As you can imagine, I had to do a lot of sleep related reading over the last couple of months. Writing a blog about sleep, relaxation and rest can be hard work, especially if you are not a sleep expert. Sorry to break the news to you like this, but I am not a scientist that studies sleeping cycles and patterns for a living. I am just a regular blogger that likes to read and write. I hope you do not judge me too harshly, and please, do not stop reading my blog!

Anyway, let us move on to the more interesting things in life, like sleeping. During my research, I found some weird and wonderful articles about sleeping habits. I do not know if all of the things I am about to tell you are true, but I found them fascinating nonetheless.

Why do we sleep like we do?

Most of us think that there is only one type of sleep cycle. You are awake during the day and you sleep at night. I mean, that is how everyone does it, right? This is the common sleeping cycle that humans have followed from the dawn of time. But why do we sleep like this? Is there a scientific explanation for sleeping at night and being awake at day? Surely sunlight played a huge part in shaping our ancestors’ sleeping habits, because they could not really be productive after the sun went down. But now, in this day and age where we have electricity and all sorts of fancy gadgets to help us work at night, the boundaries of what I’d like to call “sleep time” and “wake time” are not so clear anymore.

The origin of species… I mean sleep. The origin of sleep.

Some theorists believe that sleeping at night used to be some kind of protective mechanism back in the day, before men lived in cities and villages. They argue that during sleep one does not move around a lot, hence you do not draw predators’ attention to yourself. I do not know about this theory, though. If you sleep, you are unaware of your surroundings and if something bad is about to happen, you will not know about it until it is too late. Besides, nocturnal predators do not only make use of eyesight to hunt. They rely heavily on scents, so if you slept upwind of a predator, you would be in serious trouble.

What makes more sense is that people need to sleep to preserve memories and restore energy. Sleep is also a survival instinct, if you want to see it like that. But contrary to the self-preservation theory we discussed above (where you use sleep to hide from predators), it is a matter of sleep or lose control of your body functions. During sleep our bodies perform a lot of involuntary actions to prepare us for the next day. We digest better whilst asleep, our brains order and sort through what happened during the day, muscles relax and heal. All in all, sleep is absolutely necessary for our well being.

The question is; do we need to sleep at night?

Sleep Cycles

An analog timepiece with black number boards

Monophasic Cycle

This is the common sleep cycle that we all follow. We sleep at night, for somewhere between six and ten hours. Scientists call it a Monophasic cycle because we sleep once every cycle. Mono for one or singular and phasic for phase. In other words, you sleep once during a 24 hour period.

There is not a lot more that I have to say about this sleeping pattern. One thing that you might want to consider if you sleep like this is to try and regulate your bedtime. Do not go to bed at ten tonight, at eight tomorrow night and at twelve the night after that. Keep your body and brain in a fairly routine sleep cycle to maximise your waking hours and decrease fatigue.

Polyphasic Cycles

There are many different types of Polyphasic sleep cycles. Poly is the name of a parrot and phasic is once again for sleep, so we get to sleep like parrots. Okay, okay! I am only joking! In Polyphasic, the poly stands for multiple. Therefore with these sorts of sleeping patterns you get to sleep many times during a 24 hour period.

Biphasic Cycle

All of these poly’s and bi’s must be getting on your nerves by now. I do apologise, on behalf of the scientists that came up with these terms, for the way in which they named all the different sleep cycles. Anyhow, in the case of Biphasic sleep, the bi stands for two. So just like a biplane is an aeroplane with two sets of wings, a Biphasic sleeping cycle contains two sets of sleep over a 24 hour period. One of these sets should ideally be somewhere between five and six hours long, where the second set should not be more than one and a half hours long.

This is the typical Mediterranean way of life. You work hard until midday and then you go for a “siesta” or a nap. After this you get up and go back to work again.

According to research this type of sleeping pattern is good for memory consolidation and helps you to stay focused and productive. On the other hand, if you struggle to sleep at night you should try to avoid sleeping or napping during the day. If you sleep during the day, chances are that you will sleep too much and that your body and mind will not be ready to go to sleep by the time you get back in bed. It can also prolong periods of jet lag if you take naps during the day.

PS. Apparently most of us humans are Biphasic sleepers, even though we do not know it. Some researchers have shown that human alertness takes a dip during the middle of the day. In some cases people actually sleeps at their desks with their eyes wide open. Interesting, hey? (Don’t quote me on this last bit, though).

