Sleeping is a remarkable period of synchronised brain activity, memory consolidation and maintenance. Scientists are still trying to understand the nuances of sleep patterns and the variety of schedules humans can sustain. We may be used to a daily kip, but others take a rather different approach, as Matt Iredale discovers...
In 1938, Nathaniel Kleitman spent a month in an underground cave to redefine the day. Although he couldn’t adjust to his 28-hour cycle, his research furthered our understanding of the most common monophasic sleep pattern, the seven to nine hours of sleep we crave nightly. Interestingly, this sleeping schedule came into vogue during the propagation of coffee houses.
Pre 18th century, people would regularly don their nightcaps twice in one night. Historian Roger Ekirch suggests that a ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleep was common practice. One French physician even noted that conception was more likely between these phases of sleep. In the modern day, biphasic sleeping still exists in many parts of Europe, commonly known as the humble siesta.
Referring to more than two periods of sleep in a 24-hour cycle, polyphasic sleep might not be for everybody. DrYung-Hui Fu suggests only a small percentage of people can adapt to these conditions; due to a rare mutation of gene DEC2, it is possible for the brain to perform maintenance much faster during sleep than the average human.
Many have explored the possibilities of polyphasic sleeping practices. Inventor and philosopher Buckminster Fuller created his own ‘dymaxion’ schedule, consisting of a 30-minute nap every six hours.“Two hours of sleep a day is plenty,” he said in an interview with Time magazine. Fuller later abandoned the schedule after coming into regular conflict with his colleagues and his wife.
The Uberman is a sleep schedule followed by insomniac Marie Staver, involving 20-minute naps ever y four hours and a short sleep at night. In the early phases, Staver carried a stack of dishes around her dorm to make sure she didn’t fall asleep by accident. While at work she napped under her desk, and had developed the ability to sleep standing up.