(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 31 January 2004.)
SCIENTIFIC ACHIEVEMENTS have produced many departures from the beauty-and-pain of 'natural living'. The phrase 'twenty-four seven' is now applied to active or virile types defying the laws of exhaustion.
Leon Kreitzman, author of The 24-hour Society, says that certain drugs will transform society. 'In 20 years people will not need to sleep', he predicts. 'Modafinil' was a drug used by US soldiers for 40-hour marches into Baghdad. The drug, Kreitzman says, 'is a eugeroic, which unravels the mechanisms of sleepiness'. The idea of a world without sleep may sound too bizarre to contemplate, but that doesn't mean it won't be acceptable to future generations. We spend a third of our life asleep. If we eliminated it we'd add 25 years. Modafinil, originally used as an antidote to narcolepsy (a type of sleeping sickness), is now available by prescription, enabling users to stay awake without the quickened heartbeats, jumpiness, and the ensuing 'crashes' accompanying amphetamine and cocaine withdrawal. Over 100,000 non-narcoleptic Americans take the drug.
The upside of Modafinil, is that it brings alertness plus the kind of 'rest' that is watchful, and theoretically useful for spiritual insight. Mimicking some meditational practices, it enables one to 'relax' without the unconsciousness that comes with deep sleep.
However, the yoga-nidra on the part of maha-Vishnu is a state of mystic slumber. We also know from the 'days and nights' of Lord Brahma that he too sleeps. In the Bhagavata, there are descriptions in the tenth Parva of Lord Krishna, 'rising' from bed in the morning in his Dwarka palaces.
Physical trainers state the human body operates on 12-hour cycles. Business executives take 'power naps' in the afternoon, and in many countries, including India, afternoon resting is a revered tradition. These kinds of siestas are said to regenerate cells, revive mental agility, and increase physical strength. Many inventors claim their 'eurekas' happened in dreams and semi-conscious states. And dream life, or svapna, can heal. Ancient scriptures worldwide describe dreams that brought insight and access to another reality.
These days we don't listen to anyone much, certainly not our unconscious. We're control freaks. If we want to do, be or feel something, we find a way to make it happen, legally or otherwise. But life with no sleep? Whatever next. Don't count me in!
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing body commission.