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Find More Time in the Day: 5 Alternative Sleep Cycles

Have you ever sat up at night questioning the general 8-hour routine we’ve established for ourselves? Or woke in the morning to wonder if there was a different way to achieve the same feeling of sleep? Fortunately, your curiosity is matched by others, and entire studies, societies, and history have been formed about sleep and sleeping habits. Here’s a brief introduction into a whole other world, a world of different sleep schedules and more time awake:

First, there are a few things you should understand about sleeping. Everyone needs it, you can’t avoid that. The answer to getting more hours in your day isn’t caffeine and other stimulants though, instead it revolves around understanding the different types of sleep, and what types of sleep your body needs to sustain itself. Consider the circadian rhythm, the natural ebb and flow of your consciousness often determined by sun up and sun down. Your body naturally feels sleepy once the sun goes down, and it’s not a coincidence, it’s biology. And the ultradian rhythm, the natural 90-120 minute revolution your brains cycles through from focused, to slowing down, and finally to tired. Ignore your body’s biology and necessary requirements, and these alternative sleep cycles wont’ stick. Check out the Polyphasic Societies website for more detailed scientific understandings of the different types of sleep, and why you need them. And once you have a basic understanding of your sleep requirements; don’t miss your naps, wait for it to adjust, and give one of these 5 alternative sleep methods a try:

Biphasic Sleep / Segmented Sleep Cycle
Supposedly before the advent of streetlights, Biphasic sleep, compared to the commonplace monophasic sleep, involves two distinct sleeping periods with a 1-2 hour awake period in the middle of the night. And also happens to be the easiest alternate sleep cycle to adapt to. The first sleep period ideally takes place a couple hours after dusk, and lasts a 3-4 hours, followed by a waking period of 1-2 hours, and concluded with another 2-3 hour snooze. Professor A. Roger Ekrich, historical researcher at Virginia Tech, has discovered many past accounts within literature and transcripts to suggest the Segmented Sleep Cycle used to be the societal norm, before the invention of streetlamps and the nighttime stimulants of the modern world. He has done experiments as well, that suggest the 1-2 hours awake at night in the Segmented Sleep Cycle are an ideal time for reflection, meditation, clear thinking; and a perfect time for tasks such as reading, writing, or organizing. Try it yourself and see what the extra few hours of contemplation will do for you. And to know more about A. Roger Ekrich, and his research on segmented sleep, check out the NY Times article he wrote.

Siesta Cycle
Another alternative that’s already popular in cultures such in the Latino, Middle-Eastern, and certain European Nations; the Siesta Cycle is a great schedule if you want to avoid the heat of the midday sun, or you have a schedule that requires early mornings and late nights. The Siesta Cycle can be done in two ways; one being with 4.5-5.5 hours of deep sleep with a 90 minute nap in the afternoon, with the other consisting of a solid 5-6 hours of deep sleep and only a 30 minute nap in the afternoon. Studies would show that the 30 minute option is a healthier alternative, but either way, the hardest part about adapting this schedule is learning to get the right kind of nap in. Some of us have grown up to be non-nappers, incapable of resting our head in the afternoon. For those of you who cannot close their eyes while the sun is still up, check out the Polyphasic Society’s “Tips for Napping.”

Dual Core 1,2,or 3 Cycle
The Dual Core Cycle of sleep combines the two distinct and separated cores of the Segmented Cycle, and the afternoon nap of the Siesta Cycle. The idea is to sleep less at night, which is a potentially productive time for the mind, by substituting either 1,2, or 3 naps during the day. It’s important in this system that you schedule your total of 6 hours of sleep a day, so your brain gets the right amount of the right kind of sleep. A sample schedule and reasoning behind the times for the Dual Core 2 are as follows:

10:00 – 12:30 am: Sleep, Falling asleep at this time fulfills the body’s need to shut down according to the sunlight dispersing. Depending on when the sun falls, this time varies, but you want to aim for falling asleep just 2-3 hours after dusk. Adjust the rest of the schedule appropriately.

12:30 – 3:30 am: Awake, good for low strenuous activities and clear thinking. Reading, writing, organizing, reflecting, contemplating, just avoid too many bright lights.

3:30 – 6:00 am: Sleep, “graveyard hours”. Allows for deep sleep, REM, and vivid dreams.

6:00 – 9:40 am: Awake, ease into activity

9:40 – 10:00 am: Power nap, charge the batteries

10:00 – 1:40 pm: Awake, begin more active activities

1:40 – 2:00 pm: Power nap, charge the batteries

2:00 – 10:00 pm: Awake, full day of keeping busy.

Everyman Cycle
Once you’ve mastered the Dual Core Cycle, and feel like you could still use more time in the day, the Everyman Cycle is the next step. Claiming roughly only 5 hours of your day, the Everyman consists of only one large chunk of deep sleep compared to the two of the Dual Core Cycle. And that second large chunk of time spent sleeping in Dual Core, is split into 3 distinct nap times in the Everyman Cycle. Everyman schedules vary person to person, but you want to aim for 3.5 hours of sleep as close to dusk as you can, followed by at least 3 evenly spaced 30-minute “power-naps” throughout the day. Make your own sleep schedule according to social obligations, and make sure not to miss too many naps during the day.

Uberman Schedule
This is not typically a “rest of your life” sleep schedule. It hasn’t been connected to any long-term negative health effects, but the Uberman Cycle, consisting of 6, 30-minute naps throughout the day, is not only difficult to adapt to, but few societal structures allow this kind of open-range napping. An interesting account of a man’s transition into Uberman was done by Steve Pavlina, an internet blogger interested in the cycle. Scientific American also recently published an article stating that 5% of people in the world can go with 6 hours of sleep or less, so the Uberman might not be for everyone. But achieve this aptly named Uberman status, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do with an extra 6 hours of sleep.

Keep in mind, all these schedules will take some time to get used to. And not everyone’s work and social schedules can accommodate these sleep cycles. Follow the links in the articles, or check out the same resources below, before plunging down the rabbit-hole that is alternative sleep patterns. And across the board, the best thing it sounds like you can do about getting better sleep, is to not keep yourself up worrying about sleep. Just make your schedules, listen to your body, and make those hours you are awake, the most productive they can be.

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