Cheating Sleep: Can You Add Years to Your Life?

Most folks follow what’s known as a monophasic sleep schedule. It’s a fancy way of saying you sleep about seven to eight hours every night in a continuous block.

We all want more sleep. There’ s plenty of techniques, gadgets, pillows and fancy mattresses to help you. And, we all know someone (or we might be that someone) who hits snooze several times before actually getting out of bed.

But, what if, instead of trying to get more sleep, we tried to cheat sleep?

One-third; that’s the amount the average person will spend of their lives sleeping, according to the National Institute of Health.

Most folks follow what’s known as a monophasic sleep schedule. It’s a fancy way of saying you sleep about seven to eight hours every night in a continuous block.

Some follow a biphasic sleep schedule, or sleeping five to six hours at a time and squeezing in a half -hour or hour long nap later in the day.

But, some practice polyphasic sleep, which has you sleeping only one to three hours a night and taking several naps throughout the day.

Why would anyone choose polyphasic sleep? Because, the theory is, it adds more time being awake to your life, allowing you to get more done in a day.

Polyphasic sleep isn’t new. Sleep Physician, Dr. Gray Bullard with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center explained, “150 years ago, farmers and agricultural people commonly split the night into two parts and that was very functional because there were no electrical lights. It was to bed early, up early, and it worked for certain parts of the country.”

Advocates for the sleep lifestyle say polyphasic is natural. The Journal of Sleep Research shows animals sleep in polyphasic schedules and theorize humans simply evolved differently. Still, doctors won’t tell you the sleep schedule is a good idea.

“We can’t really recommend it in any way because studies haven’t been done in modern era to know if it’s safe,” said Bullard.

Rumor has it, famous thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison used polyphasic sleep. But the first documented user was an inventor, named Buckminster Fuller. Fuller took 30 minute naps, every six hours, resulting in two hours of sleep a day.

He reportedly loved it but his wife didn’t, so he eventually switched back to a normal sleep schedule.

It’s important to note, polyphasic sleep isn’t to be confused for irregular sleep patterns or losing sleep because of work or life schedules. Rather, as Internet blogger Puredoxyk writes in her articles, it’s a lifestyle commitment; a way to feel more rested and be more productive.

Puredoxyk writes she’s practiced polyphasic sleep for years; sleeping in three to four hours blocks with naps sprinkled in throughout the day. The blogger said it’s the first time in her life she felt well-rested.

However, she admitted, the schedule isn’t for everyone.

Bullad agrees, adding some can thrive on less sleep. In fact, one to three percent of the population are known as the “sleepless elite” because of a mutated gene that allows these folks to feel rested despite having only a couple hours of sleep a night. Advocates for polyphasic say the schedule will trick your body into becoming part of this group, but doctors argue many will experience long term health problems.

“Stroke, heart attack. All of these things are more common in folks that don’t get enough sleep,” explained Bullard.

And while naps are certainly refreshing, Bullard added it’s a sleep myth that you can “catch up” on sleep.

“It’s always a good idea for people not to rely on naps for catch up sleep, not to rely on weekends for catch up sleep. You can never catch up the amount of sleep you lose when you don’t get an adequate number of hours of sleep a night.”

Bullard added other health risks include detriments in learning and memory. While not encouraging polyphasic sleep, Bullard understands parents, or people working across time zones or multiple jobs might want to try this time of sleep schedule. In that case, he recommends talking with a physician before making drastic changes to a sleep cycle.