The Utterly Insane Leonardo Da Vinci Sleep Cycle

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I never knew there was such a thing as the “Leonardo Da Vinci Sleep Cycle”, but apparently there is.A statue of Leonardo Da Vinci

Okay, it does go by another name, which I’ll get to in a minute.

It seems that the Italian artist and engineer had an extremely strange relationship with sleep.

In fact, there even appears to be a direct link between well-known geniuses and the weirdest and most insane sleep schedules.

However, for today I’d like to devote this article to Leonardo Da Vinci and possibly one of the most jaw-dropping sleeping routines I have ever come across.

How Did Da Vinci Sleep?

Leonardo Da Vinci took a 20-minute nap roughly every four hours. Therefore, over a 24-hour period he slept for approximately two hours in total. This is known as one of the polyphasic sleep cycles. More specifically the Uberman cycle, which consists of 6-8 equidistant naps across the day, each lasting for 20 minutes.

Wow!

Mind Blown.

And here’s a few other Da Vinci facts that I wasn’t aware of:

  • He was an illegitimate child of a lawyer, Ser Piero, and a peasant, Caterina.
  • Da Vinci was home schooled and received no formal education.
  • He was ambidextrous and was able to write with one hand while drawing with the other.
  • Da Vinci developed a system of writing backwards, allowing him to hide messages about his important findings (which could then only be read by using a mirror).
  • Da Vinci and a few male friends were once arrested for sodomy (which carried the death penalty at the time). However, as no witnesses came forward, the case was eventually dismissed.

What is a Polyphasic Sleep Cycle?

Okay, I knew that at some point in history that we as homo sapiens potentially had different ways of sleeping, but it wasn’t until I researched this subject further that I discovered just how different.

The standard sleep cycle, the one we are most familiar with, is known as a monophasic cycle.

Mono typically means one or lone, and that is the type of sleep cycle that I guess you could call conventional – we sleep for one, lone period of time.

This generally (should) lasts for 7-9 hours and takes place at night.

We then have the Biphasic sleeping cycle. Bi most commonly meaning two, and therefore sleep is split into 2 separate sessions.

The most popular method being a 5-6 hour sleep at night and then a 1.5 hour nap some time in the afternoon (usually midday).

This method of sleeping is actually fairly common in areas such as the Mediterranean or Latin America, hence the term “siesta”.

I also know from personal experience, while on my travels, that biphasic sleeping is prevalent in India and various other tropical climates (where it is simply too hot to be out working during the afternoon).

Historian Roger Ekirch published a seminal paper in 2001 which suggested that humans actually slept in two distinct phases originally.

Then we come to the various polyphasic sleep cycles, poly meaning much or many.

The first type of polyphasic sleep is referred to as the Everyman cycle and consists of a core spell of 3.5 hours sleep, plus three 20 minute naps that are spread throughout the day.

The second type is known as the Dymaxion cycle which involves nothing more than four 30-minute naps, thus meaning that you get 2 hours of sleep in total.

Finally, there is the Uberman cycle, most commonly associated with Leonardo Da Vinci, which as I’ve mentioned consists of 6-8 twenty minute naps spread equally throughout the day.

The Weird and Wonderful Sleeping Habits of the Rich & Famous

I mentioned above that there seems to be a direct link between geniuses and strange sleeping patterns. Well you can also add great leaders and entrepreneurs to that list.

Nikola Tesla

There appears to be some confusion about Nikola Tesla’s exact sleep schedule. It has been said that he never slept for more than two hours a day.

However, it has also been suggested that he took two hours sleep at night and then had regular day naps to recharge his batteries.

There is additional evidence which states he followed the Uberman cycle, just like Da Vinci, whereas other sources state that Tesla followed the Dymaxion cycle and slept for four 30-minute phases.

What I can tell you for sure is that two hours appears to be a popular theme for Tesla and that he did have a mental breakdown at the age of 25 due to his bizarre sleeping schedule.

I’m sure that we are all extremely glad that Tesla came back from his breakdown and went on to achieve everything that he did (weird sleeping habits or otherwise).

Winston Churchill

It looks as though Winston Churchill was a fan of the biphasic sleep cycle.Winston Churchill

This actually makes a lot of sense as Churchill was considered a night owl.

He typically slept from 2am until 7am and then went about his day’s work. However, every day at around 5pm he would drink a weak whisky and soda and enjoy a two-hour nap.

