BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
Feeling tired? You’re not alone. In the United States alone, more than 50 million adults claim to have some kind of sleep disorder that prevents them from getting their requisite forty winks each night. Terrifyingly, 37 per cent of all Americans have reported falling asleep at the wheel. In a busy, increasingly cluttered world where work and social life blend together, finding a quiet time to sleep, and sleep well, is growing increasingly difficult.
According to the American National Institute of Health, most adult men and women require anywhere between 6.4 and 7.5 hours of sleep per night – taking all that together, we’ll spend about 26 years of our life asleep. Don’t think that you can power through your days with a jolt of espresso either: sleep provides many useful functions, clearing the brain from harmful chemicals that build up over the day. We dream, which most sleep scientists belive provides an opportunity for the brain to sort out old memories and categorize new information. But what if you’re too busy for sleep? Paleoanthropologists, individuals who study the lives of ancient humans, propose a radical new sleep cycle that hearkens back to the earliest days of our ancestors.
As you might have surmised, many of our predecessors didn’t enjoy the comforts of posturepedic mattresses or memory foam. Our medieval forebears probably enjoyed a paltry few hours of sleep on straw or sacks before rising before dawn to toil in the fields. Even their straitened sleep cycles seem like the lap of luxury when compared to some of their ancestors. Past ten thousand years ago, our ancestors lived quite differently than our pampered existences.
In the days when our ancestors lived communally in caves and trees, scientists hypothesize that a full 8-hour snooze was a luxury that few could afford. Sleep scientists refer to our modern-day “normal” sleep cycle as “monophasic,” one long, uninterrupted session. Our distant ancestors, on the other hand, forever watchful for predators like leopards that might drag them away in the middle of the night, probably adopted “polyphasic” sleep patterns: taking quick catnaps throughout the day to stay restful. On the other hand, anyone who’s taken a long car nap can attest to the fact that long sleeps when we don’t usually take them leave us feeling crummy for the rest of the day. Why stretch that sensation out?
As we sleep, our brain passes through several distinct stages of sleep – light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep, the stage where we start dreaming. Polyphasiac sleep attempts to reorganize the sleep cycle in such a way as to have us experience all three of these phases in distinct breaks from each other, rather than as a single continuum. Sleeping for a few hours, waking up, and returning to sleep, if properly managed, can allow you to seamlessly stay energized and restful. By compressing these patterns into hour-long breaks between waking activity, dedicated polyphasiacs can, with some practice and lifestyle adjustments, get by on only an hour or two of sleep.
According to Big Think, there are a couple ways you can do it. The first schedule revolves around taking 6 30-minute naps throughout the day, specifically at 2 p.m., 6 p.m., 10 p.m, 2 a.m., 6 a.m., and 10 a.m. If you can sneak away from work a couple times during the day, then this might be for you. The second schedule requires the sleeper to take a three hour nap, which takes place between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Then, three 20-minute naps throughout the day at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 9 p.m. The second schedule allows you to get a little bit more sleep time in and might be easier to adapt to at first.
Adapting to a polyphasiac sleep pattern isn’t quite as easy as it seems, though. It’s a rigid schedule that must be adhered to in order to reap the benefits of a low-sleep lifestyle. If you’re into bar crawling late at night or going to three a.m. raves, it’s definitely not the lifestyle for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a way to maximize your productivity, then give polyphasiac sleep a try. If nothing else, you’ll be safe from any leopard attacks.