It’s no secret that getting quality sleep is essential for good health, as doing so helps to maintain blood pressure, protect against diabetes, and boost immunity, among other things. And, as you’ve likely heard before, 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night is the magic number for many (but not all!) to be able to lock in those benefits. But if you’re struggling to snooze through the night, you might consider trying one of a few alternative sleep schedules that don’t require you to hit the hay in one linear swath of time. (Hello, napping!)
“For most of human history, we didn’t get all our sleep in one go,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona. “Nature didn’t dictate that you get to sleep now or never.” He traces our decline in daytime napping to the start of the industrial revolution, which solidified the monophasic sleep pattern (sleeping in one bout per night) that’s most common today.
But just because it’s most common doesn’t mean the monophasic sleep pattern is the only way to rest. Alternative sleep schedules include polyphasic (three or more segments of sleep throughout the day and night) or biphasic (sleeping in two bouts, with both of them at night or with one during the day and one at night).
Considering our biology, the polyphasic option isn’t typically one that experts recommend—after all, we’re not nocturnal beings, so we should still be getting the majority of our sleep during the biological night, says Dr. Grandner. (A review of 22 studies on polyphasic sleep published in March advises steering clear, as well.) This is largely thanks to our natural circadian rhythm preferring to sleep when it’s dark.