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Healthy Benefits of Biphasic Sleeping Patterns

Updated on February 11, 2013

Healthy Sleeping Patterns

Many people, myself included, have a hard time staying asleep for 8 hours straight. The pharmaceutical companies have used this as a reason to line their pocketbooks with more and more drugs designed to help us keep what they call a "healthy sleeping pattern" and telling us that we have some sort of sleeping disorder. Thus we are forced to choose between the side effects of sleep deprivation, or the side effects of some crazy drug that causes depression and thoughts of suicide.

Fortunately, Charles Darwin has our backs.

The Evolution of Natural Sleeping Patterns

Humans have never been nocturnal creatures. Our evolution took a path that made us completely dependent on daylight. We have poor night vision, our hearing is mediocre, and having only two feet is a disadvantage around tripping hazards. Since our bodies require a resting period of about 8 hours for every 24, it only makes sense that we do so while it is too dark to function otherwise.

While we may only require 8 hours of sleep, give or take, the planet disagrees. Mother Earth seems to need an average of 12 hours of sleep every night, giving us 4 hours more darkness than we'd really prefer to have. As a result, humans evolved what we call biphasic sleeping patterns.

Google the term "biphasic sleeping patterns" or "segmented sleep" and one might find a slew of conflicting information. Some sites claim that we can operate on nothing but 30 minute power naps every few hours, while other sites claim that a biphasic sleeping pattern means only needing sleep for a few hours, then taking a nap later. Neither of these have been proven to be correct.

A true human biphasic sleeping cycle is fairly simple. After sleeping for about four hours, we can wake up and talk, relax, do some chores or whatever you feel the need to do for an hour or two, then go back to sleep for another four hours. This fulfills our need for a healthy 8 hours of sleep, it just splits it in half. Developing this rhythm allowed human beings to spread their rest out over long periods of darkness better, without oversleeping. This biphasic sleeping pattern is reported to have been the norm all the way up until the late 1800's. It just so happens that the lightbulb was also invented about the same time

This is precisely the reason so many of us have a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, causing us to seek a cure for what we believe to be a sleeping disorder.


Biphasic vs Monophasic Sleeping Patterns

It would seem that society uses damn near every big leap in technology as a reason to cut into our sleeping patterns more and more. The lightbulb was no exception. Our perceived hours of darkness went from an average of 12 hours a day to...whatever we wanted it to be. Suddenly it seemed like a waste to spend 10-12 hours sleeping when we could spend that time working! Enter the monophasic sleeping cycle.

Few people are able to actually sleep uninterrupted for eight hours straight. Even if they can, the aches and pains associated from lying in bed that long tend to produce diminishing returns over the night. Combine that with the overworked society we live in and you have the driving force behind America's caffeine addiction. Unfortunately, caffeine will never replace a healthy biphasic sleeping pattern. As a result, we have a nation full of tired, nervous people driving on the freeway after a stressful day at work. Scary.

By adopting the natural biphasic sleeping pattern, you provide yourself a chance to stretch out in the middle of the night while still providing your brain with the 8 hours it needs every day. This will actually shorten your "day cycle," but you should find yourself brimming with energy, more ready to make the most of it. This ability to take better care of your mind and body may even enable you to live a longer, healthier life.

Tips for Adopting Biphasic Sleep

  • Don't set an alarm. Allow yourself to wake naturally.
  • Don't lie in bed "waking up" once you are conscious. Get up and move around.
  • Feel free to oversleep. Adopting this sleep pattern can be tiring at first, extra sleep might help.
  • Keep your room dark. Any light, natural or artificial, interferes with all healthy sleeping patterns.
  • If it takes an hour or two lying down to fall asleep, don't fret. This means you are on track! Sleep deprivation is the only reason so many of us are able to fall asleep in a half hour or less.

Do you practice Biphasic Sleep? How has it affected you?

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    • profile image

      D. Ruth 4 years ago

      As a new mom, biphasic sleeping has totally helped me gain my sanity back. Twoseven and mattforte are right, it eliminates the horrible (and I mean HORRIBLE) sleep deprivation that new parents face. Nightly, I sleep from 8-12 while my boyfriend watches the baby, then he goes to sleep. I'm usually able to get the baby to sleep again by 2 or 3 and I can get another 4 hours in. It took a few weeks, but I feel well rested every day now- probably even more well rested than I did before I had a baby and was sleeping 8-10 hours every night.

    • mattforte profile image

      Steven Pearson 5 years ago from Spanaway, WA


      This is a great point, I never thought of it! I don't have kids, so I don't know how often they wake a couple up...but if a husband and wife each took one shift of an hour or two a night - that'd probably eliminate the sleep deprivation of having a child.

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Excellent hub! This is great information that needs to be shared widely. There was a great piece on this in the opinion section of the NY Times a few months back that first opened my eyes to this. It's also great for those of us with young kids to know if we are able to get two big chunks of sleep on either side, we can be well rested even if our kids wake up in the middle of the night.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 5 years ago from Jamaica

      Your are correct. Sleep should be a natural process without interruption.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks for this useful and new to me information. Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on social aresites.

    • mattforte profile image

      Steven Pearson 5 years ago from Spanaway, WA

      Wow, 8/2? That doesn't make any sense at all. You're better off getting half an hour of sleep than you are 2 hours.

      Crazy indeed.

    • WritingPrompts profile image

      Karen 5 years ago from The Garden of Eugene (Oregon)

      I wish more people knew about this. They changed the hours of service laws for trucking. When I started we had to have 8 hours sleep every 24 and could break it into 2 different sleep periods. I always did best with a 5/3 or 4/4. With the new laws we can only break the new 10 hour sleep into 8/2. 2 isn't enough to do me any good. But I sleep 5 hours and sit around awake for 5 - then have to drive just as I'm ready for another nap. It's kind of crazy how they think they can legislate when we need to sleep and our bodies will just adapt to their rules.

    • Gul Afifa profile image

      Gul Afifa 5 years ago from Lahore

      This is interesting! and since we try to learn time management so that we can perform our duties with maximum perfection, this should also be taken as an important step in making ourselves better!