A friend named John Harris, who knew that I had written a book on how to overcome insomnia, sent me the following tongue-in-cheek email:
At the moment, I’m doing my best to keep awake as long as possible to catch up with work. But at about 2am I find I can’t hold on any longer, so I end up falling asleep in front of my PC. You must write a book on how to keep awake. I get at least 3 or 4 hours sleep each night. What a complete waste of time.
Not only have I discovered how to overcome insomnia, but I discovered a way that anyone can go up to six days without sleep. It can be done, with no ill effects.
Like my friend, I too find sleep to be an overrated waste of time. While the body may sleep, the brain certainly doesn’t switch off. It broadcasts dreams like there’s no tomorrow. What we refer to as sweet dreams are rare, and they’re often intermingled with dreams that, if made public, would have most of us on the psychiatrist’s couch.
And every now and then a nightmare gallops into the scene and scares the living nightlights out of us.
There’s also the phenomenon of sleep apnea—which suddenly brings us back to reality, gasping for air. The gasping doesn’t wake your spouse because she’s been awake for hours—listening to the constant pig-sounds coming through your open mouth.
I have been on many international night flights, and I’ve noticed how we all dress up to look our best for the flight. We then politely eat with knife and fork, careful not to get food on our face or spill a drink on our lap. Finally, the meal is finished, and we give a polite prim and proper dab on the chin with the quality white napkin. Lights out, and 30 minutes later the place looks like a war zone. Dignified ladies and gents now have their mouths gaping open, and most are dribbling, yawning, snoring, snorting, grunting, sniffing, mumbling, and leaning all over each other.
For the rest of us, when the morning breaks at home, after the revelation that we are still alive we crawl out of bed and look into the mirror at the sorry sight of puffy eyes, pale face, and nightmare hair. Despite that we are supposed to wake feeling refreshed, we look and feel worse than when we were forced to yield to the annoying nightly habit. For millions, waking up brings with it back pain, migraine headaches, and morning breath that could kill a fleeing draft horse.
But there is something worse than having to lie down each night and drift into unbridled unconsciousness. It’s the plague of insomnia—the inability to drift into unbridled unconsciousness. Distressing though it may be for sufferers, insomnia gives rise to an industry of sleep centers, sleeping pill producers, medicine makers, pillow producers, mattress manufacturers, and articulate actors in TV ads who pretend to be sleeping—to sell us the thought that they have what it takes for us to get a good night’s sleep.
While Scripture tells us that God gives His beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2), Solomon qualifies it: “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread” (Proverbs 20:13).
A number of years ago I did something to minimize the annoyance of sleep. I built an office in our bed. It’s not as weird as it sounds. I joined two 14-by-24-inch painter’s canvases (covered with black material to block light) to make a small wall between myself and my sleeping beauty. Each night, just before we drift into slumber-land, I put up the wall by connecting it to the headboard using magnets.
Every night, I wake up around 1:00 a.m. and write for hours. Then, just before daybreak, I yield to the power of sleep for a short snooze and awake to the knowledge that the night wasn’t a waste of time. I have accomplished something.
The only time we are told that Adam went to sleep was before the Fall, and that was for a major rib operation. God put him into a deep sleep, and Adam awoke to find a strange and beautiful woman by his side, so it was okay. But it doesn’t seem that he had to sleep to rest his weary body.
So how can someone go six days without sleep? Sleep at night.
For tips to sleep better, see Ray’s book, “Overcoming Insomnia.”