Many people complain about their sleep patterns during Ramadan; from those who complain about sleeping too much during the day and not being able to sleep at night, to those who complain of little sleep due to their busy schedules and the extra demands of Ramadan with taraweeh, suhoor, etc.
We want to tackle this issue with practical advice in these 2 posts. But first, a bit of theory:
Sleep can be understood from both a physical perspective and a spiritual perspective, our aim is to be able to understand how the two perspectives are inter-linked.
Physical Perspective of Sleep:
The physical perspective of sleep is perhaps the easiest to understand as it is the easiest to observe. Numerous studies have been done to understand how we sleep and what’s our optimal sleep cycle. Here’s a a quote that’s relevant to us:
”During the night, your sleep follows a predictable pattern, moving back and forth between deep restorative sleep (deep sleep) and more alert stages and dreaming (REM sleep). Together, the stages of REM and non-REM sleep form a complete sleep cycle that repeats until you wake up. The amount of time you spend in each stage of sleep changes as the night progresses.
For example, most deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night. Later in the night, yourREM sleep stages become longer, alternating with light Stage 2 sleep. This is why if you are sensitive to waking up in the middle of the night, it is probably in the early morning hours, not immediately after going to bed.”
Now here’s an important bit for us for Ramadan:
“Even if you’ve enjoyed a full night’s sleep, getting out of bed isn’t easy if your alarm goes off when you’re in the middle of the deeper stages of sleep (especially stages 3 and 4). If you want to make mornings less painful, set a wake-up time that’s a multiple of 90 minutes, the length of the average sleep cycle. For example, if you go to bed at 10 p.m., set your alarm for 5:30 (a total of 7 ½ hours of sleep) instead of 6:00 or 6:30. You’ll feel more refreshed at 5:30 than you will with another 30 to 60 minutes of sleep, because you’re getting up when your body and brain are already close to wakefulness.” (Source:http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm)
Spiritual Perspective of Sleep
The spiritual understanding of sleep is often neglected, even though it is essential to understand in order to improve the quality of our “physical” sleep.
The first understanding of the spiritual side of sleep is that sleep is a sign or ayat of the Power and Might of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala): Allah says in the Greatest verse of the Quran, Ayat Al-Kursi:
“Allah. There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).”
I want us to concentrate on this part: “No slumber can seize Him nor sleep”. If I ask one of you: how many hours can you go without sleep? The maximum answer I’ll probably hear is 24 hours or maybe 36 or 48 but eventually we all know that you’ll submit to sleep. Sleep has been described as the “gentle tyrant” because it forces us to give up everything we do and submit to its will. Now think about that in the context of the Supremacy and Power of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) Whom no slumber can seize Him nor sleep and you realise how weak we are and how we’re in need of Him.
There’s a beautiful story – not sure how authentic it is – about Musa (Peace be upon him) asking Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) how come He (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) never sleeps. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) asked Musa (peace and blessings be upon him) to hold 2 buckets of water and just stand. Soon Musa began to feel sleepy and slowly slowly he wasn’t able to hold the 2 buckets until they slipped from his hand and all that it contained was spilt. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) then told Musa that the same would happen to the World, if He (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) was affected by slumber or sleep, SubhanaAllah.
The second understanding that we need to have of sleep is that sleep is a blessing from Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) and a favour upon us from Him, Allah says in the Quran:
”And it is He Who makes the night a covering for you, and the sleep (as) a repose, and makes the day Nushur (i.e. getting up and going about here and there for daily work, after one’s sleep at night).” (Al-Furqan, Chapter #25, Verse #47)
“And among His Signs is your sleep by night and by day, and your seeking of His Bounty. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who listen.” (Ar-Room, Chapter #30, Verse #23)
And just like all his favours upon us, it needs to be thanked. How do we thank Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) for sleep? By using it to energize ourselves to worship Him better, and not using it as an excuse to miss many of His commands (like missing Fajr!).
The third spiritual understanding of sleep, is that it is the sister of death, and reminder for us about the day of resurrection. Just like we sleep each night and wake up each morning, so too shall we die one day and be resurrected on the day of Judgement. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) says in the Quran: ”It is Allah Who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for a people who think deeply.” (Az-Zumar, Chapter #39, Verse #42)
Understanding that sleep is a sign of Allah, a blessing from Allah, and a reminder of our ultimate destination gives an entire new dimension to sleep. We stop seeing sleep as simply having to fulfil X amount of hours each night or week, but something bigger.
Moreover, now we can understand how righteous men and scholars would sleep little at night yet have more energy during the day than me and you! The answer is that Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) puts barakah and blessing in their sleep so they benefit more from their little hours of sleep and hence have more energy during the day. They gained this status because they’ve given up their sleep for Him, and Allah is rewarding them. Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) describes them in the Quran: ”They used to sleep but little by night [invoking their Lord (Allah) and praying, with fear and hope]. [Adh-Dhariyat, Chapter #51, Verse #17]
Equipped with the above understanding, we can now go about addressing the practical aspects of managing sleep during Ramadan