Sleep is necessary


It is important to be awake to the world around us, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, it is equally important to sleep. This is the conclusion I reached in a very quick conversation last week with my community of practice about how essential it is to stop what causes harm and build on the things that are helping people (and other beings) survive and thrive.

At the time, it occurred to me that it is equally important to sleep and at this very moment of being awake, I am writing to figure out what this means for me. (One of my practices to figure out what I am thinking and feeling and seeing is to write. Its one of the ways that I endeavour to be ‘awake’ while I am awake.)

Two big thoughts stand out for me:


Sleep is necessary.


We do not all need to be awake.


To start, some definitions. First ‘awake’, from Merriam Webster:

  1. to cease sleeping
  2. to become aroused or active again
  3. to become conscious or aware of something

Definitions of ‘asleep’ from Merriam Webster:

  1. being in a state of sleep
  2. dead
  3. lacking sensation: numb
  4. inactive, dormant
  5. not alert: indifferent

There are levels of awake/sleep in these definitions. Our bodies first need sleep to biologically function. A second level of awake is around being activated to stimuli, and a third is around consciousness and awareness. If “awakeness” takes place at all three levels, its opposite, sleep, is mirrored in all three levels. Biologically, I can be asleep or awake. When biologically awake, I can be actively engaging with my surroundings, or I can be inactive. When actively awake I can be deeply aware and conscious, or not.

The second and third levels of awakeness depend on the first, the third on the first and second. Being biologically awake means I need sleep, and being actively awake depends on being biologically awake. Being consciously awake depends on being actively awake. So where does sleep come in?

The discussion that got me started on this thread was about how all of humanity needs to be awake (second and third levels of awake) to the challenges the world faces and the denial – ie the sleep – we seem to enjoy.

If sleep serves a biological function, what is its metaphorical function to being an active and aware citizen? Do we all need to be awake all of the time? No.

A negative view of sleep is that I am missing out, or simply unaware of what is happening around me, and unable to take necessary action, all of which can take place with all three levels of sleep. An appreciative view of sleep is that it allows me to more fully see when I am awake, and to more fully take in the world and more wisely take action as well. Further, what if I trust that I will see what I am meant to see, when I am ready to see it? Further again, what if I trust that others will see what they are meant to see when they are ready to see it?

The desire to always be awake, or to compel all of humanity to always be awake is unreasonable and unhealthy. The real danger is oversleeping, to the point where we miss way too much, feel lethargic, confused and misjudge.

Here’s what we need to trust, while allowing ourselves to sleep: the work to be done isn’t for each of us to do, but for each of us to take a part. If I trust that as I pursue my passions, there are others pursuing theirs and cumulatively we are changing the world . We are not compelled to all stay awake and all take the same actions.

In our diversification of passions, we give ourselves the opportunity to sleep, digest, adjust, process and learn. Stay awake for what calls you and trust that others are looking after the other things. As they should trust in you.

Take time to sleep – it will serve you, and all of us, well.

Who’s awake and working hard on things so you can sleep?


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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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