As a child in kindergarten, afternoon naps were not only encouraged, but they were a mandatory component of every student’s school day. The naps we took as children were part of a sleep pattern known as biphasic sleep, which had several advantages we didn’t realize at the time.
Sleeping twice a day (or biphasic sleep, segmented sleep, or siesta sleep) has been shown to increase energy levels and alertness, as well as cognitive function and productivity.
Even so, by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have been socialized to believe that a full night’s sleep is the norm. In a 24-hour period, the vast majority of modern Americans sleep monophasically, which means they sleep only once, usually in the middle of the night.
We may be accustomed to sleeping in a monophasic pattern as “grown ups,” but new study suggests that we may benefit from returning to the biphasic sleep patterns we had as children. In this article, we’ll explain what biphasic sleep is, why it has a long history of use, how it might benefit you, and how you might experiment with switching to biphasic sleep.
Please keep in mind that the information provided on Sleepopolis is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and monitoring. If you suspect you have a sleep disturbance or other medical condition, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
What Is Biphasic Sleep?
Even if you can’t recall what it was like to be a baby, you probably napped a lot. It was not possible to get a full night’s rest because your sleep was broken up into several segments throughout the course of a 24-hour period. Every human being on our planet is the same. Polyphasic sleep is a type of sleep that we’ll cover in more detail later.
Most likely, as you progressed from infancy to toddlerhood and beyond, you gradually reduced the amount of time spent napping until you were only dozing for short periods of time each day. As an example of biphasic sleep, here is an example.
Although the word “biphasic sleep” may sound complicated, it actually describes a very straightforward idea. Simply, it refers to people who sleep in two separate sessions during the night. (As an example, they might get some sleep at night and then take a nap during the day to make up for it.) Biphasic sleep, also known as bimodal, diphasic, divided, segmented, or siesta sleep, can also be referred to as biphasic sleep.
Biphasic sleep can be described in the following ways:
- It’s a sleep pattern in which you sleep for two hours at a time during the course of 24 hours.
- These two sessions may be held back-to-back at night, or they could be separated by a few hours each day.
- Monophasic sleep, on the other hand, necessitates a single, prolonged period of sleep (usually at night).
- While polyphasic sleep entails sleeping longer than two hours at a time, biphasic sleep does not.
What Are the Different Types of Biphasic Sleep?
It is possible to have a biphasic sleep pattern in a variety of ways. As far as I know, these are the two most prevalent methods:
Two Sessions at Night
In some biphasic sleepers, two separate periods of sleep occur at the same time during the course of the night. As an example, consider what happens if:
- In the early evening/night, they may sleep for a few hours.
- For a few hours during the night, they’ll be awakened.
- After that, they’ll sleep for a few more hours till the sun comes up. (or maybe a bit later).
- An average of six to eight hours of sleep per night should be expected with this sleeping pattern.
One Session at Night and One During the Day
The most popular strategy to biphasic sleep is to split your sleep period between night and day. Many European civilizations, including Spain and Greece, practice a biphasic sleep pattern known as “siesta sleep.” Here’s a quick rundown:
- The amount of time spent sleeping at night and taking naps differs from person to person.
- Some biphasic sleepers like to sleep for several hours at night (typically six hours or so) and then take a 20-minute afternoon nap.
- Others choose a shorter night’s sleep (say, five hours) and a longer afternoon nap (around 90 minutes) as a compromise.
Most biphasic sleepers will tell you that it takes some trial and error to figure out the best strategy. Because everyone is unique, they may be better suited to one of the two biphasic patterns.
What’s the Difference Between Biphasic and Polyphasic Sleep?
The word “polyphasic sleep” is likely to pop up in your biphasic sleep studies if you’ve done any digging. So, what’s the big deal?
Each word’s initial syllable holds the key to the solution. The Latin roots of the words “bi” and “poly” mean “two” and “many,” respectively. Polyphasic sleep, as contrast to biphasic sleep, occurs when a person sleeps for several sessions (i.e., more than two) over the course of a 24-hour period.
