Why do we sleep? We are so used to it that it sounds silly to ask. But really, what does this tell us about being human? Machines do not have to sleep – some work better if they are not ever turned off. They can wear out and so can we, but that is after their sleepless lifetime of use.
Completely wearing out is one set of associations with sleep – it is a taste of death, anticipating the time when we completely wear out and cease to operate. A children’s bedtime prayer includes “if I die before I wake” making this association.
Other benefits of rest and dreamtime aside it is helpful to accept one’s mortality each day. We need the practice of giving up activity and consciousness daily to prepare for the final sleep. Death can be as welcome after a strenuous life as sleep after a busy day.
Staying awake too much is not good for efficient functioning. Jobs that program long hours without sleep are prone to mistakes as minds and bodies get bleary. Neurologists might tell us how brains work during sleep but commonsense merely underlines the periodic need to give up.
Sleep is surrender; we fall asleep. It’s hard to tell yourself to sleep when duty, responsibility, and interest propel us to activity. With so much to accomplish and too little time, frustration and worry take over. At which point we must make peace with our worlds and their demands. Active life needs R and R, rest, relaxation, and resignation.
If we can quit we can have a good night and wake to new effort better for having given up. More than sweet dreams we get sweet oblivion, a taste of eternity.