Split Sleep

Photo by Sabbir

Split sleep, or biphasic sleep, is a segmented sleep method that involves breaking your total sleep time into two periods of sleep during a 24-hour period. You will be sleeping twice per day instead of all at once.

There are claims that our current eight hours a night all at once method of sleeping is a modern invention that came about during the industrial revolution and the invention of the light bulb. Other cultures and societies have sleep in two sleep periods with their first sleep lasting about four hours, then be awake for a couple of hours, then have a second sleep of three to four more hours.

But similar cultural influences that are attributed to our modern sleep schedule can also explain earlier cultures having a split sleep schedule, in that it’s just what many of them did at the time, because it was expected of them.

Many people do split sleep because they have to, not necessarily because they want to. It’s either required by their job, or in the case of monks or nuns of a religious sect, required to remain a card carrying member of their little gang.

Truck drivers, pilots, astronauts and mission control ground crew have at times been required to split their sleep into two periods.

But any time a group of people have switched to a split sleep schedule, they have only done so for a relatively short period of time as it was necessary to get over a mission critical period. After the crisis has passed, they almost always abandoned the split sleep routine and returned to a conventional period of one continual sleep period.

Shift workers on the night shift can split their sleep into two periods so it allows them to have more time with their family and friends and to run errands during the day, but once they switched back to the day shift they almost always abandon split sleep.

Getting a second sleep later in the day is often difficult because light, heat, noise and other distractions increase as the day goes on.

Trying to continue a split sleep has the problem of what are you going to do at 3am? Noise will wake other family members and I don’t think power sanding the hull of your boat will win you any points with your neighbors either. There is also a boredom factor as not many of your other friends are awake at 3am and there is not much on TV other than info-stupids.

Some studies have suggested that there is no difference between getting a full eight hours of sleep all at once verses a split sleep of two four hour periods. The more important factor is that the total amount of sleep in the same.

Using split sleep to reduce your total amount of sleep to an amount that your body finds to be insufficient will result in accumulated sleep debt and increasing levels of fatigue will result.

Many restorative functions of the body occur at different periods of sleep. Memories are solidified not just during a single REM period but over several and the more vivid dreams of REM sleep occur during the later phase of the sleep cycle of a single sleep period.

At different times during the night your body releases hormones, your body temperature changes and your muscular structure is repaired. All of these changes occur in regular times in the sleep cycle.

If split sleep was truly a better way of sleeping or more efficient, more people would voluntarily be doing it. But as it is now, split sleep just seems to be a temporary method of fitting their sleep in and around their work schedule.

Some people suffering from delayed sleep phase disorder have found relief using split sleep, but as a lifestyle change for everyone else, it isn’t a viable option.

Have you every tried split sleep? Leave a comment below.


About Bob Colley

I had been battling sleepless nights for decades. After reading hundreds of books, articles and talking with people I’ve improved the quality my sleep tremendously and have decided to share what I have learned with others in this blog.
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5 Responses to Split Sleep

  1. FRANK M. BUSELLI says:

    My career as in international airline’s captain dictated that once I arrived at the hotel in Europe that I sleep no more than four hours. Any greater amount would compromise the ability to go retire that night and wake up somewhat rested the next morning for the return flight back to the United States. During the longer flights the crew-members are permitted to rest/sleep in the cabin section for three hours or longer. This may not be a useful discussion of “splitting sleep” because of the influence of the time zones.

    In summary, I always felt tired and it require six months of retirement to reset my internal clock.

  2. Bob Colley says:

    Thanks for your insight Frank!

  3. claire davey says:

    Thank you for your article on split sleep. I am a natural split sleeper. I have been sleeping this way for a year now after ten years of insomnia. I got a new job and it required me to get up very early in the morning as the sun comes up, and as i was an insomniac i was rarely asleep at this time anyway, but after a while the early mornings and hard work started to make me tired and eventualy i got into a routine where i would fall sleep around 10-11 pm in an attempt to get 7 hours, but this wasnt working as i would be awake from around 3am fidgeting about. I would then be tired around lunchtime and end up sleeping and then not be able to sleep that night. Once I started doing this i realised the sleep i was gettting was better, it was uninterrupted and i felt refreshed like it was a new day and when id go out in the evening i was much more sociable and happy,and for someone that suffered insomnia for so long this was amazing. 6months ago at work i started working the evening shifts as well, and i found that my split sleep fitted my split shifts perfectly. Id say the only issue i have with it is im asleep in the afternoon, and people quite often want to socialise at these times. and then i am up quite late at night and as like you say your limited the amount of noise you can make. But on the whole I have never been happier with my sleep, I know its not for everybody.

  4. Bob Colley says:

    That’s great that you found a job that accomodates your split sleep.

  5. Judy says:

    I tried split sleep for the first time yesterday. I work 8-5pm came home and went to bed around 6-6:30pm and work up at 9:30pm. I was up until a little after midnight and went back to sleep to wake again at 6am. Prior to this I would usually go to sleep around 1am and wake at 7am crawling out of the bed tired and wanting more sleep. This morning I felt well rested…better than I have in a long time!!