Everyman Cycle

At last! The scientists didn’t use some strange Latin number to describe a sleep cycle! So what does this Everyman cycle stand for? That every man should do it? Certainly not! The Everyman Cycle consists of four periods of sleeping during a time frame of 24 hours. One of these four periods is described as the “core” sleeping time. During the “core” resting period you sleep for three to four hours. The other three sleeping periods are called naps and should range between 15 and 25 minutes each.

If you sleep like this you will get a maximum of about five hours’ sleep in every 24 hour period. This does not sound like a very nice sleeping cycle. I mean, sleeping for only five hours? I love sleep waaaaay to much for that! Having said that, there are quite a number of people out there who have successfully adapted to this cycle. Plus, if you only sleep for five hours it means you are awake for nineteen. If you are not tired for all of those nineteen waking hours, you could get a lot of things done.

An open empty notebook on a white desk next to an iPhone and a MacBook

According to the people who live like this, the Everyman Cycle is fairly easy to adapt to. They say that you do not need to be super strict on nap times. Apparently you can give or take an hour before or after nap time and you will still feel rested afterwards. But if you want to transition from Biphasic or Monophasic sleep, you have to be strict on your sleeping pattern for the first month so that your body and brain gets used to the change.

Some things to consider before you switch over to the Everyman sleeping cycle: Where will you take your naps? Let us be honest with each other. In South Africa, most employers are not too keen on having beds in the office. They are also not keen on sending employees home every couple of hours to go and sleep. If you are lucky enough to be self employed and you can fit a nap every now and then into your schedule, go for it by all means! Please let us know in the comments if it works out for you. I won’t lie, this cycle sounds quite appealing to me.

Dymaxion Cycle

This cycle has a funny name and I don’t know where it came from or what it means. Sorry. What I do know is that a famous architect, Buckminster Fuller, not only invented beautiful buildings. He is also the father of the Dymaxion sleep Cycle.

So what is this Damnation Cy… I mean, Dymaxion Cylce? It is a sleeping cycle where you get a maximum of two hours sleep in a period of 24 hours. The cycle consists of four thirty minute naps, taken exactly six hours apart. This does not seem like a practical kind of sleeping pattern. When are you going to take your naps? Once again you will be faced with the problem of having a bed less office. You can try to nap in your car, but that tends to lead to back and neck pain.

The Dymaxion Cycle must be strictly adhered to. You cannot afford to miss one of your naps, or even postpone the nap for a long time. It can have disastrous effects on your productivity and decision making abilities. Missing one of your naps is equal to missing an entire night of Monophasic sleep. Not good.

If you want to give it a go, experts recommend that you start out on a lighter Polyphasic cycle like the Biphasic or Everyman Cycle. It will be easier on your body to slowly transition from a full nights’ rest to four hours of sleep per day. Please let us know how this sleep cycle works for you.

Uberman Cycle

Maybe Uberman was the guy that coined this sleep cycle, or maybe the person that named it thought that sticking to this hectic schedule would make you an Uber-man (but what if you are a woman!?). The Uberman sleep Cycle consists of six twenty minute naps taken at regular intervals over a 24 hour period. You can imagine, this one can also be quite tricky to maintain… If you sleep for twenty minutes every four hours, you will have to take at least two nap breaks at work or at school. Will your boss or your teachers allow that?

Before you try to take on this sleeping pattern, please think carefully. Like the Dymaxion Cycle, the Uberman sleep schedule is extremely strict. You cannot miss one of your naps and you cannot afford to adjust the nap time for unseen circumstances. One nap missed is one nights’ worth of sleep gone.

On the other hand, if you travel on regular basis this might be the sleep pattern for you. If you are properly adapted to this sleep cycle, you will probably be used to falling asleep anywhere. This might come in handy if you have to catch a train, bus or a plane. Nod off for 20 minutes en route to your destination and you arrive there looking fresh.

A lone man walking across the railway platform in Brisbane

Choosing your Sleeping Cycle

In most cases your preferred sleeping cycle is not a matter of life or death, but it could be. Remember a while ago we talked about sleep deprivation and all of the adverse effects it could have on you? Please keep that in mind before you drastically change your sleeping patterns.

If I inspired you to sleep less so that you can have more awake time, don’t dive into the Uberman Cycle straight off. Gradually allow your body to become used to less sleep and sleeping in intervals. Go from a Monophasic Cycle to Biphasic first, then go to the Everyman Cycle and if you do not feel tired and fatigued, you can try out one of the more advanced cycles. If at any time during your transition you start feeling fatigued, please revert to your known sleeping cycle!

For me, even though the Everyman Cycle looks enticing, I think I like sleep too much to give up my Mono/Biphasic existence just yet…

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