Sleeping: Thinking about Bodily Practices, Pt. 2 by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsAs I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reflecting on bodily practices–especially those that are not typically associated with feminism and religion. Our lives as embodied persons are so multi-dimensional! There is so much we perceive and experience through our senses, through our movements, and through the places we locate ourselves. So I have decided to use this blog to think through some ideas and learn from you in this community of readers, contributors, and commenters. Over the next few months, I will continue to discuss the ways I am becoming more intentional about connecting habits surrounding the body to feminist and religious concerns. Once again, I’ve glossed on only a few of the many connections we could make about women, religion, and bodily practices. Today I write about sleep. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Do feminism and religion have anything to do with sleep?

Sleeping is as vital to human survival as food and water. But lamentably, getting the proper amounts of sleep is not one of those healthy goals that is fiercely defended. It is much more common to hear someone brag about how productive she can be on a few hours of sleep than to boast about her productivity after a full night’s rest. I have to admit, I am always a little suspicious of those people who proudly proclaim they only need 4 or 5 hours of sleep, and I’m a little antagonistic to those who want to recruit the rest of us into their sleepless world: “There is so much else you could be doing with your time than sleeping!” They say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I have even heard “Sleep kills dreams!” Um, actually, dreams come when you sleep. Sleep breeds dreams, you could say. More on that below.

As you might be able to tell, I am the type of woman who loves sleep. I love climbing into my bed at night. I enjoy the feeling of waking up with a rested body and a renewed spirit and a groggy-but-fresh mind. I especially love naps for that reason. The most enjoyable and perhaps “productive” seasons of my life have been those when I could take a nap after class, after work, or after the gym.

Sleep is vital because it allows the body to rest. In the Christian tradition, we claim that rest is part of the creation of the world. That God marveled at the wonderful world God created, and when the work was done, God rested. This rest inspires the Sabbath. Sabbath is a day set aside for rest, worship, and contemplation of the holy. It is regrettably observed less and less in contemporary American Christianity. Since we have let go of the need for the Sabbath, it certainly no surprise we have also lost sight of the importance of daily rest, too.

Although my thoughts are little uncharitable towards those who preach the gospel of little sleep, I am very sympathetic to those who feel they do not have enough time to sleep. To those who feel like sleep is a luxury they cannot afford. Certainly many women tasked with numerous responsibilities often feel this frustration. They make do with less sleep because they have to complete more tasks in their waking hours. Yet it has been my experience that even those who are overworked and overscheduled appreciate the uncommon times when they can sleep a little longer than usual.

For me, times of sleep are very much connected to gratitude. In the past year or so, I have retrieved the practice of nightly prayer, which sadly got left behind in my childhood years. In all honesty, it was not a renewal of spiritual piety that led me to resume these bedtime prayers. It was insomnia. As much as I love sleep, I am often kept from it by anxieties and thoughts of the coming day. I started using bedtime prayers as a way of turning my cares over to God. These silent prayers become conversations about what is important to me and what concerns me. I talk to God about what I am grateful for. I talk to God about my family and my friends, about their lives and concerns that weigh on me. And then I let it go–at least for the night–and trust my soul to the divine power who cares for me while I sleep.

These nightly prayers have not only promoted peaceful sleep (for most nights, at least) but also the experience of vivid dreams. Dreams, like other visions, are honored in many religions as a place where the divine communicates with humanity. But this too, seems absent from contemporary American Christianity. Perhaps it is because dreams are associated with the intuitive senses, and therefore the feminine, that they are overlooked. Dreams are less clear and presumably more open to speculative interpretations than the texts we read during the day. I cannot say whether I meet God or whether I meet my deeper self in dreams, but I do know I am connected to powerful ways of being in my sleep, and that this is important for my spiritual life.

My final reflection about sleep is an acknowledgment that we often do not sleep alone. While sleep itself takes us to a solitary place, we often share our beds with lovers, children, and other family members and friends. Like those bedtime prayers, the words we speak under the covers in those moments before sleep connect us to our bed-mates. Whether they are ghost stories or secrets or incoherent ramblings about the day to come, these nighttime words prepare our minds for the sleep that will soon overtake us. Unless, of course, we are next to someone who snores or kicks.

