Biphasic sleeping, or the process of sleeping twice within a span of 24 hours, might sound like an unorthodox way to get some rest, but a sleep expert believes that it could be a solid alternative to traditional, monophasic sleep.
In a column written for the Daily Mail, Dr. Michael Mosley, who is best known for the BBC One series The Truth About Sleep, explained that it’s common for people to have lighter sleep patterns, especially as they grow older. He related his own experiences waking up at around 3 a.m., regardless of what time he went to bed or how tired he was, and spending the next few hours awake, before finally going back to sleep and waking up to the sound of his alarm clock.
Citing a study conducted by Virginia Tech history professor Roger Ekirch, Mosley said that he learned in 2016 that his odd sleeping patterns were similar to how people slept in the Victorian era, a period that he was researching around that same time.
“When it got dark, they would go to bed, sleep for about five hours, then get up,” wrote Mosley.
“They would then stay awake for an hour or so – doing household chores, visiting friends or enjoying a bit of intimacy – before heading to bed again for ‘second sleep.'”
— Sleep Delivered (@SleepDelivered) March 24, 2018
According to Ekirch’s research, this was an “accepted way of life” in pre-industrial times, but the “pressures” of industrial life and the introduction of artificial light soon forced people to adjust their sleeping patterns in such a way that they slept continuously and later in the day, instead of doing so “soon after dark” and in two separate chunks.
While biphasic sleeping is now considered by many as “something that needs to be cured,” much like insomnia, Mosley pointed out that there have been recent studies suggesting that such a practice could have its benefits. These studies, he noted, stress that both chunks of sleep serve separate functions in helping people process memories and digest the events of the day, and allowing their bodies to rest and recover.
Although Mosley said that biphasic sleeping has helped him feel more rested and less stressed, he stated that there are some caveats. For instance, he mentioned that he makes sure not to do anything “exciting” in between his first and second sleep, and to avoid looking at screens, due to previous research suggesting that their blue glow simulates early morning daylight.
“Your goal should be to bore your brain into going back to sleep,” said Mosley.
At the moment, experts are divided on whether biphasic sleep is helpful or harmful to one’s health. According to Healthline, some studies have suggested that taking naps during the day can assist in improving cognitive function, regardless whether it’s a quick “power nap” or one that lasts longer than 30 minutes. There has also been research suggesting the opposite, warning that napping could affect a person’s quality of sleep and cognitive development, especially in younger children. In conclusion, the publication stated that having two sleep chunks in a day works for many, but not all people, and that more research is needed to determine just how beneficial, or how risky the practice is.