A Natural Sleep Movement

By Jennifer Nelson

Sleep has become exceedingly medicalized, argues Dr. Rubin Naiman, a sleep and dream specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

After studying the scientific literature on sleep and sleep disorders for more than 30 years, he believes we are ignoring the personal, spiritual experience — and sheer pleasure — of sleep.

“What’s happened with sleep in a very subtle way in our culture is exactly what happened to pregnancy and childbirth many, many decades ago,” said Naiman. Pregnancy and childbirth were regarded as a medical condition to be treated.

Of course, insomnia and sleep disorders must be treated medically, and Naiman doesn’t argue against getting the best possible medical care. But when it’s just the act of pure, simple, sweet sleep, he believes society is in dire need of a natural sleep movement.

For instance, rules have been set to ensure a good night’s sleep: go to bed at the same time each night; turn off electronics; skip naps; sleep in a cool room. “People are left with the impression that sleep is very complicated,” he said. “When in fact, falling asleep is a deeply personal process and an altered state of consciousness.”

His new book, “Hush: A Book of Bedtime Contemplations,” offers a new perspective and an alternative, integrative approach to sleeping. It encourages us to ditch our preconceived notions about sleep complexities and reclaim responsibility for our own sleep by recognizing its spiritual component.

Naiman offers a few thoughts on soothing the heart, soul and mind for people who have trouble sleeping:

· Sleep is grace. This is based on a Greek notion that the Greek God of Sleep, Hypnos, flew the night sky with his mother, the Goddess Nyx and sprinkled sleep to people below. The Sandman is another popular concept that sleep is bestowed upon children. Sleep is a gift. We can’t make it happen, so shift your attitude toward being open to receive sleep graciously.

· Middle of the night wakefulness is a normal feature of sleep. In other cultures throughout history people woke up and considered it a special sacred meditative time to reflect, pray or make love. But our culture thinks of it as a sleep failure based on the thought that we should never be awake in the middle of the night. That reaction only creates anxiety and exacerbates sleeplessness. “Learning to accept we can weave moments of wakefulness into our sleep without having to pop an Ambien is important,” Naiman said.

· Morning grogginess is an exquisite state of mind. The word “groggy” comes from the English word grog, a rum drink. Grogginess implies we are drunk. “Grogginess is an incredibly interesting, lush, hybrid consciousness — half dream, half wake state — and I encourage people to linger in grogginess for four to five minutes and get to know that state of consciousness and not to yank yourself out of it immediately.”

· Dreams aren’t weird. Most of us deep in our hearts know that dreams are meaningful even if we don’t understand them. Trouble is, we compare dreaming to wakefulness as if wakefulness is the “gold standard for consciousness,” he said. People wake up and say ‘I had this weird dream.’ It’s only when we translate the dream when awake, that we think it’s weird. Look at dreams in the context of where they occur in the dream world. Delight and be entertained in them.