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Biphasic Sleep Patterns

Updated on August 27, 2017
Daughter Of Maat profile image

With over two decades of experience in medicine, Melissa Flagg writes patient information articles, keeping you informed about your health.

Kids naturally utilize a polyphasic sleep schedule at birth and naturally gravitate toward biphasic, sleeping for long blocks at night and then taking a nap during the day.
Kids naturally utilize a polyphasic sleep schedule at birth and naturally gravitate toward biphasic, sleeping for long blocks at night and then taking a nap during the day. | Source

Have you ever wondered why we sleep for eight hours straight? Most of us typically observe what is termed a monophasic sleep pattern. But there are other sleep patterns including polyphasic and biphasic patterns. So what is polyphasic and biphasic sleep?

Polyphasic and biphasic sleep are patterns of sleeping that break up the typical eight hour monophasic sleeping period into two or more distinct blocks. Hence, the prefix poly, meaning multi and bi which means two.

If we look at the animal kingdom, animals typically have a polyphasic sleeping pattern. For example, cats take naps several times a day, and they’re usually quite brief. Dogs also sleep several times a day. In fact, we ourselves come into this world on a polyphasic sleep schedule. Newborns and infants sleep in multiple cycles.

A newborn baby sleeps quite a bit and in blocks, which is why they wake us up several times a night. This means that polyphasic sleep cycles are the norm and completely natural phenomena. Even toddlers take naps.

So how did we get onto an eight hour monophasic sleeping pattern? What an interesting looking question. To answer it, we take a look back into history.

There's a reason they call them cat naps!
There's a reason they call them cat naps! | Source

The History of Biphasic Sleep

Up until the late 17th Century, it was normal to sleep in segments. Most people would go to sleep for about four hours. When they awoke, they usually wouldn't get out of bed.

Instead, they would read quietly, or enjoy intimate time with their spouse. They would then go back to sleep for about 2 to 4 hours.

Over the course of the next 200 years, the idea of segmented sleep had all but disappeared. Historians, such as Roger Ekirch of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University believed the advent of street lamps and their improvements led to more night life.

Unfortunately, this also meant more thieves and crime. Those in the upper class didn’t want to go out among the people of ill repute, and there was no other worthy reason to stay up all night. So, they slept instead.

By the 1920s, monophasic sleep, our typical eight hour pattern, became commonplace.

However, Ekirch believes this might be the reason many people have insomnia. Many people wake up in the middle of the night and panic. They think there is something wrong with them, as most of us would.

Millions of dollars are spent on sleeping pills in an effort to conform to the monophasic sleep pattern. But, these people with “insomnia” may just be doing what Mother Nature intended.

Hours of Sleep for Animals

Species
Average Total Sleep Time Per Day
Python
18 Hours
Tiger
15.8 Hours
Cat
12.1 Hours
Chimpanzee
9.7 Hours
Sheep
3.8 Hours
African Elephant
3.3 Hours
Giraffe
1.9 Hours
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/articles/whatissleep.shtml

The Sleep Cycle

The average sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long, but it can range from 80 to 110 minutes in length. The cycle has two main categories which include REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM. These two categories are further broken down into the following five stages:

Interesting Sleep Facts

  • Thomas Edison thought sleep was a waste of time, and practiced biphasic sleep patterns.
  • Winston Churchill also practiced this sleep pattern as did Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson.

Non-REM Sleep

Stage One: Light Sleep

This stage can really be further broken down into two sub-stages. The first part of this stage is when most people suffer from myoclonic twitching (erratic muscle jerks), and muscle activity slows down dramatically. Some of us have more pronounced myoclonic jerks than others.

Hypnagogic hallucinations are also a part of this phase. These are vivid sensations of things such as falling (which typically leads to a rather powerful myoclonic jerk), or someone calling your name. Brain waves go from beta to alpha.

The second part of this stage is the “twilight” like time when we’re half asleep. If someone wakes you up during this time, you’ll most likely say you weren’t asleep. Brain waves go from alpha to theta. The whole stage lasts about ten minutes.

Stage Two: True Sleep

This stage is about 20 minutes in length. In this stage, the heart and breathing rates start to slow down.

Body temperature also starts to drop, and the brain produces what is called sleep spindle waves, which also occur in the transition between stages one and two.

