How much should a Christian sleep? Are there any special rules? To what extent should one be guided by the ancient patericons who assert the need for vigilance? If we want to sleep, how to understand, whether we indulge ourselves – or are tired.
How Should It Be?
I can say for sure: napping is not a sin. Sleep is the same natural human state as wakefulness. The physiology of sleep is cyclical, and if a person sleeps, he needs it. Sleep is not sinful at all. Let us recall the book of Genesis, which says that the Lord, creating Eve, made Adam sleep. God cannot do anything sinful. If we talk about the function of sleep in the physical world, then it is obvious: sleep gives rest to a living organism. Mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and even insects sleep.
Sleep hygiene assumes that a person’s healthy sleep lasts 8-10 hours a day. The World Health Organization claims that the ideal time to sleep is between 10:00 pm and 06:00 am. During this period, the human body is being most fully restored. But people do not always manage to comply with these conditions; in fact, very few people on the planet have the opportunity to sleep in this mode. There is even such a phenomenon as sleep deprivation – a lack or complete absence of sleep and all kinds of disorders associated with it.
Monastic Asceticism in the Life of Laymen
On the other hand, lack of sleep can be caused by a person’s life, become his conscious choice. It happens that a believer refuses to sleep voluntarily – in order to devote this time to prayer or other spiritual feats. If we talk about the Orthodox tradition, then it is important to understand: all the holy fathers who recommend restricting sleep speak primarily about the monastic life. It is not clear why a person burdened with a family, having a job that usually requires attention and responsibility, decides to focus on monastic asceticism. Imagine that a driver, a surgeon, or a turner begins to restrict his sleep. What will happen then? – the answer is obvious. As the apostle Paul says, any virtue must be accompanied by reasoning. Vigilance, that is, the reduction of sleep, is not the goal of a Christian’s life, but only one of the means of spiritual improvement – intended, I am stressing it once again, not for a layman.
Moreover, the holy fathers say that the new monk must sleep at least seven hours a day. And it does not say how long a person will stay in this status of the new in the faith – a year or two or decades, because each has its own measure, its own capabilities. In this connection, I recall the young man Dositheus, who was spiritual child of Saint Dorotheus of Gaza. According to the observation of the brethren, “they never saw Dositheus perfoming special ascetic work or eating food every other day, as some of those who lived there did, or that he was awake before the usual vigil, he even was not in time for it; they also did not see that he had some kind of special abstinence, but, on the contrary, they noticed that if there were some juice or fish heads or something like that left, then he ate it “- and still in five years Dositheus went from unbelieving person to saint.
The Benefits of Sleep and Siesta
Modern man must first of all determine what kind of life he lives. If he has a family and a job, he needs to get enough sleep. As for the nap, let’s remember the southern peoples, in whose life there is an obligatory siesta – the time when they rest during the day. From time immemorial, people have rest in the afternoon, because in those parts it is the hottest time. This tradition have been there for centuries, moreover, it is widespread among Christian peoples as well, and it does not interfere with their spiritual development.
St. John Climacus talks about sleep as well as about food and drink: they are bad when we allow ourselves excess in it. However, sleep is not something that is easy to overdo. It is difficult for a person to sleep more than necessary. Sleep is usually cyclical, and it is very difficult to change the usual measure of sleep. This is noticeable on weekends, when there is an opportunity to sleep a little longer, but it is not possible to bring it to life: a person wakes up at the usual time, having slept for the usual number of hours.
Saint John of Kronstadt wrote in his diaries about the benefits of sleep, Saint Theodoret of Cyrus called not only for work, but for treating “sleep as a consolation from work”. That is, even the saints speak of the need of getting enough rest in order to support their strengths. Everything should be in proportion to our strengths and way of life. If we reduce sleep time, we must understand why we are doing it, and try to adhere to an adequate pattern. If one feels the need to rest during the day, because in the evening he or she needs to deal with the house work, or something else, then why not to support the strengths? Who can judge such person?
