Several days ago I tweeted this:
We would probably be better off if we approached sleep as a productive action, not just a break from “real” work.
I haven’t stopped thinking about it, because I’ve been attempting to wake up just fifteen minutes earlier to read and pray, and the difficult part is that I should also be going to bed earlier. And that’s hard, because it feels indulgent.
I’m not sure when and how we’re taught to confuse sleep and rest with laziness, but here’s a (misunderstood) clue from the end of Proverbs 24:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.
Well, okay then.
Of course, if you read the whole passage, that verse comes after the author “went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense”. So it’s an indictment of laziness, not rest itself. Keep in mind that this is the same culture that had the Sabbath, where you were expressly forbidden to work. It’s as if the Old Testament God didn’t trust Israel to rest so he made it illegal to work for that one day.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
I once asked my wife why she didn’t nap when our kids took their afternoon nap. “Because that’s my only time to get things done”, she replied. And this is true, except that we don’t sleep much in the evenings, either. Parents make kids take naps because we know that they don’t function well without them, yet somehow we convince ourselves that those same physical/cognitive/emotional limits don’t apply to us. We’re adults. We’ll power through.
My friend Roberto called for more “idleness” as an addendum to my tweet—which I took to mean giving the brain enough time and space to unspool creatively. Shortly afterwards I read “Interrupt the Program” by Kio Stark, which closes with this exercise:
Sit by yourself somewhere in public for 7 minutes without looking at your phone. It has to be somewhere without a TV. Neither of these are bad, I like them too. Do it anyway. This may make you uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Unless you choose to sleep, you will find that you are forced to look at something. What is it? Are you reading signs or looking at things in store windows? Are you looking at other people? Are you looking at trees? Water? Sand? Cement? If you start talking to yourself in your head, you are doing this right. I should have said at the beginning, take a pen in case you want to write something down. You can write on your hand, it’ll wash off. You have been awake.
I love that last line: “You have been awake”. It makes me look at my autopilot, head-down, get-things-done mode as somehow not fully awake, a fugue state where importance and urgency are confused. Busy work, then. Much visible effort to little purpose.
Bluecadet is moving to a new office this fall, and there’s been lots of half-jokes about the need for a nap room. We laugh, because we know it would never happen. But what if it did? I’d wager we’d see more productive people. The danger that I see is if people use the nap as a way to shortchange themselves even further from their evening sleep.
Perhaps our true weakness lies not in our inability to push ourselves past limits, but in our refusal to take care of our very selves.