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October 7, 2007 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Is it harmful in any way to break one's daily eight hours of sleep into two segments on a long-term basis? I can't really find any good info one way or the other.

I'm a night owl by nature, but I really enjoy the early morning hours, too. When I sleep six hours at night, and then take an hour and a half nap in the afternoon, I find that I'm much less groggy and more alert all day.

Am I doing any long-term damage?
posted by freshwater_pr0n to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Polyphasic Sleep

It's not bad after you adjust, it just makes living with humans who sleep normal hours annoying.
posted by iamabot at 7:48 PM on October 7, 2007

I would suggest it's not harmful, since that's how millions of people live.
posted by wackybrit at 7:57 PM on October 7, 2007

Response by poster: Wackybrit, I'm familiar with the concept of siesta, but that seems more like a short, restorative powernap than a full 1.5 hour sleep-cycle.

And I definitely don't want to experiment with polyphasic sleep.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:10 PM on October 7, 2007

There really isn't that much information about polyphasic or biphasic sleep yet, because it's a recent thing and there haven't been that many controlled studies done on it. Your title indicates that you know a bit about polyphasic sleep already, but here's the Everything2 article on it again, which I found helpful. It takes a bit of time to sift through the literature, but there are quite a few well-documented examples/reports.

I think it's superb and definitely worth trying; unfortunately, it doesn't fit too well into my University schedule... This guy tried it for a considerable period and documented everything. You don't have to read the entire logs, just read the before and after, I found that gave me a decent perspective on what it might be like.

I tried biphasic for a while, which is kind of what you're doing. Polyphasic and Biphasic are based on two different principles, mind you.

Biphasic relies on sleep cycles - on average, each sleep cycle is 90 minutes. The theory is that if you time your sleep in terms of sleep cycles and always rouse yourself after one complete cycle, you wouldn't get jolted out of deep sleep and you'd wake up feeling more rested. I did 9:30-11PM, right after I got home from whatever part time job I had, and then again from 4-7:30 - six hours in total, but a lot of night time working time and early enough for me to get to school early and take advantage of the quietness.

Polyphasic sleep relies on short naps taken at regular intervals 6-8 times during the day, but it has to be done every four/six hours, on the hour, LIKE CLOCKWORK. You also can't allow yourself to sleep more than 30/20 minutes, depending on what cycle you choose. Polyphasic basically trains your body to enter deep sleep immediately, so that you're making the utter most of the sleep that you are getting. Polyphasic also seriously fucks with your perception of the passage of time and requires a very flexible schedule/life.

Anyway, do a bit of digging around. I've always believed that monophasic sleep was grossly overrated anyway. Best of luck!
posted by Phire at 8:16 PM on October 7, 2007

On not-preview - whoops.

Hmm. Biphasic *is* a term, but it's not very widespread yet. Try looking around on a few polyphasic sleep forums and asking for help there. Here's the Wiki article, with a few good links at the bottom, and here's a decent forum to get you started. :)
posted by Phire at 8:20 PM on October 7, 2007

Im sure its not at all good for you. Not only will it interrupt your slow-wave/deep REM sleep you will awaked during this period and experience excess grogginess. You simply wont feel right.

Lack of good sleep has been linked to high blood pressure and other nasties you dont want to encourage.

Lastly, its unnatural. Humans left alone tend to fall into patterns where they sleep 8-10 hours at once.

This poly faq is informative and doesnt pull punches on the drawbacks of poly sleep
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:21 PM on October 7, 2007

Anecdotal evidence: at one point, I spent almost a year working the night shift (3:30 AM to 9:30 AM) for UPS. My usual sleep cycle, once I had settled into the job, consisted of sleeping from 1 pm to 5 pm and then again from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am. Once I got adjusted, it seemed as if my body expected sleep at these two times, and I felt awake and alert both for my job and for the evening hours, which I used for relaxation and socializing. If I tried to stay out later on the weekends, I would hit a wall around 10:30, and by 11 or 11:30, I absolutely had to leave and go to bed. But if I retained my weekday sleep schedule on the weekends, I felt well-rested.

In fact, I would say that I probably had more energy at this time in my life than any other, but that was most likely more a result of being in the best shape of my life as a result of throwing heavy packages around for 6 hours each day, than of any magical effects of a weird sleep cycle.

