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Philosophy of Sleep

by Swami Sivananda

alutations to Satchidananda Brahman who is the silent witness of the three states, viz., waking, dream and deep sleep.

Sleep is the best elixir and tonic of life. Sleep is nature's tonic to refresh the tired man. Sleep is a state in which the mind rests peacefully in the Karana Sarira or Mula Ajnana. The mind gets involved into its cause. The Vrittis and Vasanas become dormant, or latent. It ceases all its functions. The wandering mind gets rest. It is nature's way of charging the mind with fresh energy and peace by allowing it to rest in its source when it gets tired by roaming in the avenues of objects through the currents of likes and dislikes. There is Manolaya or temporary absorption of the mind in its cause during sleep.

Just as a kite which flies up in the sky at the dawn of the day and roams about here and there in the high regions in search of food throughout the day, takes complete rest in its own nest on the tree at night, so also the Jiva or the individual soul after having wandered in the dense forest of sense-objects all day long, gets into its abode called the Karana Sarira and enjoys the bliss of Sushupti or deep sleep.

In sleep there is deep Tamas. Tamas overpowers Sattva and Rajas. Udana Vayu draws the Jiva from the waking state and makes it rest in the Anandamaya Kosha or causal body.

One feels quite happy and refreshed after a good and sound sleep. Sleep is a Tamasic state because there is neither activity nor awareness. The sleeping man is unconscious of the world outside. He is not aware of his own physical body. He has no consciousness even of his being asleep.

But sleep is not Tamasic state of a stone or a log of wood. The mind and body undergo change during sleep. The body, mind and the nerves are vitalised and rendered fit for new activities. Man feels extreme joy and happiness and freedom from all pains in sleep. Therefore sleep is essential to keep the body and mind healthy.

Without good sleep, one cannot enjoy perfect health. Sleep refreshes and tones the brain and nerves. Sleep is a balm that soothes the tired nerves. It energises and vivifies the body, the nerves, the brain and the mind.

The mind and body require relaxation after the lapse of a particular time or after every series of actions done by the physical and mental bodies.

A sick man does not sleep sometimes due to the ailment in the body. But if he gets sleep he is much relieved. He forgets his pains. All his sufferings vanish during sleep. Lack of sleep intensifies the disease. He feels as if his disease is aggravated due to sleeplessness. Further sleeplessness itself is a disease. Therefore sleep is indispensable to man.

As soon as the required rest is given to the mind, it is drawn to the sense-objects by the force of Samskaras of the waking state. It is desire or the force of Rajas that brings a man back from sleep to waking consciousness. Just as the spring that is compressed by the force of the hand, resumes its original length and shape when the pressure is withdrawn, so also the suppressed thoughts are released after a good sleep and man resumes his waking consciousness.

The sleeping man comes to the dream state, then to the semiconscious state of neither waking nor dreaming before he actually comes to the plane of waking consciousness. Man gets Tandra and Alasya for a long time at night. Dreams also cause disturbance to sound sleep. That is the reason why a man is not able to enjoy good, refreshing sleep to his entire satisfaction. The time of deep sleep is very little. One hour of sound sleep can refresh a man better than six hours of sleep interrupted by dreams, Tandra and Alasya.

Food plays an important part in the length of time of sleep. A glutton feels drowsy and does not like to leave the bed even after8 a. m. He is overpowered by Alasya (laziness). A man of moderate eating gets up from bed early. He is satisfied with less but sound sleep.

Animals also sleep. The period of sleep varies in different animals. Dogs sleep for a very short time. They experience interrupted sleep. Fish do not sleep at all.

Mental peace, absence of worry, fear, anxiety, and responsibilities in life, and freedom from disease contribute to sound and dreamless sleep. He who knows the science of relaxation, gets sound sleep the moment he lies down in his bed. Take light food at night. Take milk and fruits. Do not take rice at night. Practise Pranayama. You can decrease the period of sleep without any harmful effect on your health.

