Should you "hack" your sleep pattern?
Living like a genius and finding ways to "optimize" sleep is not necessarily good for your health. Here's why.
Vanessa Hill is a video host and speaker who has won acclaim as the creator and host of the popular PBS web series, BrainCraft, which educates viewers on psychology, neuroscience and more. She has also hosted the podcast LaunchPod and had her work featured in publications like TIME, Scientific American and The Huffington Post. She earned her Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of New South Wales in 2008 before earning her Master of Science in communication from The Australian National University in 2013.
VANESSA HILL: Sleep is essential for our bodily functions, for our learning and memory, to keep our brain and body healthy. So, that is one reason to remember that sleep is super important. We have been doing it since the dawn of time. So there are different types of sleep patterns and what you normally engage in every single night is called monophasic sleep. That's when you just sleep in one chunk whether it be six hours or eight hours. I hope that you are sleeping more than seven hours a night because that's the scientific recommendation. That's called monophasic sleep. But, we haven't always been this way. There is some evidence to suggest that people in pre-industrialized societies used to sleep in what's called biphasic sleep patterns, which is when they have two chunks of sleep over a 24 hour period. And there's also something called polyphasic sleep which is a pattern where you sleep in three or more phases over the course of a 24 hour period.
So you do vary in this pattern throughout your life. Newborn babies, for example, are great polyphasic sleepers. They sleep for two hours and then awake for an hour and then asleep for two hours. They're asleep most of the time except it's in three or more periods over a 24 hour cycle and then that kind of changes into a monophasic sleep by the time they're five or six years old and they stop napping during the day. Sometimes when elderly people can't sleep in one chunk they do engage in a biphasic sleep pattern where you have two sleeps throughout the day.
For you when you fall asleep it seems like you're unconscious. You don't really know what's going on but there is a lot that is happening in your brain. So, there's four different stages of sleep. Two are light sleep and then there's deep sleep and REM sleep. You cycle through these different stages roughly every 90 minutes on average over the night, but your sleep cycle can vary from 60 minutes to 120 minutes depending on the person. When you fall asleep you cycle through these two stages of light sleep, then deep sleep and REM sleep and over the course of the night you'll go through a number of these sleep cycles. Now, something that is really interesting is people sometimes think that you're getting the same amount of sleep when you're in each of these different stages of sleep, but you actually get more deep sleep in the first half of the night and then more REM sleep in the second half of the night. You do change how much time you're spending in these different sleep stages over the course of the night.
It's natural for us to vary in these patterns across the course of the lifespan but monophasic sleep is the most beneficial for adults where you're sleeping in one chunk throughout the night. That way you can progress the most naturally through all of your sleep stages and spend the best amount of time for your body in all of those different sleep stages though there is kind of a rising fad, almost like a fad diet but for sleep. You could call it, I don't know, a fad sleep diet where a lot of adults who should probably be sleeping in monophasic sleep want to try out biphasic or polyphasic sleep to try to hack sleep to get the best out of sleep in a smaller amount of time which is actually quite concerning because you can't really do this with sleep. Something that is different is that our ancestors did have some different sleep patterns so biphasic sleep is one I mentioned before is when you actually sleep in two periods instead of one eight hour chunk. It's thought that this was really common in hunter-gatherer societies for reasons of protection. If you have one person asleep and another person awake they can watch out for any potential threats. Also, in pre-industrialized society there wasn't an emphasis on the eight hour workday or then what was probably the 10 or 12 hour workday where people only had a certain amount of time to get all of their sleep, particularly in areas that were quite warm and agriculture heavy people would have a siesta and nap for one or two hours in the middle of the day and then have a shorter sleep at night. It thought that biphasic sleep was a lot more popular in pre-industrialized societies. It doesn't mean that everyone did it but there are a lot of records of a first sleep and a second sleep and people doing a lot of creative work in between those in the middle of the night as well.
