How Polyphasic Sleep Works

Making the Switch to Polyphasic Sleep

Since polyphasic sleep isn't recommended in the medical community, it's not well-documented. It's not even helpful to insomniacs, who are discouraged from daytime napping in favor of attaining one uninterrupted block of overnight sleep. As a choice, there are no hard-and-fast rules to polyphasic sleeping, and a normal body is never going to cue you into it, so the best way to get started is to figure out a schedule that works for you and do your best to stick to it.

"The biggest challenge will be to wake up when the nap is supposed to be over," says Watson. "Work backward from monophasic to a biphasic pattern for a while, then switch to the Everyman phase where you're shortening your main phase at night and adding a nap during the day. Keep shortening the main phase and adding naps until you attain the schedule you're looking for."

No matter how diligent you are, there's some human physiology you'll never be able to change, like your circadian rhythm and nighttime melatonin release. And, according to Watson, you'll always be sleep-deprived since short naps prevent the body from going through the necessary non-REM and REM cycles that monophasic sleep allows.

So let's see: You're sleep-deprived, you're working against your normal body clock and you're out of sync with the rest of society. Who else can you invite to the party? Stress hormones such as cortisol, which can trigger "obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and drastic changes in mood," Watson says.

So why would anyone choose to switch from a monophasic to polyphasic sleep schedule unless circumstances required it?

According to Watson, nothing but sheer irony: "One of the interesting things about sleep deprivation is that the more sleep-deprived a person is, the worse they become at judging their own sleepiness."

Author's Note: How Polyphasic Sleep Works

I was more than a bit daunted at the prospect of writing about polyphasic sleep until I realized I had personal experience with the topic. The kind of experience where you walk into walls. Or can't remember your husband's middle name. Or lose a 75-pound dog in a hallway. Writing the article reminded me to be grateful for every second of glorious, unadulterated monophasic sleep I get now that my child is sleeping through the night. However, if the very act of writing this somehow jinxes that situation, I take it all back.

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  • Brown, Christy. Former morning executive producer at WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tennessee. Personal correspondence. Received April 12, 2012.
  • Dusik, Doug. PR coordinator, American Association of Sleep Medicine. Personal correspondence. Received April 19, 2012.
  • Rosenberg, Dr. Russell Ph.D. Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. Personal interview. Conducted April 11, 2012.
  • Watson, Dr. Nate, MD MS, Co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center. Personal interview. Conducted April 12, 2012.

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