Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

For most people between the ages of 16 and 45, our days actually begin at night. We'll find every excuse available to justify going to bed at 3:00 AM.

"I get more studying done after midnight."

"That's when my friends and I are actually free."

"I can't even fall asleep until at least 1:00."

"The party doesn't even start until 12:00!"

"Dude, I can't miss Jim-Kim!"

These days, there just seems to be more happening in the hours after midnight than there is in the hours before noon. Our bodies have adjusted to such an irregular sleep pattern that no matter how hard we try to be in bed by 11:00, we can't seem to fall asleep until after 2:00 AM.

We've all heard the golden "6-8 hours a day" rule, and while most of us could totally answer the question "The amount of sleep recommended per night" if it appeared on Jeopardy, not many of us actually follow it - about 72% of us get less than 6 hours of sleep a day. Research shows that getting too little or even too much sleep poses a significant health risk to our hearts and livers, while also making it virtually impossible to maintain a healthy weight. People who don't hit the 6-8 hour mark are likely decreasing their longevity of life. Insomniacs need to be particularly cautious because their lack of sleep is not only affecting them physically, but mentally as well. People who don't get the appropriate amount of sleep each night do worse in school and at work than those who do and are also more likely to develop serious psychiatric disorders. And what could begin as serious (but treatable) disorders can lead to severe depression and anxiety.

And then there are those who go to bed at 3:00 AM, awake at 11:00 AM, and use the math to argue in favor of their sleep habits. But what they do not realize is that sleeping after midnight, even if we are getting our recommended 6-8 hours, is also detrimental to our health. Studies have shown that people who go to bed after midnight are throwing off their bodies' circadian rhythm and potentially inviting death at an earlier age. For one, significant weight gain (which could lead to obesity) can be prevented or brought on by the times that we sleep. Our metabolism slows down at night (when we should be asleep) so any food we eat or activity we do after dark is throwing off what should occur like clockwork. By eating large meals late at night, we are feeding a body that is not prepared to handle it- so it stores the extra calories as fat. And when we are too active when we should be asleep, our body's metabolism increases during those times and, thus, slows down later on- during the day when we are eating. So what does out body do? Again, it stores the calories as fat. So what do we do?

The sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) with regards to sleep is incredible. He slept immediately following Isha prayer, awoke at night to pray tahajjud, returned to sleep, and woke up for the day at the time of Fajr prayer. On average, this probably amounted to about 5 to 6 hours a night. He went about his day until Dhuhr prayer, after which he would take a nap, awaking before Asr prayer. In total, he would be getting roughly 6-8 hours a day.

It's hard to pick my favorite thing about Islam, but the sunnah nap is definitely up there. Almost all Americans run on a 9:00-5:00 schedule, so, for most of us, the sleep we get at night is all the sleep we're going to get for the day. It's unfortunate that this schedule strictly dictates our lives because it is also affecting our health. Research shows that you can make yourself more alert, reduce stress, and improve cognitive functioning with a nap. Mid-day sleep, or a ‘power nap’, leads to increased patience, less stress, better reaction time, increased learning, more efficiency and better health overall. The prayer times in Islam, in addition to being a time guideline for the obvious, is the perfect guideline for sleep. Sleeping directly after Isha, awaking at Fajr, and napping between Dhuhr and Asr is most certainly a schedule to adhere to for optimal health.

For anyone having significant sleep issues, whether it be not getting enough sleep or not being able to wake up for Fajr prayer, I definitely encourage you to try following the sunnah as closely as possible, if not exactly. Who better to imitate than the Prophet (saws) himself? He reminds us in a hadith that "Your body has a right over you." [Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7]. And if this isn't reason enough, the science and research further support his actions. May Allah guide us further in our deen, reminding us of our obligations to our bodies and of the importance of being healthy for ourselves as well as for our loved ones. Ameen.