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or

Categories: Body, Christianity, Embodiment, Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Prayer

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15 replies

  1. I too sleep well and for many hours. In the winter I sometimes crawl into bed quite early and feel like I am hibernating. With less than 8 hours, I do not feel rested.

    Did you know sleep has been a big theme of Ariana Huffington of Huffington Post in recent months?


  2. I am loving your posts Elise, especially this one about sleep. I too love my sleep and feel like I have two lives. The one I get to visit in my dreams and my waking reality. Your renewal of nightly prayer time has prompted me to do the same. I pray at my altar when I rise, but doing so before bed is something I can do with all my children as I put them to sleep. I have also used guided meditations and drumming on my body to help me ease into a peaceful slumber and remove any daily residual that needs removing. Yes, sleep is so vital….but I have to admit I have been known to pull many a late nighter to get work done as it is about the only time I get some quiet and I can lean into my thoughts.


    • Thank you! I use guided meditations at bedtime, too. That’s what got me back to nighttime prayers. I really appreciate what you have said about two lives – one lived in dreams and one in waking reality. How poetic!


  3. I too am a sleep and dream lover, and a devotee of the afternoon nap when I can have one. I love the place between sleeping and waking. Messages come then and poems and surprising plot resolutions. I also think dream and night waking are beautiful and intimate opportunities to pray. Thanks for this post, Elise! Dream on!


  4. Elise! I love your post. I think about sleep in theoretical ways all the time since it was my dissertation topic. I agree–sleep can definitely be an aspect of spirituality or faith. A few years ago I taught a writing course at APU on the theme of “Science, Faith, and Sleep.” I would love to share my syllabus with you if you’re interested. Have you read or seen John Bigelow’s 1924 book _The Mystery of Sleep_? Nearly the entire book focus on issues of the relationship between sleep and spirituality and religion, and sleep in the Bible.


    • I’m definitely going to have to try to find that book. I remember talking about you about your dissertation and I’d love to see the syllabus you developed. Thanks for reading, Karen Beth, and also for reposting!


  5. Very interesting. I’d love to get more sleep, but when I go to bed, my mind takes off and there I lie, composing blogs ‘n’ things. Fortunately, I’ve trained myself over the years to remember most of what I create in the hypnogogic state, so I do not turn on the light and I do not start writing. Occasionally I dream about writing or editing, which I find annoying, as I do enough of both of those activities when I’m wide awake. My solution? When I’m finished working, mid-afternoon, I sit on the couch and read with my eyes closed!


    • I used to dream about doing tedious tasks at the computer, which I suppose is like dreaming of writing or editing! I had to find buffers between working hours and sleeping hours to disconnect. I liek your idea of reading with eyes closed!


  6. Sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique.


  7. I think getting enough sleep is a very important topic for everyone, but it is especially connected to women because we often are so busy working and caring for others that we don’t have enough time to take proper care of ourselves, and that includes getting enough sleep. Of course this can also be true for men. I have always needed at least 8 hours of sleep, and preferably more, and I enjoy a good nap, too. That is why I like the book “Permission to Nap: Taking Time to Refresh Your Spirit,” by Jill Murphy Long.


  8. I love your post, Elise. We are the doing, doing, doing culture, and sleep is its antithesis. So, of course, we find people boasting about how little they have to sleep. But to say that sleep kills dreams is ludicrous.

    Dreams are “irrational,” just like women supposedly are. So, of course, in our culture — which praises the rational (which is associated with men) — dreams are put down or ignored. I follow my dreams, especially in times of change or confusion, and they usually can point me in the right direction.


  9. Reblogged this on The Dream Well and commented:
    This very personal post explores some of the wonderful spiritual practices we can associate with sleep and dreams, especially gratitude… Let me now in the comments what your thoughts are about incorporating sleeping into your own personal practices of spirituality and gratitude…


  10. A great post, thanks so much. I really believe sleep can be a spiritual activity, and the mysterious zones between waking and sleeping can be a wonderful time to send and receive messages with the “source.” I also like to use going to sleep as a time to express gratitude – it seems to make the quality of my sleep and dreams somehow… well, better :-) I have re-blogged this at: Thank you!


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