Is There a *Right* Way to Sleep?

Some ways are better than others.

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Weird Sleep Pattern No. 1: Biphasic

Once upon a time, people didn't sleep through the night. For hundreds of years, Europeans went to bed just after dusk, slept for about four hours (what's been called "first sleep"), and then woke up for an hour or two. During this time, they read, wrote, prayed, smoked a pipe, visited their neighbors, had sex with their spouses. Then they went back to sleep for another four hours ("second sleep").

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Eventually, cities installed better street lighting, electric lamps were invented, and people began hanging out later and later into the night. With more late-night activities came fewer hours for sleeping, and by the 19th century most people were sleeping in one big chunk of seven to nine hours.

Once upon a time, people didn't sleep through the night.

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People in the 21st century still practice biphasic sleep, but it just looks a little different from the segmented sleep of our early modern ancestors. Most commonly, biphasic sleepers get about five to six hours of shut-eye a night, and then take an afternoon or evening siesta lasting anywhere from 20–90 minutes.

"Every mammal has a circadian rhythm," explains Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and a regular on the TV show, The Doctors. "Our rhythm tells us we are going to feel sleepy two times during the day. One is at nighttime around 9 p.m., 10 p.m. But we also feel sleepy around noon to 2 p.m. This is where siesta culture comes from: our circadian rhythm telling us that we should be a little sleepy around midday."

Weird Sleep Pattern No. 2: Everyman

The Everyman may not be for everyone. Or, maybe, for anyone. Adopters of this pattern still get the bulk of their sleep during the night, but only about three-and-a-half hours' worth, typically taken very early in the morning (say, from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.). Aside from this core chunk, Everyman sleepers also take three 20-minute naps throughout the day.

The Everyman may not be for everyone. Or, maybe, for anyone.

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"I always chuckle a little when individuals want to try these new sleep cycles," says Dr. Dasgupta. "They're so extreme sometimes. It's funny that in a society that has so many problems adjusting sleep cycles because of Daylight Saving Time or jet lag, we would try to adjust our sleep to a cycle that makes us sleep 20–30 minutes, six to eight times a day. That just doesn't seem reasonable."

Weird Sleep Pattern No. 3: Dymaxion

With Dymaxion, we've entered into the sleep cycles that play out across the entire day, rather than having core sleep hours concentrated overnight. Sleepers take 30-minute naps every six hours, resulting in about two hours of sleep over a 24-hour period. Supposedly, this is the closest sleep pattern to that adopted by Leonardo da Vinci, who would take one-and-a-half or two-hour naps every four hours, resulting in six extra waking hours a day.

"The deeper stages [of sleep] that make you feel refreshed and are the most important for cognition and memory." —Dr. Raj Dasgupta

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"When I think about this, I get chills in my body. That's just not a lot of sleep at all," Dr. Dasgupta says. "When we are sleep-deprived, our body will naturally want to rebound with the most important stages of sleep, the deeper stages that make you feel refreshed and are the most important for cognition and memory. I'm not saying it works, but the mentality with this is that you will be sleep-deprived, and when you do fall asleep during these naps, you will bypass lighter stages of sleep and go into more the slow-wave and REM sleep. This is theory behind it. The keyword to highlight in bold is theory."

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Weird Sleep Pattern No. 4: Uberman

Perhaps the most difficult pattern to adopt is the faddish Uberman cycle, first coined in the late 1990s by Marie Staver, a former philosophy student turned sleep fanatic (she's the author of Ubersleep: Nap-Based Sleep Schedules and the Polyphasic Lifestyle). Uberman comprises six, 30-minute naps taken equidistantly throughout the day (generally at 2 a.m., 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m.). Ostensibly, if someone is actually able to adapt to this unrealistic and impractical schedule, they'll only need about two hours of sleep a day and will be able to fall asleep quickly anywhere.

"During the Baby Boomer generation, total sleep time was about 7–8 hours per night." —Dr. Dasgupta

"Technology is subliminally encouraging this type of sleep. We're almost Pavlovian when it comes to social media; we're just looking for that next alert to wake ourselves up to do something," says Dr. Dasgupta. "During the Baby Boomer generation, total sleep time was about 7–8 hours per night, but now total sleep time has decreased from 7–8 hours to 6–7 hours. You cannot be on your A-game if you're sleep-deprived, and your cognition and memory suffer."

Sorry, there are no quick tips and tricks here; there are no life hacks when it comes to getting the recommended amount of sleep (which, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is 7–8 hours a night).

"In our seven-day week there is something called a sleep debt," Dr. Dasgupta says. "If we don't get that 7–8 hours of sleep a night, we accumulate a debt."

"In our seven-day week there is something called a sleep debt," Dr. Dasgupta says. "If we don't get that 7–8 hours of sleep a night, we accumulate a debt of 1–2 hours on Monday, and again on Tuesday, and by Friday you have a debt of 8–10 hours. The only way you can make it up is to sleep an extra 8–10 hours, which you can't do. That's where you see a common problem of people sleeping in on the weekends if they can, which will then lead to Sunday night insomnia. And then the circle starts again."

"I may be boring, you may make fun of me, but my favorite cycle is monophasic," Dr. Dasgupta continues. "You need to go through your normal sleep cycle because you don't want to be sleep-deprived. Also, very specific hormones get secreted during sleep. Cortisol, the thyroid, insulin—all of these things are coordinated based upon sleep and circadian rhythm. So, when I hear about taking naps for 20–30 minutes, six or eight times per day, you're going to have a deregulation of all of these central hormones, you're going to be sleep-deprived. That's why monophasic is the way to go."

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