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On getting a good night of sleep and the biphasic 6 + 1.5 hours cycle

I was recently asked by Chris Birdsall on Twitter how my sleep cycle works.

This question came about, I believe, because (a) I appear to be on Twitter all the time (which I’m not, read my post on my Twitter strategies) and (b) I appear like I don’t sleep at all (I actually love sleeping and naps, generally speaking).

This is a myth.

I sleep 7.5 hours per day which is about what just about any person should sleep (please exclude parents and those suffering from chronic insomnia). Yes, I wake up at 4am to write, but trust me, I do love me some sleep. There are people who have attempted polyphasic sleep cycles (where they take naps in between long periods of work). Honestly, after having tried it during my PhD (and failed miserably), I don’t believe in polyphasic sleep cycles.

The thing is, I DO believe in the biphasic model.

Remember, I’m not a sleep expert (though I DO know someone who IS). So, I am just sharing my experience and what I read before deciding on my current sleep cycle model. I had read somewhere that for someone to experience actual rest, they had to achieve deep sleep, and that being rested meant that we got several deep sleep cycles where each one of these lasts 90 minutes.

To calculate how much sleep I should get, I calculated the following: 1.5 hours times 4 is six hours, what some consider is the least amount of sleep you can get before suffering damage in your cognitive functions. Though apparently, sleeping more than seven hours may be non-optimal.

So I normally sleep 6 hours at night, and then I have a 1.5 hour nap at the “end of my day” (e.g. when I teach, this is normally at 3pm). Because I start working at 4 am, by noon I’m done with the day, and by 2:30pm I’m really exhausted. So I drive home and take a 90 minute nap, which usually leaves me recharged to do more stuff in the afternoon or evening. This also allows me to have some semblance of a social life, where my friends LOVE going out until 10pm (which is a total NO NO for me).

I try really hard to be in bed by 9pm so that if there’s some delay in how fast I fall asleep, I can be fully asleep by 10pm. Then, waking up at 4am is natural. My body is used to it. I’m also used to having a nap at 3pm or so. On weekends, I try as hard as I can to take as many naps as my body requires. During the week I only need one per day, but on weekends, for some reason, I need more sleep and I try hard to take as many naps as possible.

Sleeping well is a well-tried tool to improve academic performance, trust me (and the experts!)

My friend Melonie Fullick, who DOES study higher education, agrees that we need enough sleep.

I recognize that academic parents with toddlers and little children and scholarly people with chronic insomnia have a harder time to get enough sleep. I just hope we all could get enough sleep. It would make our academic lives much better. It’s dangerous and unhealthy to cheat ourselves of sleep.

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