Stories from the Yoga Mat: Sleep as Spiritual Necessity by Marie Cartier

Sleep. Sleep. Sleeep.

Sleep is the best meditation – Dalai Lama

The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep  – E. Joseph Cossman

Sleeping is like hitting the reset button. People die without sleep.

It can make us maniacal and cut off our connection to spirit to be without sleep.
Are you afraid of missing something—if you sleep…? Is it something you are afraid you didn’t do or didn’t get to do? And yet…what part of our spiritual practice is suffering as a result of not sleeping…?

There is a billboard that states, you can sleep when you’re dead. Yet, the truth is you might die a lot faster if you don’t sleep. 

This blog topic will be coming to you in two parts. This month I want to present some research gleaned rather informally from the web on why sleep is important.

A few facts to get us going:
Sleep is a spiritual practice. Not getting it will disrupt any other spiritual practices—including prayer—that you attempt.

The Society for Women’s Health Research, details how women are 1.4 times more likely to report insomnia than men, and that, in general, sleep problems plague women more than men. Not getting sleep is one more thing women don’t get enough of. We can add it to equal pay, equal representation and now…equal sleep—things we want from Women’s Liberation.

The Dalai Lama spoke about sleep, spirituality, and science recently when he was awarded the Templeton Prize for supporting positive interactions between religion and science. The Dalai Lama spoke about needing sleep in the same way he speaks about having compassion– compassion for the self. If you don’t love yourself you won’t give yourself enough sleep—if you love yourself you give yourself what you need—and top among those things—is sleep.

A 2010 study of 525 middle aged people reports that acute sleep deprivation leads to an increased production of inflammatory hormones and changes in blood vessel function possibly predisposing people to heart disease and stroke. 

People who reported fewer than six hours of sleep had up to 25 percent higher levels of inflammatory hormones compared to those who slept 6 to 9 hours. So why do people brag, as a friend of mine did recently,… that they only need 4 hours? That somehow someone who is not sleeping enough is getting more out of life?

sleepSo…if sleep is so important why is it that so many Americans are sleep deprived? In fact a study suggests that American students are the most sleep deprived in the world. Yes. In fact, researchers found that in the U.S. 73 percent of 9 and 10-year-olds and 80 percent of 13 and 14-year-olds did not get enough sleep.

Another study utilizing blood tests revealed that people getting only 5.7 hours of sleep each night — as opposed to a fabulous 8.5 — can be damaging genes and causing harm to tissue, which translates to disease. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 30 percent of civilian adults do not get enough sleep.

It is really true – sleep and physical self-care and spiritual self-care are intertwined, important, and necessary for a healthy spiritual lifestyle.

So…here are  some sleep do’s and don’ts. According to the ReDormin Sleep Study, these are the five things that help you sleep LONGER.

Here they are: 1.  Doing yoga before bed adds 64 minutes of sleep time . . . and also improves the quality of your sleep more than anything else. 2.  Having a small child in bed adds 24 minutes . . . but it’s also the thing that hurts the quality of your sleep more than anything else.  So you sleep longer, but not as well. 3.  Being in a calm mood before going to bed adds 24 minutes. 4.  Having an adult partner in bed with you adds 21 minutes. 5.  And having sex before bed adds the same amount as taking a hot shower before bed . . . about six minutes.

And here are five things that COST you the most sleep: 1.  Being in an alert mood when you go to bed causes you to sleep 46 minutes LESS.  2.  Having a partner who snores costs you 14 minutes. 3.  Having your cell phone charging next to the bed costs you 11 minutes. 4.  Watching a movie right before bed costs 10 minutes. 5.  And having a fan running costs you nine minutes of sleep.

So..if you do yoga ..calm down and sleep with a partner or a child, take a hot shower or have can add 2 hours of sleep to your life. If you don’t calm down and you keep dealing with your cell phone and watching television you lose about an hour and a half of sleep.

sleep malibuOk. I probably didn’t need to give you so much data on why it’s important. All of us have had those times when we haven’t slept for a night—or a few nights and then it’s immediately obvious why sleep is important– you can’t function well without it. And sometimes it feels like you can’t function at all.

Animals sleep. See the pictures included with this blog of my dog—she’s asleep. And my cat—she’s asleep. What are they doing when they sleep, people ask in articles? Well- they are sleeping. That’s enough. Dogs sleep half their life—and vets say—OK. In fact, that is apparently where, “Let sleeping dogs lie,” actually comes from.

Why can’t we be more like dogs and cats—and get enough sleep?

Perhaps one reason is we don’t set ourselves up to succeed. We don’t get enough sleep because we set ourselves up to fail—we don’t give ourselves enough time in the bed. And we give ourselves no room to wind down. We give ourselves more time to stretch before exercise than we do to warm up to sleeping.

Sleep tip: get in bed when you have at least seven to nine hours that you can stay in bed. Turn off your electronics. Read—a novel. And know you have enough time– if it takes you an hour to fall asleep you have a little window—a buffer before you fall into “oh-my-god-I’m-not-going–to-get-enough –sleep-I’ll-be-exhausted-tomorrow.” Give yourself the room to fall asleep. Luxuriate in sleeping, and dreaming.

