Friday 16 May 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Society has become ‘supremely arrogant’ in ignoring the importance of sleep, claim leading researchers, who warn that cutting sleep is leading to ‘serious health problems’.

We are getting between one and two hours less sleep a night than we were 60 years ago, according to Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University. As reported this week by the BBC, Foster and other experts note that the 24-hour society means increasing numbers of people are ‘living against’ their body clocks with damaging consequences for health and wellbeing.

We’re already familiar with the elongation of the day in the opening hours of pubs and supermarkets. Increasingly, though, modern technology is keeping us up later, it being more difficult to ‘switch off’. Even if we’re not lying awake waiting for someone to reply to our last text, evidence suggests that the light from smartphones, tablets and computers disrupts the body clock. For others, the pressure to ‘achieve’ requires more hours on the go, with lack of sleep becoming something of a virtue.

Yet, the rhythm of day and night, light and darkness, is part of God’s good design for creation and for human beings. A variety of words used in the Bible match our own experience of different stages of sleep, ranging from drowsy sleep through to deep sleep. Scripture knows about the sound sleep of the one who has worked hard, the damaging sleeplessness of the one who is overly anxious, the excessive sleep of the one who is lazy, the broken sleep of the one getting on in years.

In the light of this week’s report, though, perhaps Psalm 127:2 is most apposite: ‘In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.’ More than just about resting sufficiently so we can be more productive when awake, sleeping well is a daily reminder of the gifts of his hand and a gesture of resistance to the assumption that we need to be on the go 24-7. Sleep involves surrender and trust, a way of acknowledging God’s presence in our lives at all times, in all places, even during a big chunk of the night.

Although we might struggle with it for different reasons, sleep is a sign of our creatureliness and vulnerability, an expression of our dependence on God in this area of life as in everything else.

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