Eight hours or four hours? Naps or not? What do we believe about sleep and how much we need? We all have personal experiences and opinions about it. And, millions of people suffer from sleep deprivation, leading many to seek medical prescriptions to help them sleep better.
Yet: “There is no correct amount of sleep,” finds Prof. Kevin Morgan of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit in Loughborough, England. Another researcher at the same center, Professor James Horne, suggests that our mood is the key factor in how well we sleep.
For example, many successful people have had sleep cycles vastly different from today’s suggested “healthy” norm. It is recorded that Winston Churchill had a highly irregular sleep schedule, often working all night, but he always napped every day for two hours. Another British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was said to have slept only four hours each night with no daytime naps. The pop singer Madonna sleeps only four hours a night also. Leonardo Da Vinci took a 20 minute nap every four hours. Many highly successful and healthy individuals sleep less than the recommended average.
Perhaps the question of sleep time has more to do with what we believe about the amount we need. This could affect how we sleep and how we feel the next day. The suggestion that we won’t be able to sleep and must bear the consequences is a good place to start on a new approach to how we think about sleep.
Many people have found that a spiritual approach is effective in dealing with fears about sleep because it is the fear of the consequences of less sleep that affects our mood. Fear can make us sick and it can definitely keep us awake.
A colleague one night found herself alone with a new baby and a two year old, neither of whom wanted to sleep. Their dad was away and she had no backup help. The minute she would get the baby sleeping, the toddler was up. About 2 a.m. she found herself wiped out, sitting on the bed with tears streaming down her face, thinking, “I just can’t do this,” and fearful of being exhausted the next day. As she prayed, she was reminded of her deep love for both children, and that reminded her of God’s love for all of them. She let that love sink in. Soon, all three of them were sleeping soundly, and she awoke the next day still feeling loved. Amid that powerful Love, there was no room for exhaustion.
The 19th century Quaker poet and influential thinker, John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote a hymn that echoes the reassurance that we too can feel. One verse reads as a prayer…
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of Thy peace.
Feeling the peace of Love’s presence can lessen our fears and worries, heal and reassure us – whether we take three or eight hours of sleep, take naps or not. Cultivating an approach in life that focuses on the stable and rooted reassurance of the divine, rather than on our fears, can do more for our health than all the changing theories focused on manipulating our sleep patterns.