Now with a lot of us working nine to five jobs, perhaps pre-2020 we were working nine to five jobs. That really encourages people to have a monophasic sleep schedule where they're sleeping in one big chunk. So some people who do creative work may sleep in a shorter chunk throughout the night and then have naps during the day. I have tried this a little bit and find that I am just really groggy throughout the day if I am napping and then waking up. It is recommended that you get seven hours of sleep at once throughout the night. So if you are going to try this please make sure you are getting your seven hours and then you could supplement that with a nap throughout the day as well. Sleep is very personal and there are some weird and wonderful stories of historical figures adopting some pretty wild sleep patterns. One of the most famous ones is Nikola Tesla who is reported to have only slept for two hours a night. It is I will say very difficult to find out how much sleep historical figures were getting because there's not a lot of sources that actually tell us scientifically what was gong on with them. But there is one biography that says Tesla would get four to five hours of rest a day but he would only sleep for two hours of that time that he was resting. So he engaged in this pretty extreme form of polyphasic sleep called the Uberman sleep schedule where he would actually sleep in 20 minutes naps over the course of the day so he would get two hours sleep by the end of the day.
Another person who followed this very strict polyphasic sleep pattern was Leonardo da Vinci who reportedly did 20 minutes naps every three to four hours so I think it's tempting to say I want to sleep like a genius. I'm only going to get two or three hours sleep and what that will do is wreak havoc on your brain. I think there are these fads that a lot of celebrities or geniuses follow. An example that I love to give is that Steve Jobs was a fruitarian but it doesn't mean we should all go away and only eat fruit because that would be really bad for our digestive system and our diet and no nutritionist or dietitian would ever recommend just eating fruit. So the kind of same thing applies to sleep. No one would recommend that you try to get two hours sleep a night because it can be really damaging for your health. It's reported that Winston Churchill also slept for five or six hours a night and then he would take a nap after having a glass of whiskey. This is a good time to talk about alcohol because alcohol can help you fall asleep really quickly as was the case with Churchill, but it can actually limit how restful and restorative your sleep is so you don't get as much deep sleep after you've had alcohol which is really good quality sleep where your heart rate slows down, your breathing is really slow and your brain is really cleaning up a lot of plaque and other more toxic things that get produced during the day doing a big waste removal.
So, when you do have alcohol you probably know from when you hang up and have that nasty little thing called a hangover that the sleep you get isn't as restorative as when you don't drink alcohol. I think something that's really important to think about when we're looking at these sleep patterns of historical figures is that Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, they never had to drive a car. They never had to operate heavy machinery. They never had to do a lot of the things that we do in our modern world. And when you get less than six hours of sleep a night your risk for having a car accident increases by a lot. So please take that into consideration as a general safety message that if you're thinking about doing one of these things it really puts you and other people at a lot of risk which is something that Tesla didn't have to think about. I think it's where educating more people about the importance of sleep and sleep health and people start to think about how they can make changes to it kind of like having a fad diet or something like that. How can we optimize sleep? How can we get more out of sleep in a shorter amount of time?
And putting a lot of emphasis on this hustle culture that we need to be productive all of the time. Sleep is the one thing that you do not need to optimize other than making sure you don't have light in your bedroom, it's a nice, cool temperature for you to sleep in and that you're comfortable and getting good quality sleep. Please don't feel like you actually need to hack your sleep or make it better. If you're sleeping well, keep doing what you're doing.
If you enjoyed this video please check out my video on my channel BrainCraft on lucid dreaming. There will be a link down in the description.
- A seemingly common trait of geniuses like Nikola Tesla and Leonardo da Vinci is that they operated (and excelled) on very few hours of sleep per night. BrainCraft's Vanessa Hill explains that while unorthodox sleep patterns may have worked for them, your mileage may vary. Attempting to sleep like a genius could "wreak havoc" on your brain and be detrimental to your health.
- There are three different types of sleep patterns: monophasic sleep (one chunk at night for a recommended 6-8 hours), biphasic sleep (two chunks in a 24-hour period), and polyphasic sleep (three or more chunks in a 24-hour period). While sleeping, you cycle through four stages: two light, one deep, and one REM.
- Switching sleep patterns can disrupt these stages, as can consuming alcohol. So while attempting to maximize your creative time, you may be denying your brain and body the time it needs to recover, which can be dangerous.
- Comparing Sleep Habits Across The World - Big Think ›
- How you sleep predicts your personality, new study finds - Big Think ›
- With Polyphasic Sleep, You Can Thrive on as Little as Two Hours ... ›
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Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.