Churchill was a huge fan of naps and is even quoted as saying, “this siesta allows him to get one and a half day’s worth of work out of every 24 hours.”

It is rumored that he kept a bed in the Houses of Parliament and believed that napping was one of the main keys to his success in seeing Britain through the War years.

In fact, he apparently often held War cabinet meetings in his bath due to his irregular sleeping patterns.

Thomas Edison

Once again, there are various answers, but in the main it appears that the prolific inventor, Thomas Edison, slept for three or four hours a day.

I have seen some say that he slept purely at night and others who seem to think he followed a polyphasic ritual and took several naps throughout the day.

Edison is quoted as saying that he thought sleep was a waste of time and allegedly he once worked for a straight 72-hour period without taking any rest.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher actually became well-known for her sleep schedule during the 1980s and slept for only 4 hours a night, typically from 1am to 5am.

Thatcher’s officials often had trouble keeping up with her, as she would occasionally have them working on a speech until 2am-3am. However, she would always be up by five in the morning to listen to the BBC Radio 4 program, Farming Today.

Her press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, stated, “She slept for 4 hours on weekdays, but I wasn’t with her on weekends. I guess she got a bit more then.”

This actually caused a few problems for her successor, John Major, as the civil service had become used to a Prime Minister who hardly ever slept.

Donald Trump

There are sources that claim that Trump sleeps anywhere from 3-5 hours a night, although we did hear directly from the man himself in 2017.

While being interviewed on The O’Reilly Factor, Trump revealed that he typically goes to bed between midnight and 1am and wakes at 5am in order to watch television and read newspapers.

Trump’s physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, stated that he thought Donald Trump was “just one of those people who doesn’t require a lot of sleep, and has probably been like that his whole life.”

It is estimated that between 1%-3% of the population are able to function on much less sleep than the average requirement of 7-9 hours.

Mariah Carey

At the complete opposite end of the scale I give you Mariah Carey.

Carey told Interview Magazine back in 2007 that she required 15 hours of sleep in order to sing. She also stated that she slept with 20 humidifiers around her bed.

“Basically, it’s like sleeping in a steam room,” Carey said.

I have No Words!

Benjamin Franklin

The man who gave us possibly the most famous piece of advice when it comes to sleep, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Franklin, an advocate for getting up early in the morning, typically slept from 9pm until 4am.

What Happened When One Man Tried Da Vinci’s Sleep Schedule?

I’ve been a fan of Nathanial Drew for a while now. He describes himself as “someone who in search of mental clarity and wants to know how to live a better life in the 21st century”

He’s an advocate of “slow travel”, living intentionally, learning languages, and self exploration.

He has a number of videos in which he lives “a day in the life of…” and below you can see how Nathaniel coped trying to follow Leonardo Da Vinci’s sleep schedule.

Surely, Sleeping Like Da Vinci Can’t Be Good For You?

I’m not completely sold on the Da Vinci method or I should say, the Uberman sleep cycle.

Just a point of interest, the name Uberman derives from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche (yet another genius). I believe in reference to Ubermensch or the Superhuman concept of Nietzsche’s.

A typical day would involve going to sleep at 10pm, 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, and 6pm.

I know there are proponents of this sleeping schedule who say that they have increased energy and have the ability to enter REM sleep more quickly.

But, I just don’t buy it.

A Quick Recap On Sleep Cycles

Let’s look at how a “normal” person sleeping a monophasic sleep cycle would go from being awake to being asleep.A woman lying in bed with a pillow covering her face and holding a pair of glasses in her hand

Firstly, on average, it should take no longer than 10-20 minutes to fall asleep once your head hits the pillow (before you start shouting at me, remember I am a confirmed insomniac, and I have taken literally hours to fall asleep on many occasions).

Then we have the 2 stages of light sleep – the first typically lasts 5-10 minutes just as you’re nodding off.

However, the second light sleep is the stage of sleep where you generally spend over 50% of the night (there is a lot of memory processing going on during this stage of sleep).

Then we have the two stages of deep sleep. It is extremely difficult to wake up from deep sleep, so the body tries to get this out of the way as quickly as it can. Therefore, about halfway through the night you are done with deep sleep.

This also happens to be the stage of sleep where the body repairs and rebuilds itself and when the human growth hormone is released.

