It’s not just that a countercultural embrace of sleep bears witness to values higher than “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.” A night of good sleep—a week, or month, or year of good sleep—also testifies to the basic Christian story of Creation. We are creatures, with bodies that are finite and contingent. For much of Western history, the poets celebrated sleep as a welcome memento mori, a reminder that one day we will die: hence Keats’s ode to the “sweet embalmer” sleep, and Donne’s observation, “Natural men have conceived a twofold use of sleep; that it is a refreshing of the body in this life; that it is a preparing of the soul for the next.” Is it any surprise that in a society where we try to deny our mortality in countless ways, we also deny our need to sleep?
The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Of course, the Creator has slept, another startling reminder of the radical humility he embraced in becoming incarnate. He took on a body that, like ours, was finite and contingent and needed sleep. To push ourselves to go without sleep is, in some sense, to deny our embodiment, to deny our fragile incarnations—and perhaps to deny the magnanimous poverty and self-emptying that went into his Incarnation.
Lauren Winner, “Sleep Therapy” (alas, paywalled)