On average, we sleep for approximately six to eight hours per day in a monophasic sleep cycle (Lejuwaan n.d.), but what if this nearly pandemic norm is preventing us from making the most of our lives?
Our ancestors adhered to biphasic sleep cycles and studies have shown that polyphasic sleep cycles are indeed more beneficial to our well-being (Practical Psychology 2016).
Figure 1: Polyphasic Sleep Cycles – Uberman, Dymaxion, and Everyman Sleep Schedules by Practical Psychology
The Uberman polyphasic sleep cycle consists of twenty to thirty minute sleep sessions every four hours. This cycle results in the individual feeling healthy and enlivened, being an exceptionally efficient practice (Lejuwaan n.d.). Scott Kevill, a member of the audience who appears on the Sleep episode of SBS’s Insight, undertook a trial of polyphasic sleeping for six months. He described that after the first week, “It was going really well,” and that he felt, “more alert, more rested than [he] had even normally… [He] felt filled with energy (Sleep 2016).” Further, the, “Uberman sleep [cycle leads] to individuals who learn better. Their performance… improves and a lot of case studies say users feel euphoria (Practical Psychology 2016, 1:35).”
Adhering to a polyphasic sleeping cycle can also increase an individual’s ability to have lucid dreams (Lejuwaan n.d.). This will sometimes occur through sleep paralysis, and can be used as a tool to help individuals, “think outside the box… [and is] also an invaluable tool for self-reflection (Rocheleau n.d.).” These effects can be remedial for people with depression, low self-esteem problems and recurrent nightmares (Rocheleau n.d.).
Another practice individuals can take on to improve their lives is meditation. It is said that, “with daily meditation, we experience a deeper and a more restful sleep.” Also, two sessions of twenty minutes of meditation is enough to gain a deep experience (The Art of Living n.d., para. 5).
Meditation elicits a “relaxation response” in the body and can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and, in conjunction, a number of other sleep disorders (Corliss 2015). “The relaxation response, a term [Dr Herbert Benson; former director of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine] coined in the 1970s, is a deep physiological shift in the body that’s the opposite of the stress response (Corliss 2015).” Whilst we currently say a monophasic sleep cycle of six to eight hours is ideal for our bodies to restore and rejuvenate themselves, sleep disorders are huge detriments to the good nature of this ideal. Thus, it would be optimal to access this “relaxation response” through meditation.
Meditation helps mitigate our need for sleep by increasing the level of the melatonin hormone in our bodies. This hormone, “is known for creating restful sleep (EOC Institute n.d.),” and thus would immensely aid people suffering from insomnia as they do not produce enough melatonin, which is fundamental for beneficial sleep. Further, meditation helps with focus, gently bringing the body to relaxation, thus eliminating “mind chatter” that keeps us awake at night (EOC Institute n.d.). The body restores and revitalises itself while asleep and, with practiced meditation, the time it takes for the body to undergo this restoration cycle will gradually become shorter and shorter (EOC Institute n.d.). To illustrate this, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that long-term expert meditators need significantly less sleep… According to some Buddhist texts, a full night’s sleep totals approximately four hours among proficient meditators (Williams 2015).”
Through these methods, our bodies would learn to rejuvenate themselves better and individuals would gain a better understanding of how they work and exist, helping with mental health and sleep disorders that might have previously affected them. Therefore, a balance of meditation and a polyphasic sleep cycle, like the Uberman, could help us gain more beneficial rest whilst metaphorically adding more time to our clocks.
Corliss, J. 2015, ‘Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep’, blog post, 22 December 2015, viewed 23 August 2016, <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726>.
EOC Institute n.d., #129 – Require less sleep with meditation, viewed 26 August 2016, <http://eocinstitute.org/meditation/require-less-sleep-with-meditation-460/ >.
Lejuwaan, J. n.d., ‘Alternative Sleep Cycles: You Don’t Really Need 6-8 Hours!’, High Existence, viewed 20 August 2016, <http://highexistence.com/alternate-sleep-cycles/>.
Practical Psychology 2016, Polyphasic Sleep Cycles – Uberman, Dymaxion, and Everyman Sleep Schedules, video recording, YouTube, viewed 29 August 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPgUtAjfe_E>.
Rocheleau, G. n.d., ‘How to Lucid Dream: Learn to Control your Dreams!’, blog post, n.d., viewed 22 August 2016, <http://www.updevelopment.org/how-to-lucid-dream/>.
Sleep 2016, television program, Insight, SBS, Sydney, 11 May.
The Art of Living n.d., Meditation and Sleep : Similar yet different, viewed 20 August 2016, <http://www.artofliving.org/meditation/meditation-for-you/meditation-sleep#>.
Williams, A. 2015, ‘Can meditation make up for lost sleep?’, blog post, 2015, viewed 22 August 2016, <https://www.headspace.com/blog/2015/11/11/do-meditators-really-need-less-sleep/>.