Astika, Kapila Muni, Agastya, Madhava and Muchukunda all were happy sleepers. If you remember them and repeat their names just before you retire to bed, you will get sound sleep.
If you get good sleep, you can reduce the hours of sleep and turn out more useful work. You can devote more time for your Sadhana if you can reduce your sleep. If you can reduce two hours of sleep, you can utilise that in Japa and meditation. It is better to have six hours of sound sleep than eight or ten hours of sleep full of dreams.

There are people who have conquered sleep. They are called Gudakesas. Arjuna and Lakshmana were Gudakesas. Napoleon Bonaparte had sleep under his control. He used to get good sleep even in the midst of a big battlefield. He could sleep for an exact period of time. He had five or ten minutes of sound sleep and he was fit for further work.

Mahatma Gandhi also had great control over sleep. He used to get good sound sleep free from dreams. He used to sleep for a very short time. He could get up at the appointed hour and attend to his daily routine.

A physical labourer gets better sleep than a Babu in the office, because in the case of the former the mind and body are exhausted whereas in the case of the latter it is not. Physical exhaustion brings mental exhaustion also. A man of less physical labour and more mental work may get less sleep. For some people the mind is not so easily tired as the physical body. A coolie who works the whole day requires longer period of rest. He gets sound sleep.

When you get dreams, the mind does not get rest. The mind goes on playing with various kinds of thought images connected with the experiences of the waking state. Therefore it is essential that you should get rid of dreams if you want to enjoy perfect rest in sleep. A mind free from cares, worries, anxieties and filled with devotion to the Lord and discrimination is necessary if you want to avoid dreams.

When the mind is engaged in loose thinking, it is not tired soon. It builds castles in the air. A concentrated mind is tired soon. A hard working body is tired soon. Mind is the chief factor in sleep. Sleep is for both the mind and the body. Even though the body is tired, if the mind is not ready for sleep, one does not get sleep.

The mind is always centred round the body in waking state whereas in sleep it rises above body consciousness. This is common in sleep and Samadhi.

When we go to sleep, the first attempt on our part is to lie down flat. Then we close our eyes. When we are overpowered by sleep, gradually the sounds disappear. The mind goes inwards. We hear sounds in the first stage and understand the talk that is going on in the next room. Then the sounds are heard but we do not grasp their import. Then gradually the sounds also vanish and we go above the consciousness of body and the world outside. In the same order the mind returns to the semiconscious state and then to the waking condition.

As long as the mind is centred round the comforts of the body there is no sleep. That is the reason why a sick man has no sleep. The disease makes his mind think more of the body. The more there is the consciousness of the bodily pain, the less is the sleep. But in cases wherein the pain is intermittent, the patient sleeps in the interval.

Sleep is characterised by complete loss of consciousness and full relaxation of the body. When a man is asleep, both the body and the mind take complete rest. The mind rests in the Hita Nadi in the heart and enjoys the bliss of the Atman. The energy lost in various activities is recouped in sleep. So it is very essential to have sleep. Without sleep the nerves get weakened and the various organs become weak and decay sets in soon.

Sleep is more refreshing at night because there are no disturbing sounds. Further the mind is much fatigued after the day's work. Night is nature's time for sleep. Day is meant for activity. When we are in tune with nature's laws we are happy and healthy. Violation of nature's laws results in disastrous results.

A child sleeps for a longer time than a young man does. As age advances sleep is lessened. It is due to the inefficient working of the organs of the body.

When you are overpowered by sleep in a sitting posture, the body has a tendency to fall down. The body is pushed down. The head is thrown up and down. This is because there is no coordination of the muscles on account of the non-functioning of the mind. The mind abandons its connection with the physical body. Hence the body falls down.

Everyone has got great love for one's own self. One is unconscious during sleep. The Jiva anticipates some harm from reptiles or other insects during sleep. So he seeks a place of shelter where he would be free from any danger. Even in the act of sleep which is in itself all happiness, he is in need of good environments like a good place, a soft bedding etc. Mysterious is the Maya of the Lord!

May you all rest in that sleepless sleep, the Turiya or the fourth, which transcends the three states, wherein there is neither world nor body, neither waking, dream or deep sleep!

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