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What These 4 Major Religions Can Teach Us About Coping With Insomnia

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Based on studies conducted in multiple countries, about 30 percent of adults struggle with insomnia, and 10 percent of them experience daytime distress because of a lack of sleep. You can find theories about what causes insomnia and how to treat it all over the place, but what do the world’s major religions have to say about the matter?

Hinduism and Insomnia: Finding Balance

The Ayurveda recognizes two types of insomnia. Waking up in the middle of the night is seen as an imbalance in the Vata dosha, which has to do with emotions like anxiety and hypersensitivity. Having a difficult time initially falling asleep is regarded as an imbalance in the Pitta dosha, which is related to digestion and metabolism.

Ayurveda tradition uses many methods to combat insomnia, including:

  • Herbs like Ashwagandha or Bacopa (Brahmi)
  • Going to bed before 10 pm since this is the Kapha time of day, which is full of grounded energy to help you fall asleep
  • Waking up before sunrise so we stay synchronized with nature’s clock
  • Eating a light supper so our energy goes towards rejuvenation instead of digestion
  • Turning off electronic devices an hour before bed because technology stimulates the Vata dosha
  • Giving yourself a massage with oil (abhyanga) to soothe the Vata dosha

Hinduism also offers a morning-after remedy to recover from a sleepless night: yoga nidra, or yogic sleep. Yogic sleep is a traditional meditative practice in which you get in the shavasana position, lying on your back with your legs and arms out to your sides. This promotes very deep relaxation and is usually used at the end of a yoga session.

Through the eyes of Hinduism, curing insomnia is about finding balance within ourselves and the world around us. And believe it or not, Buddhism wouldn’t completely disagree.

Buddhism and Insomnia: Staying Connected

Buddhism sees insomnia as a sort of spiritual opportunity. Rinpoche, an incarnate lama, talked about bardo — the “in-between state” — the space between wakefulness and sleep. It’s a groundless, uncertain state, what he referred to as a “highlight in the middle of nowhere.” According to Judith Simmer-Brown, a prominent Buddhist scholar and professor of religious studies at Naropa University, being in bardo opens us up to the awareness that we’re connected with every other living being in the world.

Even though Buddhism doesn’t necessarily view insomnia as a bad thing, the religion offers ways to treat it. For instance, you can use mindfulness to keep your mind calm and centered. Focus on what you’re feeling, and let your emotions flow through you. You can also try this traditional Tibetan visualization technique to treat insomnia:

“Imagine it is night deep in the forest. A raging river rushes through a narrow gorge, roaring incessantly. At the top of the gorge there is a coarse rope ladder descending from the rim halfway down to a small and cozy cave in the canyon wall. Inside is a crackling campfire burning, illuminating and warming the rough stone walls of the cave. I am sitting before the fire wrapped in a sheepskin cloak, cuddling a baby goat nestled into my arms. Even as I hear the roaring river, I hold the kid close and feel content.”

As you can see, two of the major religions seem to agree on many aspects of treating insomnia, but where does Christianity stand on the issue?

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Up All Night group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Do you have trouble sleeping because of insomnia, painsomnia, anxiety or any other reason? Chat with other night owls when you can't sleep in the Up All Night group. Click to join.

Christianity and Insomnia: Finding God

Similar to Buddhism, Christianity doesn’t view insomnia as an entirely negative experience. This religion looks at insomnia as a test of your faith and focus on God and an indication that God wants your attention at the only time of day you’re being still enough to listen to Him — in the middle of the night.

The Bible suggests we lean on faith when we can’t sleep: “You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights. Each tear entered in Your ledger, each ache written in Your book (Psalm 56, verse 8).” Seeking God in prayer, reading, etc., might keep you calm enough so you can get some sleep.

Proverb 20, verse 3 also tells us “don’t be too fond of sleep.” In other words, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get “enough” sleep, and simply surrender to your sleeplessness. You’re awake for a reason.

Islam and Insomnia: Staying Close to Allah

According to Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid, general supervisor at Islam Question & Answer, Islam says that insomnia is sometimes caused by waswaas, or whispers from the evil Shaytaan.

Fortunately, Islamic literature offers many ways to free ourselves from Shaytaan’s mumbling. One way we can do this is through Shari remedies. These revolve around keeping our focus on Allah’s love, rewards and punishments and the Hereafter as opposed to the physical world, so we can attain peace of mind. We do this by avoiding certain sins, saying certain prayers, being kind to other people, reading the Qur’aan and serving Allah (‘uboodiyyah): “Those who believed (in the Oneness of Allah), and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest (al-Ra ‘d 13:28).”

Psychological remedies focus on getting rid of worries by means of staying close to Allah, being grateful for everything He does and staying detached from the physical world, while behavioral remedies include seeing a doctor to whom Allah has given knowledge of the human psyche.

Islamic cures for insomnia also include always asking Allah for forgiveness, seeking His protection from Shaytaan, keeping good company and making sure you don’t think wrong thoughts. From this perspective, getting a good night’s sleep depends upon how we live our lives during the day.

If you have problems with insomnia, the world’s major religions may be able to help you find some rest. They have different ideas about what causes insomnia, but their methods for attaining sleep are all based in love and revolve around similar principles: surrendering to reality, staying connected to the world around us and finding God and peace within ourselves.

Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash

Originally published: July 31, 2020
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