waking up around the same time everyday
  • Removing electronics from the bedroom or avoiding using them while you're in bed
  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine in the late afternoon and evening
  • Staying active and exercising during the day
  • Avoiding large or heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Creating a peaceful sleeping environment
  • Doing the same night routine consistently, which may involve washing your face, taking a warm shower, reading, or listening to relaxing music

Summary

A polyphasic sleep schedule involves sleeping in short increments more than two times throughout a 24 hour period. There are several types of polyphasic sleep schedules, including the Dymaxion schedule, the Uberman schedule, the Everyman schedule, and the Triphasic schedule.

While there has been anecdotal evidence that a polyphasic sleep schedule may have benefits, research suggests that, for most individuals, these sleeping techniques put individuals at risk of serious side effects.

A Word From Verywell

Given that every person’s sleep needs are different, it is important to avoid assumptions about polyphasic sleep or be swayed by anecdotal evidence. For people who seem to only need four to five hours of sleep per night, it may be a reasonable option, particularly if additional daytime naps help ensure that sleep needs are met.

For others, a polyphasic sleep schedule may be nothing more than an experiment with unclear benefits and potentially serious risks.

If you decide to explore changes in your sleep schedule, do so under the supervision of a physician so that your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight, heart function, and psychological state can be routinely monitored.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.