Sleep spindles are the process of refreshing our memories and alternate with K complexes (large waves that occur in response to environmental stimuli such as noises in the bedroom).

Interesting Sleep Facts

Staying awake for 17 hours straight will decrease our brain’s functional capacity down to the equivalent of someone with a blood alcohol level of .05%. The legal limit is .08%. Pretty intoxicating, isn’t it?

Stage Three: Transitional Stage

This is the transitional stage into deep sleep, and delta brain waves start to develop. Your breathing and heart rates are at their slowest in this stage.

Stage Four: Deep Sleep

Also called delta sleep (for the delta waves produced), this stage involves rhythmic breathing, and limited muscle movement.

Episodes of sleepwalking or night terrors typically appear at the end of this stage. This is also when we feel groggy and sluggish if we are awakened. Stage four is about 30 minutes long.

REM Sleep

Stage Five: Dream Sleep

This is the dream sleep that involves the rapid eye movement for which the stage is named. Interestingly, voluntary muscles become paralyzed, but brain activity, respiration and blood pressure increase.

After REM sleep, we reverse back through the cycle going from stage 3 into stage two again, and then the cycle repeats itself.

The Sleep Cycle and Biphasic Sleep

It’s important to understand the sleep cycle so that you can schedule biphasic sleep segments correctly.

Since the typical cycle is 90 minutes, any segments of sleep should be multiples of 90 minutes. You can do this any way you want to do it.

For example, I prefer to have a core sleep segment that lasts approximately 4.5 hours and a “nap” that lasts about 1.5 hours. Some biphasic sleepers have a core segment that lasts 3 hours. It just depends on the individual.

Interesting Sleep Facts

Research has shown that people who are deprived of sleep have a more difficult time reacting to changing situations and make irrational judgment calls. In fact, many international disasters have been attributed to a sleep deprivation including the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and the Challenger Explosion.

The main reason for making sure your sleep segments are multiples of 90 minutes (or around there depending on your needs) is because during stage two of the cycle the brain resets its sodium and potassium levels.

After long periods of sustained beta waves, otherwise known as being awake, the brain’s sodium/potassium levels are all out of whack. The sleep cycle resets these levels which alleviates the foggy, tired feeling.

The Benefits of Biphasic Sleep

There are many benefits to biphasic sleep patterns. Most notably is the two hours of free time gained. That’s an extra 14 hours a week.

As a stay at home mom who also works part time, those extra hours are put to good use. I can get in my workout, all my chores, some homeschooling and writing all in one day!

Another of benefit of biphasic sleep is how it affects chronic pain. For people who suffer with chronic pain on a daily basis, waking up after an eight hour sleep segment can be extremely painful. Muscles feel stiff and getting out of bed can be very difficult.

But with biphasic sleep, the muscles are less likely to become stiff and painful because the body is in one position for a shorter period of time.

Many people suffer from a fog-like state which is usually the result of waking during the REM stage of sleep.

Biphasic sleep allows you to time your sleep perfectly so that you wake up after your REM stage has finished. This eliminates the chronic fatigue caused by waking up during REM.

One of the nice things about biphasic sleep is that the naps can be taken anywhere... including on the couch!
One of the nice things about biphasic sleep is that the naps can be taken anywhere... including on the couch! | Source

Implementing a Biphasic Sleep Pattern

There are many different factors to consider when scheduling your attempt at biphasic sleep.

For example, you may lose time with your spouse because inevitably there will be a time when your spouse is awake, and you are asleep and vice versa.

Another thing to consider is children. You’ll have to schedule your core sleep and nap at times when your child is either asleep, or at school. Ideally, if you have younger children, your nap could be at the same time they take theirs.

With all that said, implementing biphasic sleep isn’t difficult, and creating a schedule can help keep you on track. However, most people are tired during the first week. The sensation is similar to what you would feel with jet lag.

If you find, however, that you need more than the six hours a biphasic sleep schedule will provide, you can add a third one and a half hour "nap," which will give you a total of seven hours. This may help alleviate the "jet lag" sensation initially and you can eventually cut out the third nap once you have gotten yourself into a routine.

With biphasic sleep, I can get my workout in at about 04:00 am, while my husband and daughter are asleep and before I go to work. Since it’s so early, it’s done and out of the way.

