Alternative Sleep Cycles to Improve Quality of Work and Life


On average, we sleep for almost one third of our life. That’s a lot of time, if you think about it.

Now, imagine if that time was spent doing, constructive and useful things like making breakthroughs in scientific research, discovering the secrets of black holes or watching Gossip Girl reruns in your pajamas (We aren’t judging).
Want to maximize your potential during your awake time?

Well, read on!

I’m going to give you a crash course on all things sleep cycle related, looking at which one works best for your occupation.

The key is that hours of sleep do not equate to the amount of rest your mind and body gets. There are a lot of factors at play. Quality of sleep is one but most important is time spent in REM (random eye movement) sleep. So you can get more rest with fewer hours spent sleeping.

The monophasic sleep cycle

For most of us, our sleep cycle is monophasic. As the name suggests, we go to sleep at night for around 6-7 hours and then wake up in the morning. We stay awake for around 17-18 hours each day.

Forty-five to 55% of a typical monophasic cycle is spent in light sleep and only about 20% of the time is spent in deep sleep. The majority of us follow this monophasic sleep cycle. This is your garden-variety sleep cycle, pretty tame stuff, yawn.

Polyphasic sleep cycles

Did you know that there is also something called polyphasic sleep cycles? And, that there are four types? Some people actually DO sleep more than once every day and (if done right) they are better off for it. In fact, companies in Japan encourage their workers to sleep on the job!

Yes, you read that right. Workers are encouraged to take 20-30 minute power naps if they are feeling sleepy.1 Employers believe that it enhances their productivity and efficiency and improves their quality of work. Keep that little trivia fact to casually mention to your boss next time you are getting chewed out for dozing on the clock.

Planning sleep for productivity and efficiency

When and how we sleep is not something to be taken lightly as it affects our productivity and efficiency at work. Just like in Japan, a lot of research is being done on Polyphasic sleep cycles globally, as they are related to increased workplace efficiency.

So, here are the four Polyphasic cycles and how they affect your body and increase your efficiency. These cycles are very carefully tailored to match the healthy human body and its highs and lows, and used by some high performing individuals that have stressful, time constrained jobs.

The Biphasic Cycle total hours slept

For this cycle you need to sleep twice a day, Get 5-6 hours of sleep at night and then take a nap at midday. Adhering to the biphasic sleeping cycle improves cognitive and memory function and reduces stress. It is ideal for people who work multiple shifts or, desk jobs that involve complex calculations. It is also a very effective sleep cycle for students, especially during exam week crunch time.

The Everyman Cycle

Don’t get fooled by the name, it’s not to be taken literally. It may sound like this cycle is for every man, however, If you want to follow this cycle, you need to get 3.5 hours of core sleep daily and three 20 minute power naps during the day.

This cycle has the least sleeping hours at a stretch and you get to spend the maximum time awake. If you have upcoming projects or deadlines that you have to meet, this cycle is best for you. Naps will keep you refreshed and the lower core sleep duration will give you maximum time to focus on your work.

This cycle can be viable for a senior manager at a busy workplace, financial analysts who have to keep tabs in real time on different world markets and even programmers working across different time zones who are awake at odd hours.

The Dymaxion Cycle

One of the most difficult cycles to adopt since it consists of a total of four 30-minute naps throughout the day. That equals to just two hours of sleep per day. Whew!

This cycle is perfect for the people who don’t require much sleep and can stay awake for longer periods of time without it affecting their productivity.

This is sometimes necessary for high-stress professions like doctors dealing with emergency rooms, air traffic controllers, or other professions where being available and alert is crucial and may even mean the difference between life and death.

The Uberman Cycle

Start taking 30 minute naps after 4 hours and Voila! You are now following the Uberman sleep cycle.
This cycle is most suitable for people whose activities do not last more than 3 hours. Pilots and long haul truck drivers can benefit from this, taking a short nap after each stretch to keep them alert and avoid risking bungling up important operations due to lack of sleep.

Musicians and entertainers can also make use of this cycle. It gives you the flexibility to perform acts and gigs throughout the day. The short naps keep you fresh and relaxed, for a brilliant performance.

The most common and approachable Polyphasic cycle is the Biphasic sleep cycle. You might have used this without even realizing it. Students follow this cycle most often.

Needless to say, this is the most recommended cycle to improve productivity and efficiency at work.

The Uberman is another commonly attempted (and most commonly failed sleep cycle). Many who attempt this cycle don’t realize how difficult this is to adapt to it, with your body only adapting over time.

The Dymaxion sleep cycle is also seen as a cycle that increases alertness.

Apps to monitor your sleep

There are a lot of mobile and smart wear apps available which monitor your sleep. With these, you can figure out which sleep cycle suits you best.

These apps monitor your movement to track the stages of sleep. With the importance of creativity and intellect today, creative and alert minds are often the difference between a successful or a failed project. Creativity needs fertile ground to breed.

Polyphasic sleeping has highlighted the way sleep cycles affect work performance and efficiency. It gives the brain the right amount of sleep at the right time, increasing alertness and productivity.

So if your regular sleeping cycle isn’t working for you, try something different. But be warned, it takes a little patience and discipline, which can go a long way to optimizing your sleep.

Ali Jan Qadir is fascinated by sleep, a boring subject but this idle act is crucial for an enriched life. He regularly writes about effects of sleep on work performance and quality of life. Follow him on twitter @alijqadir