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How Polyphasic Sleep Works


Working Against Your System
Night bus driver Chitpinit Kaewchaluay checks his bus on Dec. 15, 2010, in London, England. Chitpinit will drive the night bus from midnight until 6 a.m.
Night bus driver Chitpinit Kaewchaluay checks his bus on Dec. 15, 2010, in London, England. Chitpinit will drive the night bus from midnight until 6 a.m.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Though babies and parents of newborns get the polyphasic sleep stamp of approval from the medical community, neither Dr. Watson nor Dr. Rosenberg sees it as a viable alternative to the monophasic sleep schedule.

"Your lifestyle is not more productive, and sleep is not better if you chop it up," Rosenberg says. "I would never recommend it to anybody, but circumstances may force an individual to do it.

People have toyed with polyphasic sleep schedules for centuries. It's been theorized that historical figures including Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci were polysleepers, but the only documented case is that of Buckminster Fuller, an engineer, systems theorist and all-around Renaissance man born in the late 1800s who slept in a series of naps until the schedule conflicted too much with his work.

Extreme athletes who can't take the time to sleep for long periods while training or competing do it. Servicemen and women in various branches of the military -- working on submarines, fighting wars -- do it. And so do pilots, fishermen, nannies, medical residents, college students and shift workers in every field from factory work to the media.

But does it come naturally? Never.

"It was always a struggle to go to sleep during the day, even when I was bone tired," says Christy Brown, former morning executive producer at WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tenn., who worked from 10:30 p.m. until 8 a.m. "I tried melatonin, which never seemed to work, and over-the-counter aids left me too groggy when I woke up. Inevitably, I would only sleep about four hours before waking up and trying to get back to sleep again."

Tired just thinking about it? Sleep on this: Some people think a polyphasic sleep schedule is a good way to maximize their efficiency (and no, they're not zombies).


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