After I get home from work, I take my 1.5 hour nap and then have the rest of the night to work on writing projects, blogs and other work I need to get done. Biphasic sleep has dramatically improved my productivity and my mental clarity.

It's also affected the amount of pain I have on a daily basis. With a neck injury and osteoarthritis, sleeping for eight hours straight leaves my neck stiff and painful in the morning. I also usually wake to feelings of numbness in my hands and fingers.

Since my longest segment is 4.5 hours, I wake up feeling refreshed, with no stiffness and relatively little pain. I have yet to feel any numbness during a biphasic sleep segment.

© 2012 Melissa Flagg OSC

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    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you Flourish! I too tend to get up in the middle of the night and I've been known to get out of bed and do housework! Most of the time I try to catch up on my reading though.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      How resourceful! I find myself getting up in the middle of the night, doing things for awhile, then returning to bed for the rest of the night. I guess I've implemented the pattern and didn't even know it. It kind of works for me so that I can work in silence. Nicely researched and written hub.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I try to eat every 3 to 4 hours. The biphasic sleep works really well with the diet I had put myself on before I even tried biphasic sleep. That diet involves eating every three to four hours while I'm awake. Because there's a 4.5 hour "nap" I wake up pretty hungry, so it's timed perfectly. I end up eating again before I take my 1.5 . I'm not usually hungry when I wake up from the 1.5, I end up eating at about 1100am. Because there really isn't a traditional breakfast time (because you sleep twice) you'll find your metabolism changes, mine sped up. I also work out 5 to 6 days a week. So eating during the night isn't a problem for me. When I first started with biphasic sleep, I was hungry constantly. Once I got used to it though, things settled down and my body got used to eating every 3 to 4 hours. You have to do what works for you, and with the extra time you gain being awake, you will have to eat more, because you're expending more energy. Hope that helps!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I usually take my 4.5 hours at 11pm until 230am. Then I take my 1.5 from 700am to 930am. No I don't have any attempt to block out light, in fact I typically have a lot of lights on because I'm usually working between 230am and 7am. As for my daughter, we have kept her up a bit later at night so that she gets up closer to around 10am so that I can make sure I'm up from my nap before she gets up. The first week you try this will be very difficult. You are essentially forcing your circadian rhythm to reset. However, once I became accustomed to it, I actually felt more refreshed and energetic. The first week was hell though, so I wouldn't try it unless you have at least 2 weeks available with no obligations except maybe work. I work from home, so this schedule works perfectly for me.

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      chd315 4 years ago

      Oh, also, what about eating in the middle of the night? If I wake up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night for a couple of hours, I imagine that I will get hungry, and I have a lot of trouble sleeping when I'm hungry. Anyone eat a snack in the middle of the night?

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      chd315 4 years ago

      I really want to try this, but I have a few questions. I can't nap well during the day b/c I have a 2 year old, and he is an inconsistent napper. Most days, he will go down, but not always, and I would hate to have a major portion of my sleep schedule dependent on that variable. Also, b/c he sleeps so lightly during naps, I am jumpy during his naps too, and have trouble settling down to sleep. My son does, however, sleep for 11 hours most nights, so I am thinking that I can break up my nighttime sleep into two segments. Is anyone doing this? If so, do you make any attempt to block out artificial light or blue wavelength light during night wakings? I have a feeling that too much bright light in the middle of the night may be bad for circadian rythms, but I feel like I will need at least some light if I am going to actually do anything with my waking hours. I could read my school books by candlelight, I suppose:)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      lol I thought the same thing Cyndi. There's a polyphasic sleep pattern too that I believe is a 20 minute nap like every 2 hours or something obnoxious like that lol. The nice thing about the biphasic sleep is that my neck doesn't hurt as much when I wake up. Actually that's really nice lol. If I sleep 8 hours (or 10 like I used to do) I'd wake up with severe neck pain because it would allow the osteoarthritis to act up. :D Thanks for reading my blog post btw :D

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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Interesting. I haven't heard of this, but I have heard of people who have adopted sleeping patterns other than the standard 8 hours. It's really interesting! I'm not entirely sure if I'd want to try - I love that 8 hours of sleep, hehe - but it's interesting to see what works for different people. Glad I came here from your blog post. :)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @logoquiz, I know what you mean! My hubby and I actually staggered our sleeping schedules temporarily so that our bodies got used to the 4.5/1.5 cycles. We'd set alarms but we'd also have the other person make sure we got up. It actually didn't take me very long at all, but my hubby has more of a problem with it. Every now and then I'll oversleep, but for the most part, my body wakes up easily on its own now. No alarm required. I love the schedule. What I did notice though, was that my cycle is EXACTLY 90 minutes, anything more or less, and I'll feel groggy. Make sure you time your cycle before you start, otherwise it will be much harder to acclimate and you probably won't be successful. Let me know how you do!!

