Assistant Editor Dan Hoffman wonders if there is a spiritual component to being unable to sleep.
Posted in , Mar 28, 2016
It’s in the health news a lot these days: Sleep is a major problem for Americans. We don’t get enough. We don’t take enough naps. We don’t have enough time to wind-down before going to bed.
Much of what happens during sleep remains a mystery. Dreams, for example. Some scientists and psychologists dismiss them as meaningless. Others, in the tradition of Sigmund Freud (like Dr. Judith Orloff of our recent Dream Chat), believe they shed great meaning on our waking lives.
I struggle a lot with sleep. Some nights, I do everything “right”–wind-down, meditate, dim the lights, read, etc.–but still, it escapes me.
So I’m trying to change how I think about insomnia. What if, instead of being stressed about not sleeping, I could see those fitful, waking hours as restorative and meaningful as eight hours of uninterrupted bliss? Could occasional insomnia be good for the soul?
In the Huffington Post, sleep physician David Cunnington of the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Center says that before the advent of artificial light, such late night awakenings were viewed as normal and healthy:
“Historically if you read about how human sleep has been described over thousands of years, it has been described as three to four hours of deeper sleep after the sun goes down followed by a period of being awake. That period of being awake in fact could last a couple of hours and was then followed by dozing through the remainder of the night until the sun came up.”
For Robert Moss, author of The Secret History of Dreaming, this ancient way of sleeping helped with creativity and imagination–and what I would call spiritual life:
“The interval between first sleep and second sleep is characterized by elevated levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone best known for helping hens to brood contentedly above their eggs for long periods... the night watch can produce benign states of altered consciousness not unlike meditation.”
The French called this period dorveille, “widely regarded as an excellent time to birth new ideas,” Moss continues.
I’m not going to radically reinvent my sleep schedule–I’d end up falling asleep at my desk. But I do want to change how I think about those moments of interrupted slumber.
Maybe insomnia is due to more than just anxiety. Maybe something or someone is trying to break through and reach us.