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 ... ›
Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.