What's your sleep pattern?

What’s your sleep pattern?

Shift workers know the difficulties of trying to match their sleep pattern to their working life. But does “sleep hacking” hold the key to freedom from needing seven to nine hours sleep every night?

You might think that our nightly requirement of seven to nine hours sleep every night was pretty much established. However argument still goes on about whether this “monophasic” sleep is as natural as most of us think.

There is in fact mixed evidence from our pre-industrial times over this a “biphasic” sleep pattern. This was two periods of sleep, both at night, but separated by a one or two hours of quiet wakefulness. People might read or talk during this comparably inactive time before returning to bed and to sleep.

Whether this was so widespread as to be the norm, or the victim of social changes during the industrial revolution, is unclear. What does remain however is the fact that biphasic sleep is as natural for some people as monophasic sleep is for others.

This does at least offer hope to those who experience early morning wakefulness, but who then routinely manage to return to sleep. Rather than medicalising their sleep pattern it may be that for them biphasic sleep is the norm. As long as they continue to get the benefits of sleep then there would seem little point trying to alter their pattern simply to conform to that of the majority.

Some people though do try and alter their sleep pattern in a practice known as “sleep hacking”. The world of sleep hacking is competitive, and aimed at extreme changes in not just the pattern of sleep but the need for it.

The “Uberman” sleep cycle is a rigid structure of four hour periods of wakefulness separated by twenty minute periods of sleep. The adjustment to this from monophasic sleep is arduous and unpleasant, with physical and mental side effects. The stated benefits are an extra five to six hours of wakefulness per day, and the increased time and productivity that can bring.

The dangers of this, and other patterns such as Dymaxion, with five and a half hours of wakefulness separated by half hours of sleep, are in the long term effects of chronic sleep starvation. As well as the effects on metabolism and mood, there are also health concerns about the continual shortage of REM sleep.

Ultimately you can’t fight your body clock, so it’s best to accommodate and work with it. Learning to power nap is probably a more practical skill than trying to squeeze your sleep into unnatural shapes.

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