16 August 2013

Sleep Patterns

Welcome back. Did you sleep well last night? Or this morning? Or this afternoon or evening?
My wife taped a lift-up cover to her
clock’s face. I think it was partly
the bright light, partly don't really
want to know.

For one of my earliest blog posts, I wrote about my sleep habits (Time to Sleep). Summarizing, I didn’t sleep much before I retired, and while that didn’t change after I retired, I did start napping. (Honest, the post is actually pretty funny.)

Two years later, I’m still napping, even a little longer now, though I always face the day by 7AM--ok, maybe 7:15. Since I don’t have much else to think about, I started wondering if I was officially napping or if I was just completing my overnight sleep after a break. That led me to polyphasic sleep.

Pause button: If you typically devote 7 or 8 eight hours to essentially uninterrupted sleep every night, go read something else. You’re welcome to read this, of course, but you’ll only identify with it if you’re a polyphasic sleeper.

Monophasic versus Polyphasic

The National Sleep Foundation (the other NSF) reports that, while humans are monophasic sleepers, functioning with one defined period for sleep and one defined period for being (more or less) awake, over 85 percent of the other mammals wandering around are polyphasic sleepers.

Example sleep schedules; asleep as dark blue,
awake as gray. (chart on multiple websites)
Polyphasic sleepers slumber short periods over the course of the 24-hour day with different patterns or schedules of sleep. (I would mention “catnaps” as a familiar example if our cats hadn’t slept most of every 24 hours.)

Writing about human sleepers in Western civilization, a history professor at Virginia Tech documented biphasic or segmented sleep--two periods of sleep with a break in between--as being the norm before the Industrial Revolution. That could characterize an overnight and after-lunch siesta, but the professor’s findings pointed to the night itself being an hour or two of wakefulness dividing two defined, comparably long sleep periods.

Polyphasic Schedules

The Polyphasic Society doesn’t necessary promote extreme or, for that matter, any sleep schedules, but its website has everything you ever or never wanted to know about polyphasic sleeping.

Although my version of segmented sleep is a welcome improvement after years of way too little monophasic sleep, I was stunned to learn that some people try to sleep less. (I’m not referring to college students or to those folks who, lacking multiple alarm clocks, would otherwise hibernate.)

One mind-challenging schedule, the Uberman, has the sleeper enjoying six 20-minute naps spaced equally over the day, a total of 2 hours of sleep! If that doesn’t fit your busy day, there are other, less zombie-emulating schedules.

Wrapping Up

The single block of 7 or 8 hours nighttime sleep may not be our natural pattern, but health-wise, it’s still judged to be the ideal. Clearly, a case can be made for biphasic sleep (I hope).

Naps don’t correct for a bad night’s sleep, but if you’re fading and have the time and place, even the Mayo Clinic recommends taking a short nap if it won't interfere with your night’s sleep. Fortunately, I now have the time and place. Thanks for stopping by.


Polyphasic Sleep

Segmented Sleep


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