For many people, every morning begins with a battle between their mind and their body.
Scientific studies show that people who sleep for six to seven hours per day enjoy best health and live the longest. Also, reducing your sleeping time from 8 hours to 6 hours a day ensures that you have 14 hours of extra time every week. You can use this time for pursuing your favourite hobby or for increasing your productivity. However, can you teach yourself to get by on less sleep?
The answer is yes. Your body will take some time to adjust to the new sleeping patterns - but with practice you can learn to sleep less and still feel energetic. To understand how, one must first look at the mechanism of sleeping.
The body sleeps in recurring cycles. Each cycle lasts for 90 minutes (1.5 hours). The most intense part of a sleep cycle is the REM stage which occurs late in the cycle. REM stands for rapid eye movement and this is the stage when people experience dreams. Being deprived of this sleep stage causes serious negative effects on the body. Studies show that the average adult gets only 90 to 120 minutes of REM sleep per night. When a person is woken up during the REM stage of a cycle, he or she may feel disoriented for a short while.
However, at the end of each sleep cycle, the person comes out of REM (deep sleep) and begins to sleep lightly again. In other words, a person finds it easy to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. Thus, if you sleep for a period which is a multiple of 1.5 (hrs), then you will have fewer problems waking up. For example: if you go to sleep at 10 pm and set your alarm for 4 am, then you will wake up feeling fresh as the body has already completed 4 sleeping cycles in 6 hours. However, if you set your alarm for 5 am, then you will most
likely not wake up or wake up feeling drowsy as you have broken a sleep cycle.
Note that even though seven hours is more than six, you will actually feel better if you wake up after 6 hours. If you want to sleep more, then sleep for 7.5 hours instead of 8.
If you want to sleep for even lesser periods of time, then you should try polyphasic sleep.
'Poly' refers to many and thus polyphasic sleep means sleeping in several short phases instead of one long phase (monophasic sleep). Scientists believe that our ancestors experienced this type of sleep and even today, polyphasic sleep is common in a few species of animals.
There are several schedules for polyphasic sleep but the most famous is the Uberman schedule. This schedule involves sleeping for 20 to 30 minutes after every four hours. Thus, you will be sleeping only for 2 or 3 hours per day.
Initially, you will find it hard to get accustomed to such a sleeping schedule but after a week you body will adapt to it. You will be able to fall into deep sleep (REM sleep) immediately and will wake up feeling energized.
However, there are a few problems with this schedule - you cannot stay awake for more than four hours and so this sleep pattern is useless for those who have jobs or go to schools or colleges. This schedule is also impractical if you do not live in a quiet, tranquil environment as you might find it hard to fall asleep with so much activity going around you.
Still, several organizations such as NASA, the Italian Air force, US Army, Canadian Marine Pilots etc. have conducted extensive experiments on polyphasic sleep and their results have been generally favourable.
So the final verdict is that you can train yourself to get by on less sleep. However, it is advised that you adopt a polyphasic sleep schedule only during very demanding situations. Under normal circumstances, you must sleep at least for 6 hours every day to maintain sound mental and physical health.