“I only ate one proper meal all of last week, every other meal of mine consisted entirely of Diddy Riese.”
“I never walk to class, I take an Uber up and down Bruinwalk everyday.”
“I can’t remember the last time I brushed my teeth, lol.”
“Cigarettes, you da real MVP.”
“I haven’t used a lota in days.”
“I hate using toilet paper, I prefer my underwear to do the “dirty” work. Heh.”
“Soap is for the weak.”
Do you know what’s common with these remarks? With the exception of Uber for Bruinwalk (which frankly sounds like the future), comments such as these are incredibly ludicrous and foreign to the point where most of us can [hopefully] never imagine saying them out loud to someone, let alone carrying through with them. Saying any of the above are likely to be received with the same reaction as a customer asking a McDonald’s employee for extra sauce. Thus, it is only natural that proclaiming one’s affinity towards unhealthy habits such as these is not commonplace within our culture, not only due to being out of the ordinary but in realizing that one lacks the very basic necessities for healthy behavior. Why then, has it become commonplace for students to not only boast, but to compete with each other on lack of sleep? Why has the public perception of the amount and quality of studying come to subtly correlate with how little sleep one has achieved? We should aim to change this social perception of sleep to one that is beneficial, and not detrimental to our health and well being. Drawing upon research and publications within the Journal of Nature and Science of Sleep and Annals of Thoracic Medicine, the intention of this article is to reconcile the mismatched popular sleeping habits, particularly of students, with the insights of sleep from a scientific Islamic perspective.
Types of Sleep in the Quran
The Quran frequently mentions sleep. There is a general Arabic word for “sleep” (Noum) and other Arabic words for specific types of sleep. The word “sleep” and its derivatives appear nine times in the Quran. In addition, different Arabic words are used to describe sleep in the Quran, and these may correspond to the different sleep stages identified by modern sleep science:
1) “Sinah”: This word has been defined as “slumber” or “dozing off for a very short period”, during which there is prompt arousal following environmental stimulation. This may correspond to Stage 1 sleep identified by modern sleep scientists. A verse in the Quran uses the word “Sinah” when describing Allāh “No slumber (Sinah) can seize Him nor sleep” [verse 2.255]. In the Quran, sleep implies a manifestation of weakness and bodily need for rest. Therefore, while the Creator (Allāh) does not sleep or doze off, His creations, including mankind, need sleep every day.
2) “Nu’ass”: Two verses in the Quran use the word “Nu’ass”. One verse says “Remember when He covered you with a slumber (Nu’ass) as a security from him” [verse 8.11]. This describes the fear and stress of the believers during the battle of Badr, when slumber (Nu’ass) provided them with a feeling of security and relief from stress. Nu’ass in this verse implies a short nap, which may correspond to stage 1 and stage 2 sleep identified by modern sleep scientists. It was recently suggested that a short nap can reduce stress and blood pressure (BP), with the main changes in BP occurring between the time of lights off and the onset of stage
1.A second verse of the Quran says “Then after the distress, He sent down security upon you. Slumber (Nu’ass) overtook a party of you, while, another party was thinking about themselves (as how to save their own selves)” [verse 3.154].
3) “Ruqood”: This word has been given several interpretations. The most appropriate definition is “sleep for a long period”, as Allāh has described the People of the Cave with this term in the Quran “And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep (Ruqood)” [verse 18. 18]. The Quran states that the People of the Cave stayed in their caves for 300 solar years, adding nine (for lunar years) [verse 18. 25].
4) “Hojoo”: This term describes pious believers who fear Allāh, “They used to sleep but little by night (Hojoo). And in the hours before dawn, they were (found) asking (Allāh) for forgiveness” [verse 51. 17-18]. This word indicates “sleep at night”.
5) “Subaat”: The word “Subaat” is derived from the Arabic word “Sabt”, which means disconnecting. “Subaat” may indicate a disconnection from the surrounding environment during sleep. A verse in the Quran says, “And we made your sleep (Subaat) as a thing for rest” [verse 78.9]. Therefore, “Subaat” may be considered to be “deep sleep”, corresponding to the slow wave sleep identified by modern sleep scientists.
