Embodying our Circadian Rhythm
Rest, naps and non-doing are not valued as useful in our society and sleep is only valued because without it we would die but even the way that we approach sleep is not natural, our circadian rhythm is not respected. We disturb our sleep with alarms, unnatural pre-bed habits and unrealistic expectations of sleep and resting or napping are seen as unproductive and unnecessary activities.
Before sleep was tamed many of us followed a biphasic sleep pattern. We would go to sleep at nightfall for a few hours, wake around midnight and then sleep for a few more hours until dawn. Biphasic sleep was common before the industrial revolution and electrical lighting and the bit in the middle was often used for reading, eating, study, sex and even knitting parties with neighbours. As wild humans we would have needed to wake after each sleep cycle (roughly 90 minutes) to ensure that we were not in danger, this way of sleeping is incredibly natural but can be misdiagnosed or misunderstood as insomnia.
To expect that we will get all of our sleep requirements from an 8 hour stint is a fairly modern expectation and can leave us feeling exhausted and unrested. A more natural way of sleeping would be to go to bed earlier, welcome any periods of middle of the night waking as natural and then return to sleep for our second sleep. It is incredibly normal to stir or wake fully after each 90 minute sleep cycle and it is incredibly normal to have a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night, to welcome these cycles is to have a better relationship to sleep.
'Sleep is rhythmic, it doesn't dance to the same drum beat as the rhythmic pace often run by culture.' ~ Jennifer Piercy
Naps and Rest
As wild humans we, like other animals, would have woken many times in the night and taken naps and rests during the day. Contrary to popular belief napping during the day will not detract from your night time hours, in fact napping is like a warm up for sleep. Each time you nap you practice falling to sleep which is the best kind of natural antidote to insomnia and sleeplessness. Each time you nap you prepare the body for sleep and arrive at bedtime in a better headspace for rest. Over exhausting the body can over take the nervous system into overdrive which is one of the reasons it can feel difficult to sleep at night.
Similarly not taking time out in the day for non-doing can mean that we don't allow sufficient time for mental and emotional processing, which can lead to a bulk processing when we come to go to sleep. Non-doing might be meditation or it might be simply gazing out of the window but whatever it is, it is as essential as sleep.
'The mind can become steady when it has the knowledge attained from dreams and sleep.' ~ Yoga Sutra 1.38
When we look up at the night sky we see but a fraction of what there is to see. In each galaxy it is estimated that there are around 100 billion stars, there are currently 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe, equating to 1 billion trillion stars. The unknown far exceeds the known and the mysteries of the natural world mirror the mysteries of the human experience. 96% of the cosmos is unseen, 95% of the ocean is unexplored and just 5% of the human mind is used in waking consciousness. In our waking centric world we have explored just 5% of what is possible.
Sleep is not total unconsciousness, it is part of consciousness, just like dreaming, waking and the state of yoga nidra. When we enter into these altered states of consciousness we access healing that is exclusively activated during sleep. We see through new eyes as we open up to the mystery and majesty of the subconscious and the superconscious.
'Learn to revere sleep for the lush wilderness that it is.' ~ Jennifer Piercy