There are a wide range of sleep schedules that can be used by polyphasic sleepers. When it comes to examples:
- They could sleep as many as three times a day. Triphasic sleep is another name for this type of sleep. Resting for 90 minutes, waking up for around six hours, sleeping for another 90 minutes, and repeating the process three times totals about three cycles.
- Sleeping for lengthier periods at night (say, three to four hours) followed by multiple shorter naps during the day may be their preference.
- Two naps throughout the night and one nap during the day are options for those who want to sleep in shifts.
Polyphasic sleep patterns come in a variety of forms, but these are the most prevalent.
A polyphasic or biphasic sleep pattern is not the same as having insomnia or other sleep disorders on purpose. The term “accidental” polyphasic sleeper refers to persons who, despite their best efforts, wake up frequently throughout the night.
What’s the end result? While biphasic sleep involves just two sleeping episodes, polyphasic sleep involves three or more sleeping sessions, while biphasic sleep involves only two. Adopting a pattern and following it religiously yields the best results in both circumstances.
What Is the History of Biphasic Sleep?
When it comes to modern sleepers, the idea of biphasic sleep could seem like a novel concept. In fact, more and more evidence suggests that sleeping in phases rather than waking up refreshed throughout the night is more typical across the course of human history as a whole.
Humans have actually been sleeping biphasic for most of our history. It was common for people to sleep for about four hours in the early hours of the night, then wake up for an hour or so (during which time they could think about dreams, do housework, have sex, or simply relax) and then go back to sleep for another four hours or so (dubbed “second sleep”). This biphasic sleeping pattern was common among the majority of people.
Throughout historical art, diaries, literature, and even medical texts, references to this cultural sleeping pattern can be found. Some of the earliest known writers to discuss the idea of a first and second sleep were Plutarch, Virgil, Homer, and Chaucer, among others. Even in the Middle East and Australia, Roger Ekirch claims, sleep researchers have found evidence that this behaviour was commonplace in those cultures as well.
It’s possible that the Western world’s move away from a biphasic sleep cycle can be traced back to the development of the light bulb. Electricity and the ensuing Industrial Revolution allowed for the extension of working hours rather than having them cease with the passing of daylight. Most people couldn’t enjoy two four-hour sleep cycles and an hour or so of awake each night because of this reduction in nighttime sleeping duration.
Streetlights, on the other hand, made it easier for people to socialize at night, making it more difficult for them to get a good night’s sleep. Monophasic sleep habits were embraced by many western societies by 19th-century standards, and the concept of middle-of-the-night sleeplessness became a medical diagnostic rather than an ideal.
Even as most western cultures adopted a predominantly monophasic sleep pattern, our bodies haven’t necessarily been as quick to jump ship. (For the record, some cultures never abandoned biphasic sleep patterns. Spain, Greece, and many Latin American cultures continue to embrace mid-afternoon naps.) Biological and evolutionary influences are powerful, and research suggests they continue to assert themselves. Well-known research from the 1990s suggests people naturally shift toward biphasic sleep when they’re exposed to natural patterns of daylight and darkness. People whose bodies exhibit strong circadian rhythms are also likely to experience a natural wake-up during the night.
While the majority of Western civilizations have adopted a monophasic sleep schedule, our bodies haven’t necessarily been as fast to adapt. To be clear, biphasic sleep patterns persist in some societies.) Mid-afternoon naps are still popular in Spain, Greece, and many Latin American countries.) Research shows that biological and evolutionary factors are strong and will likely continue to be so. Existing research reveals that when exposed to regular cycles of daylight and darkness, the human brain is more likely to switch to a biphasic sleep pattern. People who have strong circadian rhythms in their body are more prone to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Biphasic sleep has been a popular sleeping pattern for most of human history.
- This sleep pattern has been referenced in art, literature, and medical texts dating back to the earliest days of recorded history.
- Throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods, biphasic sleep was the norm, according to historical study.
- In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution pushed for shorter sleep times so that workers could spend more time at their jobs. As a result, monophasic sleep began to gain popularity.
- The lightbulb was invented by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s. Traditional biphasic sleep habits were further disrupted as a result of this. Working longer hours and engaging in nightlife meant that people had less time to sleep. Compressing one’s sleep into a single evening session has becoming increasingly common.
