Way back in 1959, New York DJ Peter Tripp pledged to stay awake on-air for 200 hours, but at a high price. Only three days into the experiment, the usually cheerful and mild-mannered man was irritable and insulting to all and sundry; he was hallucinating and exhibiting very paranoid behaviour by day five. Since this study, we have come a long way in the science of sleep and its effect on our brains, and there have been many theories surrounding how much sleep is the right amount and when you should be sleeping – but what’s the right approach for you?
Many people have experimented with different sleep cycles and aids that help them achieve the perfect amount of sleep, but the standard sleep cycle is known as the monophasic cycle, which is what most of us already do: each night, we snuggle down for one long sleep that generally lasts between seven and nine hours. This is because our bodies are wired to be awake during the day – circadian literally means ‘about the day’, and our eyes are programmed to send tired messages to the brain when the retina detects a lack of light. This cycle of sleep creates the least chance of sleep deprivation as well.
In Mediterranean cultures, a ‘biphasic cycle’ is popular as a result of the hot climate. This consists of a core period of sleep during the night that lasts for around five to six hours, followed by a nap at some stage between 9am and 9pm (generally taken during the hottest part of the day). This way of sleeping can give an added boost if you have had a particularly strenuous day or are flagging from the previous day’s endeavours.
Leonardo da Vinci favoured the Uberman sleep cycle, which is a polyphasic cycle consisting of short naps spaced evenly throughout the day. Unfortunately, since no one in recent history has lasted much longer than a year in this cycle or the similar ‘Everyman cycle’ – a cycle consisting of a longer ‘core’ nap and shorter ones during waking hours – very little is currently known about this form of sleep and its implications for your brain and productivity. As more people trial this method of sleeping, however, more data is being collected that will determine how effective this cycle is and if there is a practical application for it.
Whatever your chosen sleep cycle, you must try to get the best sleep you can. Now you know how much sleep is the right amount and when you should be sleeping, the last thing to remember is to make sure you are comfortable and have all of the right tools for a good night’s sleep.