I’ve been fascinated by sleep lately. And so, late though it may already be on a Friday night, I thought I’d write down some of what I’ve been thinking/asking about sleep, before I give myself over to it for 8, or 9, or 10 glorious hours.
I love sleep. Who doesn’t? I look forward to it. After a long day at work, and especially after a long week, or even in the middle of a tiring day, sleep is as or more exquisite than almost anything I can imagine. Why?
The main question I’ve been pondering is this: Why did God create human beings to need to sleep? There’s really no reason he needed to. He could have just as easily created humans to be creatures alive, alert and productive 24 hours a day. Instead, he created us to be people who sleep about one third of our lives.
If I live to be 90 years old, I would have slept for about 30 years of my life. 30 years… of me being horizontal, eyes closed, unproductive. 30 years I could have spent doing, well, something more productive than lying in a bed! It seems almost wasteful. Foolish. Why did God create us to need so much sleep?
Why does sleep happen when the world turns dark? And why, after all, does the world need to turn dark for a large portion of its day? Why must we close our eyes and lie horizontal during sleep, as if mimicking death? Is sleep meant to be a daily reminder of our mortality? Is the vulnerable, subconscious state and the accompanying rising up again in the morning some sort of microcosmic circadian narrative clueing us in to the mysteries of death and resurrection? Is the daily energy cycle (sleep, renewal, work, tiredness, repeat) related to scores of other cycles of renewal in creation (seasons, photosynthesis, the renewing of cells in skin, etc), and what does all this reveal about the character and purposes of the Creator?
Maybe sleep is meant to be a sort of Sabbath reminder in every human body–something that forces us to stop, pause, rest, reflect, be. Like the 7th day of creation, like the Sabbath day of a Jewish week, we are to regularly rest, quit trying to be productive for a while, and just embrace waste.
God seems to find waste important. Or, at least God doesn’t seem to exist in a time-crunch. He’s not really in a rush. Which, if we consider the rather flimsy scale of time as compared with eternity, makes perfect sense.
On a similar note: Why did God create humanity to take so stinkin long to develop to full-functioning adulthood? What’s up with all those years of childhood before we actually start contributing something to the world? Most animals take just a few years, or months, or days to develop from birth to fully functioning adult. Not us. Waste?
But back to sleeping. What on earth is going on with TIME when we sleep? This is the insanely trippy part. Sometimes when I go to sleep I’ll wake up in what feels like a second, even if its been 8 hours. At other times I have such vivid, involved dreams that in some mysterious sense it feels as though I’ve lived an entire life during the few hours I’ve been asleep. Weird. Is sleep meant to be some sort of removal from time itself? In the oddly unstructured, atemporal reveries of sleep are we getting glimpses of our eternal destiny, the unbound-by-time self we were created to be?
And what about dreams? What is going on there? Of all the great mysteries of human existence, this is up there. Does God use dreams to speak to us? Do dreams help humans make sense of their waking lives? Sometimes my dreams do seem to make sense or at least compliment my waking thought life. Sometimes they terrify or confuse me. Should we even consider dreams “useful”? Or is it more proper to consider them cheerfully wasteful cerebral rabbit trails? (For more navel-gazing about dreams, see the wondrous philosophical ramblings of Waking Life.)
Another question: When God “caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21), was that a fluke thing or was Adam a pretty regular sleeper already? Was nightly sleeping a result of the fall or a part of the created order of things from the moment God called light “day” and darkness “night”? Will we sleep in heaven? I kind of hope so. I love naps.
Speaking of… I need to get to bed.
What a glorious mystery.