- Even though science shows that human bodies prefer biphasic sleep (when left to their own devices), our culture still prefers monophasic sleep patterns.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Biphasic Sleep?
What is it about biphasic sleep patterns that appeals to various cultures and modern-day trend-setters? It turns out that there may be a variety of advantages to this type of sleep. Biphasic sleep may provide the following seven advantages.
- Cognitive function may be aided. Sleeping for two hours at a time may boost cognitive performance. In part, this is because it reduces weariness and boosts the ability to pay attention and concentrate.
- Possibly, it will increase productivity. A biphasic sleep schedule has been shown to increase productivity. A combination of the improved cognitive function and increased alertness discussed above is largely to blame for this gain in productivity. This productivity boost isn’t accompanied by increased fatigue or burnout, though.
- It’s possible that it’ll lessen tension. When biphasic sleep patterns were in use, people were encouraged to perform a midnight wakefulness phase as a means of relieving stress. Modern biphasic sleepers may be able to reap the same advantages.
- It has all the advantages of a power nap for siesta sleepers. Power naps have been shown to have a wide range of health benefits. Learning, innovative problem solving and logical reasoning are just a few of the benefits that can be gained from cognitive training. It’s possible that power naps can boost mood, reduce stress, and reduce fatigue, all of which can lead to better performance at work.
- It allows for more freedom in terms of planning. Splitting your daily sleep allocation into two periods allows you to better manage your time between work, family, and other obligations.
- It’s possible that it’ll help you remember your dreams better. We may have better access to our subconscious thoughts if we use biphasic sleep to help us remember our dreams. Insights into our own emotions, ideas, and so on can be gleaned this way.
- Insomnia sufferers may find it beneficial. Learning that humans have experienced night terrors for as long as recorded history can be comforting to those who are struggling with insomnia. And better sleep is more likely if their anxiousness is reduced.
With all of these advantages, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs and anybody else trying to improve their cognitive performance and productivity are increasingly turning to biphasic sleep patterns.
What Are the Potential Downsides of Biphasic Sleep?
Biphasic sleep patterns have both advantages and disadvantages.
Sleep schedule changes necessitate an adjustment period, to begin with. This is a time when some people may feel more sleepy, sluggish, irritable or a variety of other symptoms.
Changing your sleep routine can also cause problems in your social circle. For example, getting to bed sooner may necessitate fewer nights out with friends, while taking an afternoon nap may result in problems at work. People’s efforts to adapt to a new sleep schedule are typically stymied by these social repercussions.
Another problem is that there isn’t enough research into it. Only a few studies have looked at the long-term implications of biphasic sleep cycles. This means that sleep researchers aren’t clear if a long-term use of a biphasic sleep pattern has any harmful effects.
However, research show that biphasic sleep patterns are often not harmful in the majority of cases. Insofar as you’re still getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night, most evidence indicates that sleeping in two sessions is good.
Who Could Biphasic Sleep Be Good For?
Everyone has various sleep requirements and preferences, therefore some people may benefit more from a biphasic sleep pattern than others.
Biphasic sleep is still a mystery to scientists, who aren’t sure what influences the body’s response. While some people require a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to function at their peak, others can get by with shorter stretches of extended sleep and daytime napping.
In this case, there may be a hereditary component. Many people can get by on as little sleep as three hours a night, however this may be due to a DNA mutation in one to three percent of the population, according to the research. The only way to find out if you’re in this camp is to pay for DNA testing, which is expensive. Rest and quality sleep are crucial for those of us who aren’t superhuman. Because it doesn’t necessitate only a few hours of sleep each night, a biphasic sleep cycle is considerably more widely available.
There’s also the matter of one’s way of life. Those who have to juggle irregular work or family commitments may find that a biphasic sleep regimen is an ideal solution.
Finally, biphasic sleep may be beneficial to those who want an advantage in their job life because of the cognitive benefits stated above.
What’s the end result? Because no two people’s sleep patterns are the same, the only way to know for sure what works best for you is to try out several sleep regimens.
How to Experiment with Biphasic Sleep
In order to maximize your chances of success with biphasic sleep, adhere to the following guidelines:
Choose your sleep pattern.