Based on the above, the arrangement of sleep stages/states is Sinah and Nu’ass, followed by Hojoo, Ruqood, and then Subaat.
Importance of Sleep
Most sleep scientists believe that sleep deprivation has deleterious effects on mental concentration, memory, mood, and quality of life. In addition, recent data indicate that sleep deprivation impairs endocrine and metabolic functions. Islam also emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep. One Hadith by the Prophet (pbuh) in Sahih Al-Bukhari (SB) says, “If anyone of you feels drowsy while praying he should go to bed (sleep) till his slumber is over” (SB 210). The Prophet (pbuh) told one of his companions (Ibn Amr) who was praying the whole night “Offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you” (SB 1874). Once the Prophet (pbuh) entered the Mosque and saw a rope hanging in between its two pillars. He said, “What is this rope?” The people said, “This rope is for Zainab, who, when she feels tired, holds it (to keep standing for the prayer.)” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Don’t use it. Remove the rope. You should pray as long as you feel active, and when you get tired, sleep” (SB 1099). Another Hadith narrated by Aisha (wife of the Prophet [pbuh]) in Musnad Ahmed (MA) tells of a woman from the tribe of Bani Asad, who was sitting with Aisha when Allāh’s Apostle (pbuh) came to my house and said, “Who is this?” Aisha replied, “She is so and so”. She does not sleep at night because she is engaged in prayer. The Prophet said disapprovingly, “Do (good) deeds which are within your capacity as Allāh never gets tired of giving rewards till you get tired of doing good deeds” [MA 25244].
Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Whenever you go to bed, perform ablution like that for the prayer, and lie on your right side” [SM 2710). In description of the sleep of the Prophet (pbuh), a Hadith states, “When the Prophet (pbuh) wants to go to sleep, he puts his right hand under his cheek” [SM 2713]. “Modern scientific studies have suggested a beneficial effect of right lateral decubitus position on the heart. In particular, one study assessed the autonomic effect of three sleep positions (supine/on back, left lateral decubitus/left side, and right lateral decubitus/right side) in healthy subjects using spectral heart rate variability analysis. The results indicated that cardiac vagal activity (important functioning of the autonomic nervous system) was greatest when subjects were in the right lateral decubitus position. In addition, an animal study indicated that vagal stimulation has an antiarrhythmic effect, which helps to treat abnormal heart rhythms. Several studies have demonstrated that the recumbent (lying down) position affects autonomic nervous system activity in patients with congestive heart failure, and that there is attenuation of the sympathetic tone when subjects are in the right lateral decubitus position.[16–18] Muslims tend to dislike sleeping in the prone position, and this is discouraged in the Islamic literature, even for infants. The Prophet (pbuh) told a man who was lying on his stomach, “Allāh and his Prophet dislike this position” [Sunan Al-Tirmdhi 2768]. Modern medical studies have concluded that infants who sleep in the prone position have a seven-fold increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This has led to “back to sleep” campaigns in Britain (1991) and in the United States (1994).” (BaHammam 4). In Sūra Al-Kahf (the cave), the Quran describes the People or Companions of the Cave (as’hab al-Kahf), known in Christian literature as “the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus”. The verses [18.9-26] describe young believers who found refuge from prosecution in a cave. When the boys asked Allāh for mercy, He put them into a sleep state that lasted for 300 solar years, adding nine (for lunar years). The verses describe the regular turning of the boys from side to side during their long sleep, “We turned them on their right and on their left sides” [verse 18.18]. Modern science has documented that staying on one side for long periods can cause bed sores. In addition, prolonged immobility increases the risk of numerous conditions, including thrombosis. Therefore, in modern medical practice, patients who are bed-ridden are turned regularly.
It is narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Put out lamps when you go to bed, shut the doors, and cover water and food containers” [SB 5301]. This may correspond with current scientific understanding; that it is important to maintain a dark environment during sleep in order to not disrupt the circadian rhythm.
