When I was growing up, my parents regularly asked, “Did you sleep well?” They simply meant, “Do you feel rested?” Nowadays, it’s more complicated. For many people, their response would depend on “sleep duration,” “sleep quality,” “sleep phases,” “environmental factors,” and “lifestyle factors.” And the inquirer tends to be a smart device!
That key measurement, “Do I feel rested?” can get lost in the flood of information, as a colleague’s friend found out. She often woke up feeling great, until her sleep tracker app brought her down by informing her that she hadn’t slept well. Finally, she realized she didn’t need this second opinion. She ditched the tracker and has felt better ever since.
Wanting to sleep well is a legitimate desire that predates our digital era, going back to biblical times and the promise that our “sleep shall be sweet” (Proverbs 3:24). But as this issue’s lead article suggests, having a restful night is less about understanding sleep and more about grasping that, as God’s unique expression, we have a spiritual nature that “restfully coexists” at all times with God (Lyle Young, “Sleeping well”). So, being rested is a natural outcome of living according to this spiritual nature.
That doesn’t deny the value of “a good night’s sleep,” but rather points to a higher means of gaining the rest we seek—a means that is always at hand. You could call it an active rest. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, describes it this way: “The highest and sweetest rest, even from a human standpoint, is in holy work” (pp. 519–520).
I’ve found that this restful work ranges from silent, healing prayer to whatever roles we feel led to take on by listening for and acting on direction from the law of Love, divine Principle—God. Feeling rested in these activities changes the way we think about sleep. It diminishes the sense of being beholden to material rules believed to define our rest—from the sleep tracker’s criteria to issues with mattresses, bedding, or bed measurements. Instead, we increasingly realize that there are spiritual rules that overrule the penalties commonly believed to be associated with failing to follow sleep health laws.
Here’s one of those spiritual rules: “Whatever it is your duty to do, you can do without harm to yourself” (Science and Health, p. 385). Jesus proved this in ways that were sometimes remarkable and sometimes simple, including in regard to sleep. Following a night awake in the holy work of communing with God, he was energized, not weary. He appointed his chosen apostles, healed “a great multitude of people,” and delivered a sermon of spiritual guidance that has stood the test of time (see Luke 6:12–49).
When called to do so, we too can perform duties that limit our sleep “without harm” to ourselves—whether completing a deadlined project, nursing a newborn or someone who’s sick, or responding to an urgent request for healing prayer. This isn’t about powering through on the promised adrenalin of human will, but about letting that communing with God open our thoughts to a profound peace that’s always inherent in us as God’s offspring.
This involves accepting that we reflect the ever-active yet ever-restful divine Mind, God, and refuting anything else that claims to govern us—including material health theories. To the extent that we become conscious of this freedom from material expectations, we find that it unveils an inherent strength and energy that are independent of repose or recuperation. This not only energizes us if we get less sleep than usual, but also lessens the attention we give to sleep generally. It can even lessen what we feel is the “usual” amount of sleep that we need (see Science and Health, p. 128).
If sleepless nights are our problem, there’s a grace note that can be experienced in the midst of this challenge. An article written by Mrs. Eddy and republished in her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 notes, “Insomnia compels mortals to learn that neither oblivion nor dreams can recuperate the life of man, whose Life is God, for God neither slumbers nor sleeps” (p. 209).
So it’s possible to have a good night even without sleep if our take-away is understanding and proving that we’re spiritual expressions of the divine Life that “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”
That’s not to say we need to learn this lesson every night for the rest of our lives! Several accounts of healing in the chapter “Fruitage” in Science and Health attest to restoration of normal sleeping, as do testimonies in this magazine’s archives.
But it does mean our right to feel rested isn’t conditional on material data, however gathered. Paying less attention to how we have slept, and more attention to what we are as God’s child, we increasingly find rest in the action of prayerfully understanding and lovingly expressing this spiritual identity.
Tony Lobl, Associate Editor