    • logoquiz profile image

      Missy 4 years ago from London

      Glad I stumbled upon this. Such great and indepth information it was a really interesting read! I want to give this a try, but once I fall asleep I'm usually out for 8 hrs, not sure how I'd wake up after 4!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Yes it can, and not just turning on a light. Even the light from a clock can do it! Background noises such as a humming hard drive, or extraneous gadgets on chargers can also disrupt a sleep pattern. Sleeping near an outlet can cause problems too, especially if there is something plugged into it. For some people these little things can wreak havoc on their quality of sleep, but for others it doesn't seem to bother them at all. I'm in the process of taking everything but my fan out of my room to see if it makes a difference. It's just too hot (until winter anyway) to get rid of the fan too! lol

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      Deidre Shelden 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      There are some nights I sleep right through (though needing a potty stop in the middle), and others where I awaken and cannot get back to sleep. The latter is less frequent now with 5HTP supplement, like last night and I feel more rested today. But when this doesn't happen, I find I am more groggy during the day. So, maybe biophasic sleep is not for me, but your information here makes me feel better about those times I cannot get back to sleep for a couple hours. Question: I read that turning on a light in the middle of the night can interrupt the melatonin balance. Do you know anything about that?

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      That extra 2 hours is so awesome! I get so much done with the extra time. Makes things much less stressful! Let me know how it works out for you! I'm always curious. :D

    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 5 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Very informative and interesting article. I think this would solve some of my sleep problems too. I'm going to give this a whirl, I could use an extra two hours a day myself.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you Dim! Hopefully you don't feel so much like an insomniac after reading it! :D

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

      Some great information here for this chronic insomniac.

      Thank you.

    • Super Lux profile image

      Super Lux 5 years ago from Singapore

      i would really want to. :)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      That might actually make it easier for you to adjust to a biphasic sleep pattern. You're already in an adaptation period. :D If you wanted to try it that is. :D

    • Super Lux profile image

      Super Lux 5 years ago from Singapore

      actually you know what, the funny thing is that in my previous job, i was on night shift and i was okay. today my work is 9am-6pm but i am not. haha. i think it's psychological for me. adjustments and whatnot.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @super lux you're welcome, I hope this helps you find the time to get well rested. If you're new job is like a night job, this may actually be a great schedule for you! If you try it, keep me up to date!! I'd love to know how it works for you!

    • Super Lux profile image

      Super Lux 5 years ago from Singapore

      oh my! i am sleep deprived since i started in my new job and i think i need this. thank you Daughter of Maat!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thankfully I have yet to experience that. But I'm sure it's just a matter of time...

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      That has happened to me before. One time I did use it on someone that was being rude though. 99.9% of the comments are great and then when you least expect it you or me gets a nasty comment.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      It's giving me the option to delete you forever, and "not spam" I haven't seen your comment before now... weird that it's saying "not spam" considering I follow you... lol thank you for the share btw lol sorry hp is being stupid!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I commented on here and shared but don't see it listed. HUM?

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you shalini!!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I never had a problem sleeping through for 8 hours, but I ALWAYS woke up in pain. It was part of the reason I would get up and do my workout, the exercise helped alleviate the stiffness. You have indeed adopted a bihasic sleep pattern!! Although it may not work for most families with toddlers or kids a bit older, it works quite well for us. My daughter sleeps for about 9 hours usually (a multiple of 90 I might add), and my sleep scheudle is broken up during that 9 hour period. So in the end it did work out for us. :D

      Thanks so much for your comment, and I'm glad I could put a name to your sleep pattern!