Finally, we have REM sleep when we dream and when the brain gets its chance to repair. REM sleep is important for the regulation of your emotions and your memories.

The first stage of REM sleep lasts only about 10 minutes, but this increases with each subsequent sleep cycle, especially when we are “finished” with deep sleep halfway through the night.

Each complete sleep cycle lasts anywhere from 50-100 minutes, but typically averages about 90 minutes.

So How Do You Fit in All The Stages of Sleep in 20 Minutes?

Now, I’ve heard that people who sleep in the Uberman cycle, like Da Vinci, manage to enter REM sleep extremely quickly.

However, just looking at the fact that trying to fall asleep and going through the very first stage of light sleep usually lasts 20-40 minutes for us “normal” people, I’m just not getting how anyone can get any restorative sleep in 20 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, this is actually considered the perfect amount of time for a nap. You will generally wake up from a 20-minute nap feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

If you nap for much longer there is the danger of waking up in the middle of deep sleep (you want to wake up naturally or within the stage of light sleep), which will simply leave you feeling tired, irritable, fatigued, and lethargic.

I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to reach deep sleep in 20 minutes, which means the body doesn’t have the opportunity to rebuild and grow.

Would following the Uberman (or the Dymaxian) sleep cycle eventually cause problems with your physical wellbeing?

Look at what following the Da Vinci style of sleeping did to Cosmo Kramer, of Seinfeld fame.

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting to note that there are no long-term studies on the most extreme polyphasic sleep cycles. I would hazard a guess that this is simply because most people are unable to stick to such an extreme form of sleep.

Perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci made it all up. He didn’t want anyone to follow in his footsteps and therefore convinced people that in order to be like him you would have to survive on very little sleep.

Who knows?

Do you have what some may consider an “insane” sleeping schedule?

Have you ever tried one of the polyphasic sleep cycles or maybe even a biphasic one?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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16 thoughts on “The Utterly Insane Leonardo Da Vinci Sleep Cycle”

  1. This is great! I know a lot of Da Vinci, but never knew about his sleep cycle. I am very interested in sleep cycles, because at times I am a bad sleeper. If I sleep less than 7 hours I get cranky. So I am not going to try Leonardo’s example 🙂
    I have an Oura ring which gives me a lot of insight into the stages of sleep!

    Reply
    • Hi Hannie,

      Lovely to hear from you.

      Yes, I don’t think many people would be able to follow Da Vinci’s sleep schedule. Plus I’m much the same as you. I always need a minimum of 7 hours just to function.

      How’s the Oura ring working out for you?

      I’ve heard many people rave about it and how simply tracking their daily activity typically leads to a better quality of sleep at night.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  2. Very, very interesting read! I have never heard of the Da Vinci sleep cycle before reading this and my mind too is blown. I have heard as you mentioned how taking a 20-minute nap is all you need to get a battery recharge as I should say but I too in no way believe a person could live off of this method. I also am I guess you could say an insomniac recoverer in progress, hehe, and it used to take me long enough to not only fall asleep but I can barely even obtain REM sleep according to my numerous test. So that sleep cycle would surely destroy my brain. I do understand too much sleep isn’t any better but there is no way that little amount of sleep will allow your body to rejuvenate just as you said. Great post, very neat stuff.

    Reply
    • Hi Melissa,

      Thank you ever so much for your kind comments.

      Yes, I think the Da Vinci sleeping schedule is pretty insane, and for someone like myself you has had many struggles with sleep in the past, it’s not something I’ll be trying any time soon.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  3. Hey,

    This is a really interesting article. There are some insane sleep cycles out there, and this Leonardo DVinci is definitely one of them. Some of the famous people you have discussed too have strange sleep cycles. I don’t see how 15 hours sleep helps singing, because rock stars and pop stars are known to not have hardly any sleep when they’re on the road, because of the gigs and the partying.

    I have to say, I’m going to stick to my own sleep cycle for now as it does seem to have gotten better recently.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.

    All the best,

    Tom

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      Always good to hear from you.

      I never actually thought of that when I mentioned Mariah Carey. But yes, you’re perfectly correct, our musician and artist friends are typically known for their “lack of sleep” as opposed to anything else.

