IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not a medical site. You should always discuss medical matters with your doctor.
The Uberman Sleep CycleWe spend an average of one third of our life asleep - that's a lot of hours. Wouldn't it be great if we could find a way of sleeping less without suffering any ill-effects? That's the goal of polyphasic sleep - otherwise known as the Uberman sleep cycle.
NOTE: this page is for information only and is not a recommendation to try polyphasic sleep. Be wary of the problems that can be caused by sleep deprivation.
Less is MoreThe theory behind polyphasic sleep is that our normal sleep cycle is inefficient. Certain stages of sleep, in particular deep and REM sleep, are more beneficial to the body and mind. One long night-time sleep session is not the best way to maximise the amount of deep sleep and REM sleep that we receive.
So why would we normally use an inefficient sleep cycle? One theory is that our sleep patterns evolved back when the night was dangerous. We evolved so that we slept during the dangerous nighttime hours of darkness and hunted during the less dangerous daylight hours. In our modern society it is not quite so important to avoid the night.
The Uberman Sleep Cycle therefore attempts to replace our normal "one big block of" (monophasic) sleep with "several small blocks of" (polyphasic) sleep. Each of these smaller blocks of sleep is designed to optimise the amount of useful sleep.
Each sleep block is initially a multiple of 90 minutes (the average length of a normal sleep cycle). The theory is that a few of these 90-minute cycles throughout the day - taken when we can be sure we won't be interrupted - will be more effective than one long, possibly disturbed sleep. Sleep less but sleep smarter.
Over time it is claimed that our brains adapt to the polyphasic sleep cycle and can move into REM sleep more rapidly, thus making even more efficient use of the hours spent sleeping. The ultimate goal of the Uberman sleep schedule is to reduce your need for sleeping down to six thirty minute naps during a 24-hour period.
It's interesting to note that some form of polyphasic sleep appears to be the norm in babies and young children, however we grow out of it as a result of social pressure. The modern need to work a single long day or shift at a time makes polyphasic sleep routine difficult to maintain.
Does Polyphasic Sleep Work?Unfortunately there is little scientific evidence on the efficacy of polyphasic sleep.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that polyphasic sleep works. It is said that many people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill used the method. Many individuals have reported success in adapting to a polyphasic sleep cycle - unfortunately there have been no long term studies to see if they can maintain this.
On the other hand, there are considerable concerns that the effects of sleep deprivation could outweigh any benefits from polyphasic sleep. This could be specially true if you were suffering from any medical condition, either physical or mental.
Overall the polyphasic sleep cycle remains a fascinating concept that deserves serious scientific study. For now I wouldn't risk it without asking my doctor first.