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Understanding the Uberman Sleep Cycle: What It Is and If It Works

The CDC recommends healthy adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. The time you go to sleep and wake up doesn’t matter as much as the duration and quality of your sleep. However, establishing a bedtime and time to wake up each morning can help align your circadian rhythm and promote good sleep hygiene.

Sadly, 1 in 3 adults isn’t getting the recommended sleep. And even beyond that, some people are forced to adopt unhealthy sleep schedules due to work, illness, or travel. A variety of sleep cycles also promise to provide quality, restful sleep even though they promote a lot less sleep than the CDC recommends.

One such approach is known as the Ubmerman sleep cycle. Founded on the premise that just 2 hours of sleep per day is enough, many sleep experts are highly skeptical about this sleep cycle’s efficacy and safety. Keep reading to learn more about the Uberman sleep cycle including examples, benefits, risks, and suggestions for trying this unconventional approach to improving your sleep quality.

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What is the Uberman Sleep Cycle?

The Ubmerman sleep schedule is one type of polyphasic sleep. This term is used to describe any sleep pattern that involves more than 2 short sleep periods in a single 24-hour period and includes the Uberman sleep cycle, the Everyman sleep cycle, and the Triphasic sleep cycle.

The Uberman sleep cycle recommends that people nap for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day. Over a 24-hour period, this could result in more than six 20-minute naps, resulting in just 2 or 2 hours of sleep in total – far fewer than the recommended amount of healthy adults. The efficacy and safety of this and other polyphasic sleep cycles are limited. Traditionally, people are encouraged to follow a monophasic sleep schedule which involves one, long stretch of sleep – usually at night.

The Uberman sleep schedule was first introduced and tried by a woman named Marie Staver in 1999. Unable to sleep and plagued by insomnia, Staver decided to adopt a different sleep schedule that involved more, shorter periods of sleep. There are several issues and risks associated with this method of sleep including sleep deprivation, cognitive decline, and mobility issues. The Uberman sleep schedule is also one of the most intense and restrictive of all polyphasic sleep cycles, which is why it should only ever be attempted under the supervision of a doctor or sleep specialist.

Here’s a breakdown of a single 24-hour day following this sleep cycle.

  • Midnight to 12:20 a.m. (sleep)
  • 12:20 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. (awake)
  • 4:00 a.m. to 4:20 a.m. (sleep)
  • 4:20 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. (awake)
  • 8:00 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. (sleep)
  • 8:20 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (awake)
  • 12:00 p.m. to 12:20 p.m. (sleep)
  • 12:20 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (awake)
  • 4:00 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. (sleep)
  • 4:20 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (awake)
  • 8:00 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. (sleep)

Of course, you could adjust these sleep and awake times to better fit your individual schedule and lifestyle, but ultimately, you’d need access to a quiet, comfortable sleep environment at least half a dozen times a day.

Potential Benefits of the Uberman Sleep Cycle

As strict and outlandish as this sleep schedule may seem, there are some benefits.

Increased Energy and Productivity

Some people who have tried the Uberman schedule report having higher than normal energy levels. They also claim to feel more productive. One reason is that there are more awake hours in a day to get things done. This benefit comes down to simple math. If you’re awake for 22 hours per day versus 16 hours, you have more time for work, social activities, and exercise.

The caveat here is that most people running on just 2 or 3 hours of sleep will feel at least minor symptoms of sleep deprivation, causing them to feel groggy, distracted, and sluggish during their awake hours. This could have an adverse effect, causing a dip in productivity instead of a boost.

The Ability to Enter REM Sleep Faster

Some studies suggest that the Uberman sleep cycle allows people to enter REM sleep more quickly. One theory is that these shorter periods of sleep help the body sustain larger concentrations of adenosine, a chemical involved in regulating sleep recovery. The longer you sleep, the lower your adenosine levels become. 

Improved Mental Clarity

Proponents of the Uberman sleep schedule and other polyphasic sleep cycles report feeling more focused and equipped to both learn and retain important information. One theory is that experiencing shorter periods of sleep more frequently throughout the day helps keep your mind sharp and focused during your awake hours.

When you’re asleep, your brain works to organize, sort, and retain new information. Some sleep scientists believe that by taking a 20-minute nap as part of the Uberman sleep schedule, your brain will be better equipped to absorb and process new information. It’s important to note, however, that these studies were based mostly on periods of sleep lasting 30 minutes or longer. Therefore, a 20-minute nap during the Uberman sleep cycle may not yield these same results. 

Reduced Insomnia Symptoms

Not everyone responds well to a monophasic sleep schedule. If you’re struggling to fall and stay asleep at night, your body may need shorter periods of sleep, more often. Some Uberman sleep cycle supporters claim they fall asleep faster and wake up less frequently than they used to. Skeptics claim the reason people fall asleep faster is that they’re exhausted and the reason they don’t wake up frequently is that they’re only sleeping for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. This drastically reduces the chances of someone experiencing broken or restless sleep. Some people do claim they sleep better and deeper during their short naps after being awake for an extended period of time. 