      I’m totally with you on sticking to my current sleep schedule. This is not something I will changing, even if there is the possibility of turning into a genius.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  4. Hi Partha,

    What a fascinating read, I’ve certainly surpassed my quota for learning one new thing a day. I’m slightly bemused, but not surprised that Donald Trump gets up to watch TV. I guess he has to keep abreast of all the fake news!

    I don’t think I could handle Da Vinci’s sleep cycle, I imagine many people would get sacked for sleeping on the job too.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    Reply
    • Hi Sharon,

      Lovely to hear from you.

      When I first wrote about Mr. Trump here, I came very close to making a similar comment, but decided to keep my thoughts to myself, LOL.

      You’re perfectly correct, I don’t think most of us would get away with “sleeping on the job” in the modern day-and-age.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  5. Interesting post! Typically get 5-6 hours of sleep in a monophasic cycle. I wear a Fitbit that monitors sleep and this post piqued my interest enough to look back at my sleep history. The funny thing is that during this pandemic lockdown, I’ve been getting less sleep! Staying up later… binge-watching “one more” episode, but still getting up at the same time… and I don’t feel even a little bit smarter at all!

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your comments.

      You seem as though you have a very conventional sleeping cycle, although perhaps a little on the low side in terms of hours.

      It’s interesting that you mention lockdown, as I’m sure pretty much everyone may be experiencing different sleeping patterns to normal.

      However, I’d love to find out some real figures. I’m sure like yourself, many people are sleeping less, but I wonder if there are those who are in bed far longer than they ever were before.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  6. Hi Partha,

    What a nice, interesting article. I do like such fun facts 🙂

    I consider myself a person who on average needs 8-9 hours of sleep to function. In the weekends it sometimes happens that I take a nap in the afternoon (1,5 hour max.)
    But Leonardo Da Vinci’s sleep cycle is really nothing for me! Wondering who would dare to do that?

    Kind regards,
    Catherine.

    Reply
    • Hi Catherine,

      Great to hear from you.

      Agreed, I think in modern times we all tend to sleep for one long period at night, although many of us are not adverse to a mid-afternoon nap as well.

      Well, I can tell you for one that I’m not willing to try Da Vinci’s sleep cycle. No thank you, I can’t imagine how grumpy that would make me feel.

      Thanks
      Partha

      Reply
  7. I simply enjoyed this post! A lot! I thought it was very entertaining to read, but also full of interesting facts and things I never even heard about it. I remember telling my husband as lot that I wish I could live on just naps, because, man, we would have so much more time to get things done. On the other hand, I love going to bed at night and getting my full 8 hours in. I am, unfortunately, one of those people that needs a solid 8-9 hours to be functional. However, if wish we had a lifestyle here in the US where is was normal to take a “siesta”. I honestly think that sleeping 6 hours at night and taking a 1-2 hour nap during the day would be my favorite way of getting sleep. I think I would be most productive, but our society is unfortunately not structured this way. Sleep is such an interesting topic. Can’t wait to read more about it.

    Reply
    • Hi Manuela,

      Lovely to hear from you.

      I’ve often thought that I may be more productive on less sleep at night and a decent nap during the day, but unfortunately the logistics would never work.

      I also think that trying to get used to such a change in sleeping habits may prove to be too hard, and I’d probably give up trying after a few days.

      Thank you ever so much for your kind comments as well.
      Partha

      Reply
  8. Interesting that you bring Leonardo Divinci into the equation since I find him an extremely mysterious character although I don’t know that much about him.

    A genius he was and with no formal education and as soon as you mentioned writing backwards I thought “Illuminati”

    Anyway, maybe all geniuses had to have this type of sleep cycle or Uberman as you put it since their minds must have been constantly active.

    You would need to be extremely active to want to cat-nap every 4 hours!

    Myself, I am fine with 6 hours, but what I tend to do nowadays is wake around 2-3 am and shift to another room to meditate. I know strange!

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • Hi Mick,

      Always good to hear from you.

      Definitely, I think there may be something to this Uberman sleep cycle and being a genius, but who knows for sure.

      I’ve noted from your previous comments that you tend to sleep for 6 hours a night. I’m not entirely sure how I’d function on so little sleep, I’m more of a 7.5 hours person myself.

      I also think it’s great that you meditate, this is something that has definitely changed my life for the better over the last few years.

      However, I’m not sure I’d want to be getting up in the middle of the night to do it.

      Each to their own I guess.

      Partha

      Reply

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