All of us know that sleep is an integral part of our daily lives. We cannot escape the fact that we need to go to bed at the end of the day. Sure, we can postpone the z’s and work or play until the early morning hours. Sometimes we even skip a night’s sleep here or there. But in the end, we have to get some sleep. For me, sleeping is not just a necessary part of my daily routine, but something I look forward to. I enjoy sleeping and I enjoy waking up feeling refreshed and ready for the new day. Do you? What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you ever think about sleep, or do you just accept it as part of life?
Today I will share some old wisdom and thoughts on sleep with you. What’s more, I will take some time to look at the things you should not think about when you prepare to embark on your nightly journey to Dreamland. Let’s take a look at how some of the big names throughout history thought about sleep.
I’m pretty sure most of you have heard this name before. Aristotle was one of Plato’s students and is responsible for laying the groundwork of western philosophy. Back in the day, he wrote musings about nearly anything that you can think of. Biology, history, geography, anthropology, mathematics and so much more. Aristotle also wrote a piece titled On Sleep and Sleeplessness. In this piece, he talks about the nature of sleep. He questions whether sleep is a man-made construct, or if it is natural to all mammals. The great philosopher goes on to ask if it is possible to go without sleep.
In the end, he comes to the conclusion that all animals have to sleep. Interestingly, he also came to the conclusion that plants cannot sleep. He reasons that only beings with sense-perception require sleep. However, recent scientific publications hint at the fact that plants can, in fact, since what is going on around them. So does that mean that plants sleep as well? Maybe in another generation or three, we’ll know the answer to that.
But whether plants sleep or not is not really in question here. What we can certainly say is that Aristotle had insightful thoughts about sleep! His musings have guided many sleep research over the years, and it is sure to inspire many more scientists to ask questions about the reason and meaning behind sleep.
Born in 1899, Ernest Hemingway was not quite as influential on western philosophy as Aristotle. Nonetheless, he still did some remarkable things for English literature in his day. Author of For Whom the Bell Tolls and Old Man and the Sea (for which he won the Pulitzer price in 1953). Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his contribution to storytelling and narrative techniques in 1954.
The famous author had various setbacks in his love life and turned to alcohol and adventure to numb out the pain. He had a couple of failed marriages and sustained many near death injuries on his forays into war-torn counties. No wonder his thoughts on sleep sounded like this: “I love to sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
Another famous name! Gandhi was an Indian civil rights activist that advocated violence free disobedience to British rule. In the end, Gandhi’s selfless struggle against the British empire led to India getting independence from Great Britain. Even though Gandhi died more than 70 years ago, his legacy still remains. Across the globe, human rights groups base their ideologies on Gandhi’s teachings.
Gandhi’s thoughts on sleep are quite radical. His stance on life was such that he lived from day to day. At the end of each day, he cleared the slate, forgave everyone that wronged him and went to sleep. Thus he never woke up with a grudge against anyone. How liberating must that be? To not be angry at anyone by the time you go to sleep? It sounds almost unreal. A true peacekeeper, this is what Gandhi had to say about sleep: “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I’m reborn”.
Leonardo da Vinci
One of the most well known Renaissance artists and inventors, the guy that painted Mona Lisa. Ever heard of him? Da Vince had extreme views on sleep. Did you know that he followed the Uberman sleep cycle? A form of polyphasic sleep where one takes a 20-minute nap every four hours. And nothing else. That is the only sleep he got in his later years. No wonder the man invented, painted and sculpted such a wide variety of marvels! If you do the math, sleeping for 20 minutes every four hours means that you only get two hours of sleep out of every 24 hour day. Incredible! If you want to read more on various sleep cycles, click here.
Even though he got very little sleep himself, da Vinci’s thoughts about sleep were simplistic enough. Da Vinci said: “a well spent day brings happy sleep”. A statement like that speaks for itself. You don’t need to have a PhD to decipher that one. Da Vinci believed that spending your time on positive things made you sleep soundly at night. And ain’t that the truth!? Have you ever spent a day working in the garden or on a farm? After a day of such intense labour, the only kind of sleep you get is good sleep. It is difficult to lie awake when you are physically exhausted. Likewise, if you spend all of your creative energy on a project during the day, chances are that you will sleep soundly that night.
Sleep Time Thoughts
Now that we have a rough idea of what a few influential historical figures had to say about sleep, let’s take a look at what modern day society thinks about sleep.
If you listen to popular music, you might have noticed that most modern day musicians have a flagrant disregard for sleep. With song lyrics like “party all night/party all night/party all night”, “we can do this all night”, “party till the sun comes up” and so on, we get bombarded with the idea that we should use the night for anything but sleeping. Our youth gets brainwashed by these ideas and subsequently, they end up partying all night, sleeping in class and flunking their modules. So in effect, if you listen to pop music, you get told on a subconscious level that you don’t need sleep. And somewhere along the line, you start believing it. You think that you can just keep on going without getting any proper rest. Unfortunately, you are so wrong it is not even funny!
One thing I can tell you right now is that you should not allow the media to influence your thoughts on sleep. You have to think for yourself about how sleeplessness affects you. Do you feel a hundred percent the day after you partied all night? Are you capable of performing all of your duties at work on a professional level? If not, then you have to rethink your stance on sleep.
What Must We Think About Before Bedtime?
Maybe we should ask what we shouldn’t think before bedtime? Yes, I think that is a more appropriate question. We shouldn’t think about all the things that still need doing. If you are stressed about the work you didn’t manage to complete today or the work that you have to do tomorrow, you probably won’t have any luck falling asleep. So instead of thinking these thoughts before bedtime, make a list of what you couldn’t finish at work. In doing this, you create a sense of ease in yourself because you don’t have to remember it anymore. If it is written down in a safe place, you can forget about it until the morning when you open your day planner or diary.
Also, try not to think about how difficult it is to fall asleep. If you start fixating on that, you will take forever to get to Dreamland! If you struggle to fall asleep at night, you should either try to avoid thinking about falling asleep at all, or you should actively think about your breathing rhythm and nothing else. Focus. Inhale through the nose and imagine the oxygen particles travelling to your lungs, through the heart to your organs. Keep the breath inside for a couple of counts. Now slowly release the breath through your slightly parted lips. As you come closer to feeling breathless, push the last bit of oxygen out of your body by contracting your abdominal muscles. Now start the process again. Keep on doing this until you fall asleep. It may sound airy-fairy, but it works. Trust me, I know.
And now, what should we think about? Try to think more like da Vinci. Actively put effort into making your days worthwhile and look forward to the restorative rest that your body needs after a productive day. Don’t think negative thoughts about sleep. It is a part of who you are and how you were made. If Aristotle could figure that one out 2400 years ago, by Hercules we should be able to do the same ;p