More Vivid Dreams

Have you ever woke in the morning plagued over a dream you had – unable to remember the details no matter how hard you try? Some studies suggest that people who follow an Uberman sleep cycle are better able to recall their dreams. You may also notice an increase in vivid dreams and lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming involves being partially conscious and aware that you’re dreaming, while you’re actively dreaming. 

Accommodates Irregular Work Schedules

If you have an irregular work schedule, perhaps this unconventional sleep cycle will work in your favor. Shift work including inconsistent hours and overnight work is becoming increasingly common and with it, people are experiencing unhealthy and inconsistent sleep patterns. The Uberman sleep schedule could benefit those struggling to stay awake, alert, and on task during the day. That is, of course, if you can find somewhere to take a nap several times a day.

The good news is, you can adopt this schedule during your work days and switch to a more traditional sleep schedule for the rest of the week. Keep in mind, though, the more inconsistent your sleep patterns are as a whole, the harder it will be to align your natural sleep-wake cycle. This could result in cognitive impairment and a higher risk of certain illnesses and ailments.

Potential Risks of the Uberman Sleep Cycle

You’re in control of your sleep schedule and patterns. Staying up later on weekends or sleeping in the next morning is fine, on occasion, but it’s recommended you follow a consistent sleep schedule as often as possible.

While adjusting your sleep and awake times for the night and morning is one thing, completely changing your entire sleep structure and reducing your sleep from 7 or 9 hours down to just 2 or 3 could have disastrous effects on your overall health and well-being. Here are just a few potential risks of following the Uberman sleep cycle.

Chronic Sleep Deprivation 

Any amount of sleep under 7 hours of sleep is considered sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation is classified as not receiving sufficient amounts of sleep for an extended period of time. Even a few days of just getting 2 or 3 hours of sleep could have a major impact on both your physical and mental well-being.

The side effects of sleep deprivation are extensive and, in some cases, extreme. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Depression
  • Decreased brain function
  • Memory issues
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Compromised immune system
  • Low fertility
  • Other psychiatric disorders

Reduced Reaction Time

Delayed reaction times have been linked with a lack of sleep in numerous research studies. In fact, one study showed that people who are awake for more than 20 hours straight have the same level of impairment as someone under the influence of alcohol. By getting only 2 to 3 hours of sleep in a single day, you’re putting not only yourself but others at risk. This could result in drowsy driving, injuries on the job, and other tragic accidents.

Without sufficient sleep, your brain and body are unable to react appropriately to external stimuli. Instead of an automatic reaction (flight or fight response), your movements and reactions are delayed. Even a few-second delay could result in catastrophe, especially if you’re operating a motor vehicle or performing a task that requires your undivided attention. Lack of sleep also makes it difficult to identify dangerous situations, causing impaired judgment. 

Disrupted Sleep-Wake Cycle

The only way to establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle is to follow a consistent sleep schedule. Although the Uberman sleep cycle is technically a type of sleep schedule, it may not be the best one for regulating your natural circadian rhythm. That’s because it’s based on random periods of sleep, requiring you to sleep during the day and be awake and active at night. This goes against your body’s natural instincts to sleep when it’s dark and be awake and alert when it’s light out.

A disrupted circadian rhythm has myriad side effects including extreme fatigue, increased risk of illness, cognitive impairment, and mood swings.

Hard to Sustain Long-Term

Even if you experience positive benefits of the Uberman sleep schedule at first, more than likely, it’s not a sleep cycle that you can maintain long-term. Even the founder herself, Marie Straver, abandoned this sleep schedule after getting a new job that didn’t allow for multiple naps during the workday. Over time, your body’s natural need for more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep in a 24-hour day will most likely take over. You may find it increasingly difficult to stay awake in between naps or to wake up from your naps. And as Straver herself discovered, most professions don’t accommodate this erratic schedule that requires frequent naps during the day.

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Suggestions for Trying the Uberman Sleep Cycle

Even after reading this article, if you’re still curious about the Uberman sleep schedule or you think it’s a viable option for you, here are a few tips for trying it out.

  • Consult with your doctor first and determine if you’re in good enough health to attempt such a restrictive sleep schedule
  • Make the most out of your awake hours by planning tasks and activities
  • Make the most of your naps by creating a calming environment that’s conducive to sleep
  • Take an objective look at your work schedule and lifestyle to see if it supports frequent napping during the day
  • Find a sleep structure and time frame that works for you
  • Avoid stimulating behavior and foods and drinks prior to sleeping
  • Use light to help you stay awake and alert during your awake hours 
  • Report back to your doctor regularly to ensure your body and mind can handle this restrictive sleep schedule
  • Keep a sleep journal or diary that documents your sleep patterns, struggles, and accomplishments
  • Adopt other healthy habits that help boost your energy and mental focus

Find a Sleep Schedule That Works Best for You

Only you know if the Uberman sleep cycle is a practical schedule for your individual needs and lifestyle. In most cases, adults need more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep per day to function. However, if you can make this unconventional sleep schedule work for you, without any serious side effects, it could actually improve your sleep quality overall.

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