by Anam Siddiqui
The silence is continuously fractured by the rhythmic tick-tock of the clock. You gulp down your coffee as you engage in a staring contest with the unnatural glare of your laptop screen. The battle was lost hours ago, but you valiantly fight on. Your eyelids ache to be reunited, but you force them to remain apart as you struggle to determine whether the last sentence you wrote was comprehensible. Then, as the fiery rays of dawn illuminate the sky, you print out your paper, indulging in your latest Pyrrhic victory. For a fraction of a second, you feel invincible, convinced that you have successfully evaded the consequences of your worst nemesis: procrastination. Little did you know that you inadvertently sacrificed one of your most honorable comrades—sleep—through friendly fire.
Your body has been entrusted to you. It does not belong to you, and therefore, you are accountable for how you treat it. It is the vessel of your soul, thus deserving of your utmost respect. It is a gift, multiplied infinitely for those of us who are fortunate enough to possess eyes that can perceive depth, ears that can discern soundwaves, and a tongue that can distinguish palates. Although these senses benefit us immensely in our quest for survival, it is possible to live without them. Interestingly, there is a particular blessing that is underrated, even though it is crucial to our existence. The following verse highlights the importance of this blessing:
“And among His signs is your sleep by night and by day and your seeking of His bounty...verily in that are Signs for those who hearken.” (Qu’ran, 30:23)
It is imperative that we recognize that the existence of the state of sleep: “by night and by day,” is a divine sign. This distinction implies that naps are equally important. Research studies have highlighted the unique benefits of naps. Naps have been been proven to enhance memory and assist with learning. Therefore, napping is just one aspect of sleeping well that is associated with ihsan, the Arabic term for excellence.
Similar to the way the steady approach of nightfall paints the sky indigo, our energy levels gradually decline throughout the day. This shows us that practically every entity has a counterpart. The sour taste of sadness allows us to appreciate the sweetness of joy; the constant movement of the tide gives meaning to the stability of land. Yet, somehow, it has become commonplace to deny the importance of the antithesis of the conscious experience, which is sleep. When you deny yourself sleep, you destroy the balance initiated by your circadian rhythm, jeopardizing your health. Multiple research studies have shown that sleep loss literally makes us sick. Sleep deprivation is associated with antibody decline, thus making us prone to illness, such as cancer. Significant sleep deprivation can make us pre-diabetic. In fact, in American society, the steady decline of sleep time is associated with increased rates of obesity. All of these examples are legitimate health concerns that hinder us from functioning at our best. Thus, this is further proof that adequate sleep is a way of developing ihsan in our lifestyle. Our health is a fleeting blessing; we honor that blessing by attempting to sleep well.
The stigma that is now associated with sleep is a societal plague. Somewhere along the development of modern society, sleep has become infamous as an indulgence of laziness. Notably, there is always an undeniable tinge of pride that colors the phrase “I pulled an all-nighter,” or “I’m too busy to sleep.” Whenever an individual hints towards sleeping well on a weeknight, they tend to receive looks of disbelief bordering on derision. It is extraordinarily difficult to convince people that you can sleep and live well; they are not mutually exclusive. The commercialization of coffee has duped us into believing that inordinate amounts of caffeine can ease the burden of skyrocketing sleep debt. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, literally fooling your brain into revving itself up instead of slowing down for the day. Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t function like a credit card. Therefore, partial sleep deprivation over an extended period of time can be just as damaging as a single all-nighter. The modern concept of forsaking sleep throughout the workweek and then indulging in it during the weekend is fallacious and dangerous. In this case, ihsan comprises of giving your mind and body the right to sleep adequately every night, rather than discriminating against weeknights and favoring weekends.
It is obvious that sleep serves a variety of purposes that consciousness cannot fulfill in itself. Advancements in sleep research have uncovered that each stage has its own specific purpose. NREM sleep aids in the consolidation of fact-based memory, also known as semantic memory. In contrast, REM sleep, which is the stage in which the majority of our dreams occur, assists with episodic memory consolidation.
Along with stabilizing individual memories, sleep improves our memory by allowing insight to occur. This is crucial in building associations between memories. Therefore, sleep undoubtedly has a profound effect on your ability to remember the story of your life. Your reality is necessarily subjective, in the sense that your narrative is completely dependent upon what recollections you are able to synthesize. Refusing sleep is like cutting away fragments of memories that tie together the various dimensions of your life. You have the ability to choose between construction and destruction. When you sleep, your fragile memories embark on a treacherous journey, vying for consolidation. Ignoring the urge to sleep causes your exhaustion to burn away at those fragile bridges, reducing those nascent memories to ash. No metaphor is sufficient to describe the catastrophe of sleep deprivation.
Adequate sleep is a key factor that helps us become functioning members of society. We cannot truly care for others unless we know what it takes to care for ourselves. Frankly, substantial sleep loss makes us a danger towards society. Countless tragic accidents, such as the Chernobyl explosion and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, were completely avoidable; a sleep-deprived person in the wrong place in the wrong time is unfortunately capable of committing immense damage. Also, drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Since the consumption of alcohol is undeniably forbidden in our deen, it behooves us to avoid any state similar to intoxication. Since a facet of ihsan involves treating others well, it is our duty to recognize that sufficient sleep allows us to put our best foot forward, which is particularly helpful when driving.
Therefore, the next time you toy with the idea of staying up until Fajr to finish up a problem set, ask yourself if you truly want the burden of sleep deprivation upon your conscience. Validate the importance of unconsciousness, because purposeful unconsciousness, sleep, is one of the most underrated factors in developing ihsan.