It Is Better to Get Enough Sleep
People are all different, everyone has their own norm and their own sleep patterns. Nap for many is a very good alternative in case they cannot get enough sleep at night. If we pay attention to the life of the villagers, they always rest during the day, because they get up very early. By noon, the man who gets up at four in the morning have already worked for seven hours! With such regime, you cannot do without a day’s rest. I think that if you have the opportunity to nap, it is very good. After all, we do not take anything away from anyone, on the contrary: due to lack of sleep, a person becomes irritable, and this will certainly affect his life negatively – both at work and in the family. The one who gets enough sleep is active, wants to work, is inspired and cheerful.
Lack of Sleep Is a problem for Thousands of People
You need to know your body, your sleep needs. It is impossible to force yourself to sleep in a mode that is not typical for your body. The amount of sleep is influenced by the state of mind, health, age etc. Sleep is physiological; it cannot be a sin. Inabstinence – can, sleep – no. And inabstinence can manifest itself in everything. Probably, you need to separate sleep and lazy stay in bed. It’s one thing when a person is asleep, and another thing is when after awakening, he lies down for some time, drinks coffee in bed, falls asleep again, and this continues till midday. To make yourself to sleep is difficult. Sleep can be pleasant, but few people are able to turn it into a source of sinful pleasure, because in order to sleep a lot, you need to have a special state of mind. On the contrary, modern people, as a rule, sleep very little, and lack of sleep is a problem for thousands of people today.
Among my parishioners, the question of excessive sleep time did not cause concern to anyone, on the contrary, I have repeatedly heard complains about excessive sleepiness in the evenings. Usually, after considering the reasons, it turns out that the person is too busy during the day and generally rests a little. Such people, of course, have no need to limit sleep, but increase its duration. For example, teachers who burn out emotionally at work, after which they also have to do household chores, doctors, drivers, and others. A little rest would greatly help them to recover from work. In a word, most often modern people need not a limitation of their sleep, but almost a forced extension of it.
By the way, a nap can solve the problem of fatigue in the evening, when a Christian does not have the strength for evening prayers. Most people have responsibilities in the family and in society. Lack of sleep can lead to tragedies in all areas of life. A person should have a sense of responsibility before God and people. A monk can spend energy to pray at night, to be awake, this is due to the ancient monastic traditions. But a layman must be in a state of a clear mind, have strength and health.
Feats Can Be Different
All our spiritual exercises should lead to the flourishing of love in us. This is the main thing. If a person becomes irritated after a night’s vigil, what is the use of it? Maybe he should sleep then? Moreover a layman can get pride developed from such deeds. It is better for people who are spiritually immature not to try to repeat the deeds of holy ascetics.
It seems to me, the feat of a family man is different. Humility, obedience, service to other family members replace the night vigil. If a mother chooses the ascetic mode, and in the morning her children go to school unkempt, what is good here? If she herself comes out in the morning to her family unwashed and tired, is that good? Moreover, in the life of every mother there are periods of special night vigils – when she takes care of babies. And if there are several children? Also her husband needs attention, and she herself has her own deeds.
In the life of laymen there are enough spiritual deeds that the Lord sends them for humility. This humility calls upon us the grace of God. In our time, keeping a family together is the greatest feat. Look how many divorces there are now, how many even Orthodox people have second or even third marriage!
Is It True That You Can’t Sleep after Communion?
There are many misconceptions about sleeping after the Communion. What to say? If you want to sleep after the Communion then sleep. While sleeping, a person can keep himself from sin as much as possible. While we are awake, we can do a lot of wrong things. Preparation for the Communion usually involves some effort – you need to pray more, prepare, read the rule. What is wrong with rest and regaining strengths after that?
God Doesn’t Want Us to Torture Ourselves
In conclusion, I would like to say: the Lord loves us! More than a kind mother loves her child. Imagine: your child is falling asleep, and you hit him on the cheeks: “Don’t sleep! Don’t sleep!” – is this love? Of course not. But God loves us. He needs our heart, our love. A person should rest, eat and drink as much as necessary in order to live, serve his loved ones and people around him. It is better to focus on the sins of irritation, condemnation, anger, envy, flattery, hypocrisy – and fight them.