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Sustained polyphasic sleep restriction abolishes human growth hormone release

Publication year 2024
Published in Sleep
Authors Yevgenia Rosenblum, Frederik D Weber, Michael Rak, Zsófia Zavecz, Nicolas Kunath, Barbara Breitenstein, Björn Rasch, Marcel Zeising, Manfred Uhr, Axel Steiger, Martin Dresler

STUDY OBJECTIVES: Voluntary sleep restriction is a common phenomenon in industrialized societies aiming to increase time spent awake and thus productivity. We explored how restricting sleep to a radically polyphasic schedule affects neural, cognitive, and endocrine characteristics.

METHODS: Ten young healthy participants were restricted to one 20-min nap opportunity at the end of every 4 hours (i.e., 6 sleep episodes per 24 hours) without any extended core sleep window, which resulted in a cumulative sleep amount of just 2 hours per day (i.e., ~20 min per bout).

RESULTS: All but one participant terminated this schedule during the first month. The remaining participant (a 25-year-old male) succeeded in adhering to a polyphasic schedule for 5 out of the 8 planned weeks. Cognitive and psychiatric measures showed modest changes during polyphasic as compared to monophasic sleep, while in-blood cortisol or melatonin release pattern and amounts were apparently unaltered. In contrast, growth hormone release was almost entirely abolished (>95% decrease), with the residual release showing a considerably changed polyphasic secretional pattern.

CONCLUSIONS: Even though the study was initiated by volunteers with exceptional intrinsic motivation and commitment, none of them could tolerate the intended 8 weeks of the polyphasic schedule. Considering the decreased vigilance, abolished growth hormone release, and neurophysiological sleep changes observed, it is doubtful that radically polyphasic sleep schedules can subserve the different functions of sleep to a sufficient degree.

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