While most people are monophasic sleepers (monophasic sleep patterns involve only one segment of sleep, usually during nighttime hours), some struggle to get one steady block of sleep no matter how hard they try.
We have all been ingrained to think that a block of 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night is the best for us. While that might well be the case for the vast majority of us, could there be another way for those among us where this just doesn’t work?
In the evolution of humanity, it would appear that monophasic sleep has not always been the case. Rather, it is thought that the custom of sleeping for one 6 to 8-hour segment per day may have been shaped by the modern industrial workday. Before this, sleeping patterns were largely biphasic. There are references throughout history to the second block of sleep, with writers like Homer, Cervantes and Dickens talking about biphasic sleep as a part of normal daily life.
Biphasic sleep is when you sleep in two intervals rather than one. Before the Industrial Revolution, people would go to bed when the sun went down, sleep for several hours, wake up for a few hours before going back to bed until dawn. So for those who struggle to sleep, this might be something they could experiment with, albeit with some tweaks to suit modern life.
A person can have a biphasic sleeping schedule in a couple of ways:
- Short nap. This involves sleeping around 6 hours each night, with a 20-minute nap in the middle of the day.
- Long nap. One sleeps around 5 hours each night, with about a 1 to 1.5-hour nap in the middle of the day.
On many online forums for sleep, some people have reported that biphasic sleep schedules really work for them. Taking naps and splitting their sleeping schedule over the day helps them feel more alert, be more productive and generally feel better rested.
Biphasic sleep schedules provide an alternative to the typical monophasic schedule and give hope to those who struggle with the latter. There seems to be a historical precedent for biphasic sleep although there is not enough data in modern science to come to a conclusion on its utility.
Changing your sleep pattern for the sake of changing it isn’t worth the potential increased health risks due to lack of sleep and irregular sleep patterns. It is however fair to say that people are different and if you struggle with regular sleep, this might be worth a try.
As always, please consult a qualified medical professional if in doubt.