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 5 years ago from Delhi

      this is a really useful hub

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very interesting and it makes lots of sense. I wake up two or three times a night to go to the bathroom. Friends can't imagine that I am getting good sleep, but I am -- bi-phasic! I just didn't know what to call it before.

      I also have some nerve and lower back injuries. A few times in the past few years, I have slept for 5-7 hours and I was in incredible pain when I woke up and so stiff I could barely walk. So a bi-phasic sleep pattern is ideal for me.

      I have also never suffered from insomnia. Whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, I go unload the dishwasher, throw a load of clothes i the washer, or catch up all my bills, send a few emails, write a few letters... Then when I go back to bed, whether it is 30 minutes or three hours later, I sleep well. (I know this would not work for people with small children or those who have a rigid work schedule.)

      Thanks for a fascinating Hub. Sharing.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you Rahul. I love the biphasic sleep. Sleeping 8 hours a day takes way too much time out of my day, life's too short to sleep through it!!

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Very interesting and useful indeed... I find sleep to be a waste of time too... but I admit it is a biological necessity...

      Great hub

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you kitty!! :D For me biphasic sleep has given me freedom! I have more time to get things done, and it has really opened up the quiet time I needed. I't definitely not mainstream, but that's perfect for me lol Thanks for commenting and voting.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

      I had never heard of this before, but wow is this interesting! It looks like this is something that really works for your family...that's awesome. And you are obviously very intelligent in your views on this topic. Love that you added the info. about catastrophes due to lack of sleep. Voted up, interesting, and awesome.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      That is recommended, many people take a week and sleep naturally, without using an alarm clock to see how long their cycle actually is. It took me 3 hours to figure out our schedule, so it does take some planning! If you're going to be busy in the upcoming month or two, you may want to postpone your attempt until things quiet down. On the other hand, the longer you wait, the closer you get to the holidays and you'll need the extra 2 hours a day to get through them lol.

      Thanks for the compliment phoenix! :D Let me know how it works when you try it.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Another of your splendidly researched, info-packed hubs. You never disappoint.

      I'm interested but the question is how and where to fit it in. Perhaps I should keep a schedule for a week and see how best to implement this.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you Redberry!! I found a few blogs that have detailed descriptions on how to implement the system. But, most of them were very personalized. It seems this sleep pattern is all up to the individual and what works for them. Steve Pavlina is one of the biggest proponents of biphasic sleep as is Glen Rhodes. Type either name into google and it'll find their blogs. Pavlina has a 30 day online diary of his "experiment" as he calls it lol :D Thank you for reading and sharing!!

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 5 years ago

      I read the same BBC article as you did, daughterofmaat, and I wondered at the time about more information and how to go about incorporating it into my life - thank you for clearing up so many of the questions I had about this type of sleeping pattern. really informative and well-researched Hub. voted up and shared.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @sen.sush23 You're right, most college folks are on either biphasic or polyphasic sleep schedules, which makes it really difficult when they have to go back into the real world and a monophasic pattern. Too much of our time is spent asleep, and the recommended "8" hours isn't even a multiple of 90 minutes. It's like they WANT us to be tired! lol

      @TToombs Yup, that's exactly why. I've noticed myself that I feel much better after 4.5 hours and recently, I've noticed my sleep cycles are shortening! I'm actually starting to wake up about five or 10 minutes before my alarm goes off. And you're far from lazy!! You have an extra 2 hours to get stuff done!! hahaha :D

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      So that's why I always felt better when I had the same sleep cycle as my little guy when he was a baby! That could also explain why I'm wide awake after sleeping for 4 - 4.5 hours a night and feel better after an hour nap. Sheesh...and I thought I was being lazy. :)

    • sen.sush23 profile image

      Sushmita 5 years ago from Kolkata, India

      I guess I have been experimenting with sleep since my college days, and am yet not done. I surely tried biphasic sleep and it suits me best, as I feel I have too much to catch up with in life to let slip in sleep. But I did not know these details and how it can actually be practiced. I must thank you for this wonderful share of information. Voted up useful, interesting and Sharing.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @beingPuneet I agree! I wish I could get 18 hours of sleep in somehow! Unfortunately life gets in the way! lol Thanks for the votes and sharing!

    • BeingPuneet profile image

      BeingPuneet 5 years ago

      nice article ... wish i could sleep like a Python but i am a Student. :( gotta study

      shared and voted up