The Theology of Sleep

I have sometimes jokingly told my friends in Opus Dei—the apostolate whose principal characteristic is the sanctification of work—that were I to found a religious movement, I would make its principal characteristic the sanctification of sleep. A poor joke, perhaps, but there is a serious element to it. Theology, being the highest form of knowledge, must surely have an answer to why humans spend on average twenty-five years of their lives sleeping.

The first reference to rest, which is not the same as sleep, is Genesis 2:2, stating that God rested on the seventh day. God did not rest because he was tired, for that is impossible for God the Father. He rested for two reasons: because he was done bringing non-existence into existence, and because he was satisfied with what he had created. As humans we cannot create something out of nothing. But we can create, and be pleased with what we create. After a day’s work, we may be pleased with what we have managed to achieve. And so we may rest. For us, rest is associated with sleep, which allows us to resume our work later on, and create more satisfying achievements.

St. Philip Neri warned that we should not spend too much time sleeping, since Heaven is not for sluggards. This is possibly a reference to Proverbs 6:9: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” In heaven, the angels and saints do not sleep, but glorify and serve God without pause. Neither does God sleep, as we have seen. Why then should we spend so much time sleeping? Sloth, it should be remembered, is a sin. (complete article)