My favorite activity. Napping is a cross-cultural practice, and modern sleep scientists believe that napping provides benefits for all ages. A short mid-day nap (called Qailulah in Islamic culture) is a deeply embedded practice in the Muslim culture, and it takes a religious dimension (Sunnah) for some Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Take a short nap, for Devils do not take naps” [Sahih Aljamie. Alalbani 1647]. Another Hadith by Muhammad (pbuh) provided details about the timing of the nap, “Sleeping early in the day betrays ignorance, in the middle of the day is right, and at the end of the day is stupid.” (Fath Al-Bari, p.73). A third Hadith reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari (SB) says, “We used to offer the Jumua (Friday) prayer with the Prophet and then take the afternoon nap” [SB 5923]. Friday is the weekend for Muslims, so napping on Friday may compensate for sleep debt that has accumulated during weekdays. “Previous research has shown that short daytime naps improve vigilance and cognitive functions, and are beneficial for memory consolidation. In particular, a nap as short as 10 min can improve alertness and performance for 2.5-4 hours. A recent study assessed the health effects of napping in 23,681 healthy Greek adults for an average of about six years. After controlling for potential confounders, the researchers concluded that those who napped at least three times weekly for about half an hour had 37% lower coronary mortality than those who did not nap.” (5).
Salman al-Farsi quoted the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as saying: “Observe the night prayer, it was the practice of the righteous before you and it brings you closer to your Lord and it is penance for evil deeds and erases the sins and repels disease from the body.”
Like animals and insects, humans originally slept in increments, with a few hours interrupting the “first sleep” and “second sleep,” wrote A. Roger Ekirch, historian and author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. That time was filled with praying, thinking, writing, sex, and discussion—activities our ancestors were too tired to do right before their initial sleep, but in “night-waking” would feel recharged and inspired, eventually drifting back into a second sleep after having a moment of peaceful stimulation. Ekirch wrote that it’s likely people were deep in dreams right before waking up from the first sleep, “thereby affording fresh visions to absorb before returning to unconsciousness … their concentration complete.” Thomas Jefferson, for example, would read books on moral philosophy before bed so that he could “ruminate” on the subject between sleeps. Those hours contain a sense of tranquility and natural rhythm that dispel distractions and inspire an optimal state of mind. “In the dead of night, drowsy brains can conjure up new ideas from the debris of dreams and apply them to our creative pursuits,” wrote Aeon magazine. Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health found that at night, the brain experiences hormonal changes that enhance creativity, altering the state of mind. The hormone, prolactin, contributes to the hallucinations we have in our sleep but continues to produce during the “quiet wakefulness” between sleeps.
Islam and other ancient religions also provide significant information about the historical and cultural views of sleep, and these precede modern scientific studies by hundreds or thousands of years. The Quran describes different types of sleep (and these correspond with different sleep stages identified by modern sleep scientists), stresses the importance of sleep for good health, condones naps (Qailulah) a well-established cultural practice in the Islamic culture, (as the nap has religious aspects) along with the beneficial effects of short naps. Try experimenting with different sleep types, including biphasic and polyphasic, to determine what works best for you and to supplement these bouts of late night creative output with an afternoon nap. Current sleep scientists recommend many of these same practices. In summation, let’s end this culture of sleep shaming and promote a healthier sleep cycle free of deprivation and the absence of naps. And if you still cannot comprehend how taking naps are sunnah?
Sleep on it.
BaHammam, Ahmed S. et al. “Sleep Architecture of Consolidated and Split Sleep due to the Dawn (Fajr) Prayer among Muslims and Its Impact on Daytime Sleepiness.” Annals of Thoracic Medicine 7.1 (2012): 36–41. PMC. Web. 2 June 2015.
BaHammam, Ahmed S. “Sleep from an Islamic Perspective.” Annals of Thoracic Medicine 6.4 (2011): 187–192. PMC. Web. 2 June 2015.
BaHammam, Ahmed S, and David Gozal. “Qur’anic Insights into Sleep.” Nature and Science of Sleep 4 (2012): 81–87. PMC. Web. 2 June 2015.