I never knew there was such a thing as the “Leonardo Da Vinci Sleep Cycle”, but apparently there is.
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.
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.
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).
It looks as though Winston Churchill was a fan of the biphasic sleep cycle.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.