Next month I follow up with more tips– including a brief yoga therapy overview to combat insomnia. Until then… “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, man (woman) is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”—–Langston Hughes

Let me hear from you… and sweet dreams.

*All photos by author unless otherwise noted.

Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Categories: animals, General, Spirituality

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23 replies

  1. Thank you Marie, a thoughtful and interesting blog. Sleep, perchance to dream ..


  2. A minor point, but I enjoyed the statistics and the research you did. So resonating with your depth of detail, truly enjoying it, I looked around for some sort of spiritual practice that might fit that inclination, and found it actually. In Zen it’s called “thorough exploration,” a path to explore life with “the whole of the eyes.”


    • I love the idea of sleep as zen practice of exploring life with the “whole of the eyes”- since when I don’t get enough sleep I do feel like I don’t have accurate vision…thank you for this!! i’ll include it in the next post on this topic!!


  3. As an ardent sleeper and dreamer, I thank you for this post!


  4. Love it! I sleep with cats. There’s nothing as good as a purring cat next to your pillows. Thanks for writing this blog.


    • barbara- completely agreed! in fact there is some research which I didn’t include here about how healing the purring of cats is…and it may be that a purring cat is a good remedy for insomnia..i’ll try to include this research in a future post. many blessings!


  5. Thanks, Marie, for this important post. I think that in general Americans feel that sleeping is a waste of time. And wasting time…well, idle hands are the devil’s tools, according to our Puritan forebears. So it’s important to stress — as you did — that without sleep we really don’t function all that well.

    This was one of my first significant realizations about how I wanted to live my life. I decided when I went to graduate school at age 24 to never take an all-nighter again. I prioritized sleep, even in the face of ridicule. I always getting the sleep I need, even if my brother-in-law (most recently) taunts me that I sleep until 11 a.m. (something I do when I can’t get to bed early enough, which is often). Even my UU minister knows not to call until after 11 a.m. I’ve always been a long sleeper, but these days I allow myself 8 1/2 to 9 hours a night. It’s hard to be joyful on too little sleep.


    • kudos to you for deciding never to take an all-nighter again..i did one last week finishing my book (which is probably why I was inspired to write this blog!!)…sleep is so vital..and I totally agree it is a struggle to be joyful on too little sleep…sweet dreams!


  6. Reblogged this on The Dream Well and commented:
    A wonderful article about the importance of sleep as a form of self care. We have looked at the science of sleep and of course the importance of dreams, but sleep as it relates to our spiritual practice is also essential…


  7. Thanks Marie, I just wanted to add that I think we are “doing things” when we are sleeping, but these things are invisible, often unmeasurable things. Things like healing, like getting in touch with our deeper selves. I think the dark mysterious work of sleep is so neglected and abused for much the same reasons women are – in a patriarchal society we can brag of not needing sleep as we (as a society in general) place so little value on the inner world, and on that which is not active, linear, measurable and visible.


    • I love your ideas here– the “dark, mysterious work of sleep” and how it is neglected for much the same reason women are…bec. so little value is placed on the inner world..thank you!! I am going to try to follow up on these thoughts in my next blog on this topic…<3


    • Before I wrote my current book, I was working on a book about the dualisms in our culture and how they program us. One of the dualisms I was looking at is the rational vs. the “irrational.” “The dark, mysterious work of sleep” — dreaming and the rejuvenation we receive from it — fits the second category, the repressed, less important, even demonized category of the “irrational” This is the same kind of dualism as man vs. woman in our patriarchal society. So no wonder you’re noticing similarities. I, too, believe that many — if not all — or these dualisms can be traced back to the foundational one in patriarchy, i.e. man vs. woman. (I will be going back to that first book now that I’ve finished _The World is Your Oracle_.)


      • this is a *great* topic..please keep me posted on your future research in this area— i’m very intrigued by your hypothesis..) i’ll be re-blogging on this issue at the end of august..let me know your thoughts and I hope to address this and perhaps hotlink your work


  8. Thanks for this article. I have felt for years that sleep is hugely important. I give myself plenty of time to sleep, though I also get frustrated when my body wants more sleep than I want to allow it, and it takes control.

    I ended up in the hospital due to sleep deprivation years ago, so I know it is nothing to mess around with.

    I am so glad you said it is a spiritual practice, that makes me feel so much better about the amount of time I spend sleeping.


    • wow…thank you for sharing your experience around sleep deprivation…please feel wonderful about sleeping…it appears you learned a very hard lesson around not getting enough sleep. kudos to you for allowing your body to get what it needs…sweet dreams and enjoy your night time journeys…


  9. Reblogged this on Soul Gardens Healing Blog and commented:
    Sleep is a vital of our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Kudos to Marie Cartier for explaining why it is so, and for pointing out that it is part of our spiritual practice.



  1. Stories from the Yoga Mat: Sleep as Spiritual Necessity (Part Two) by Marie Cartier | Feminism and Religion
  2. Stories from the Yoga Mat: Sleep as Spiritual Necessity (Part Three-Final)— Feminism, Sleep and On with the Revolution by Marie Cartier | Feminism and Religion
  3. Birthdays and Aging and Feminism and Religion by Marie Cartier «

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