Anyways, while this sleep pattern might be bad in the sense that, as damn dirty ape says, it might not be what humans would do in a 'state of nature,' I doubt it's worse for your circadian rhythm (or other body mechanisms) than, say, being exposed to artificial light after sunset, which also never would have occurred 'naturally.'
posted by notswedish at 9:27 PM on October 7, 2007

Buckminster Fuller slept for 15 minutes every six hours. He lived to be 88 years old, so it seems not to have had ill effects on him, though that's only one data point.
posted by Jeff Howard at 9:58 PM on October 7, 2007

Jeff Howard, Buckminster Fuller advocated Dymaxion Sleep (30 mintes every six hours). He also only did it for 2 years before he quit, ostensibly to allow him to work with his colleagues. So he is by no means a good sample for studying the long-term effects of altered sleep cycles.
posted by reformedjerk at 10:36 PM on October 7, 2007

You might also want to search for articles on prophylactic napping. A prophylactic nap is a nap taken before a undergoing a period of prolonged sleeplessness and it usually lasts up to 4 hours. It is much longer than a power nap. I didn’t find any articles on the long term effects of prophylactic napping, but I found one article from Flying Safety magazine (published by the US Air Force) and a Google Book Search result from An Introduction to Applied Cognitive Psychology on the effectiveness of the long-duration prophylactic naps.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 11:36 PM on October 7, 2007

Is it harmful in any way to break one's daily eight hours of sleep into two segments on a long-term basis?

In your [more inside] you clarified that you're thinking of an uneven split, but I'd still like to take a moment to say that anyone with kids knows breaking your sleep into two more-or-less-equal parcels adjacent to each other is a bad, bad idea. Sleep from, say, 9pm-1am, and then from 2am-6am, and you'll be a wreck.

However, those people I know who sleep at night (but shorter than average) and nap in the day (briefly) have more energy than anyone else I know, and if I could figure out a way to do it I'd do it.
posted by davejay at 12:33 AM on October 8, 2007

Data point:
I've been doing biphasic sleep for about a month now, just because of how my class and practice schedules work out, where i'll sleep 3-4 hours at night, and another 3-4 in the early afternoon. It works really well for me, and I imagine i'll keep it up for the rest of the semester, at least.
Then again, it's only been a month.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:08 AM on October 8, 2007

Also note that I have no idea if this has ill effects in the long run.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:08 AM on October 8, 2007

I cant offer long term data, but in the past year or so, I've gone from unemployment to working 3 jobs. (including a night shift midnight to 8am)... so I pretty much grab sleep whenever and whereever I can. It hasnt seemed to effect me (in a negative manner) so much so to effect my life. I understand that a predictable pattern would probably be better for my body, but at the present time I'm sacrificing that to get out of debt and reorganize my life. Its worth it for now. (it doesnt hurt that my night job lets me grab naps on the couch as necessary)
posted by jmnugent at 1:15 AM on October 8, 2007

Ask any new parent, especially a SAHM with more than one young child. I have a toddler and am 6 months pregnant, and I cannot sleep past 4 a.m., no matter when I go to bed or how I try to relax. I usually take a 2-hour nap in the afternoons when my toddler naps. I feel incredibly tired, though, even with the long naps. (Usually I don't feel so exhausted even with a toddler.)
posted by mdiskin at 2:18 AM on October 8, 2007

i did that for years in college and would do it now if i could. i seem to be okay.

i think people with odd sleep patterns are at higher risk for depression and seasonal affective disorder, but i don't think you're actually hurting yourself.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:26 AM on October 8, 2007

I did some sleep research this summer. Fragmentation seems to (weakly) do bad things to some heart outcomes. We're not quite sure what to make of our napping data (it's a causal mess), but it doesn't seem good.

There are lots of hormones with circadian rhythms which regulate aspects of appetite, weight balance, cognitive function, inflammation and other important stuff that I wouldn't screw around with. Your question isn't about sleep duration, but we found that even missing one hour of sleep (per night, on average) significantly increased the risk of a bad heart outcome. It's an important system, and I wouldn't mess around with it; do what we've evolved to do and sleep at night.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:54 AM on October 8, 2007

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