Episode 55


Pollyanna Polyphasic Sleep

Wouldn’t it be great to get all the sleep you need in just 2 hours a day, and be as superman-productive during the other 22?

In this episode, I discuss the concept of polyphasic sleep - breaking your total sleep time across several different episodes of sleep. 

I would love to have more time - more time for my family, more time for my patients, more time for my students, more time for me. And at the surface level, it would appear that you are not accomplishing much on your to-do list when sleeping, so it may seem like the obvious part of your day to cut down as much as possible, to give yourself more time to do everything else. 

And I wish it was that simple. I wish it was that easy. But the evidence is beyond clear: the fantasy of getting away with less sleep by changing when you sleep into these smaller chunks spread out across the day is just that: a fantasy. 

Polyphasic sleep demonstrably worsens subjective and objective sleep quality, including prolonging the time it takes to fall asleep, increases arousals and awakenings across the sleep period, worsens sleep efficiency, deprives one of slow wave deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep.

Polyphasic sleep impairs memory, worsens mood, and causes demonstrable deficits in performance across multiple domains of physical and cognitive work. 

And polyphasic sleep, by intentionally causing insufficient sleep duration, and intentionally misaligning circadian rhythms, increases the risk for metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death. 

So just because you read somewhere that Benjamin Franklin or whoever didn’t sleep in a single bout across the night is by no means any evidence to suggest that somehow that is natural, right, and optimal. Rather, biological anthropology has shown that in every society, pre-industrial, agricultural, and technological - the norm for human kind, and certainly the standard for human flourishing, is not the Pollyanna naiveté of polyphasic sleep, no matter how wishful your thinking may be.


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