Begin by picking which biphasic sleep pattern you’d like to follow. As a refresher, there are two main options:
- Taking a 20-minute nap in the middle of the day after sleeping for six hours at night.
- After a night’s rest of at least five hours of sleep (or more), it is recommended that you take a 60- to 90-minute afternoon nap.
Think about when you’re most likely to fall asleep before deciding on a sleeping method. If your energy levels drop in the afternoons on a regular basis, this might be the best time to plan a sleep. Maybe two nocturnal sleep periods might be preferable for you if you wake up frequently during the night.
Determine what you’re trying to achieve.
What makes you want to try a biphasic sleep cycle? It could be that you’re trying to increase your work productivity, raise your cognitive functioning, reduce stress, or cope with the sleep deprivation of having a baby at home.
It’s possible that the response will have an impact on how you conduct your experiment. In order to determine whether or whether a biphasic sleep pattern improves your life, you must first identify your desired outcome. It’s a good idea to keep a sleep diary once you’ve decided on a goal so that you can monitor your progress and make necessary adjustments to your sleep routine.
Limit your exposure to artificial light.
You may find it harder to fall and stay asleep during your sleep periods if you are exposed to artificial light during the day. Keeping devices out of the bedroom, employing blue light blockers, and lowering your exposure to artificial light are all effective ideas for preventing sleep disorders caused by blue light exposure. A waking period in the middle of the night can make it difficult to get back to sleep for your second sleep session, so try to keep your exposure to artificial light to a minimum during that time.
To teach your body when it’s time to rest, you need to stick to a regular schedule. This helps to ensure that you receive a good night’s sleep every time you go to bed. In addition, an erratic sleep schedule may backfire, as it is linked to low performance and disrupted sleep.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
As a result of creating a sleep-friendly environment, you will have a better chance of falling and staying asleep during each of your sleep sessions To that end, try to sleep in a cool, dark, clutter-free, and quiet environment. Artificial light sources should be avoided in this area, as previously stated.) It’s also a good idea to refrain from drinking or exercising right before bedtime.
Be on the alert for red flags.
Some people benefit more from non-monophasic sleep patterns than others, as previously mentioned. Look out for symptoms that your body is struggling to adapt, such as an inability to focus, an increased risk-taking, and/or a tendency to fall asleep at the most inconvenient of times. The return to a monophasic sleep schedule may be necessary if you experience any of these symptoms.
It’s possible that your body is adapting successfully to a biphasic sleep schedule if you’re feeling refreshed, pleasant, and functional.
Consult your physician.
Consult with your doctor before making any major alterations to your sleep schedule, as they will be able to inform you whether anything in your medical history has an impact on how you feel. If you suffer from a chronic health condition like anxiety or depression, getting enough sleep is even more critical, as disrupting your sleep cycle may exacerbate your symptoms.
Be willing to drop the experiment if necessary.
Toss your biphasic sleep experiment if it doesn’t increase your energy levels or help you attain your goal after several weeks of experimentation. Because biphasic sleeping may be unsuitable for your body and/or lifestyle, this isn’t a failure. As an example, some people find their sleep patterns need to shift seasonally in order to maintain a consistent level of restful slumber.
Drawing Your Own Conclusions on Biphasic Sleep
It’s not for everyone to switch to a biphasic sleep schedule. However, for many people, switching from a monophasic to a biphasic sleep cycle has numerous advantages, including improved daytime alertness, better scheduling flexibility, and increased productivity. Biphasic sleep patterns have both historical and scientific precedent, which should at the very least broaden our perspective on how people sleep.
What Kind of Sleep Is Best for Me?
There are some persons who prefer a monophasic sleep routine while others prefer biphasic sleep.
Biphasic sleep patterns have been seen in humans throughout history. Taking a short nap in the middle of the day has also been shown to be beneficial. A 20-minute nap in the early afternoon could be a good approach to ease yourself into biphasic sleep.
Because sleep is essential to our overall well-being, it may be beneficial to talk with your doctor before radically changing your sleep schedule. They can offer additional recommendations for improving your sleep quality and daytime energy levels.