The Significance of Sleep
Everything that happens during the waking hours has meaning for sleep, both quantitative and qualitative.
Just as the length of our waking period affects our deep-sleep period, which we think, feel and do during our waking hours is also important to our life of sleep.
Conversely, the possibilities for us during the day are influenced by what happens during sleep in terms of wonderful, wisdom-filled building-up, or also that which is perhaps disturbing.
Sometimes dreams are a type of physical self-knowledge. As has already been described, dreams can indicate the inner organic life of a person. However, dreams also play an important role in a person’s ability to learn and mentally-emotionally process what has been experienced during the day.
We can see that these nightly pauses are of great significance and also how important it is to go to bed at a proper time. For instance, getting enough sleep before a test can be more useful in terms of results than studying long hours the night before.
Increases Your Knowledge
Steiner described how dreamless sleep also works toward gaining knowledge. The interruption of the stream of memory which happens during sleep makes it possible for people to come to a better idea of their own selves and help them not lose themselves in the outside world.
A sense that answers to questions we have can be found in the night from spiritual beings (angels, people who have passed away, and so forth) is apparent in these sayings: “Sleep on it;” and “Sleep over important decisions for three nights.”
Continuity of daily experiences can be ensured only through remembrance. Every day we must again take hold of the thread a new on this side and every night on the other side. In this way we can always take hold of our destiny anew.
Sleep and Food
Steiner said that sleep was more important to life than food. Modern science has reached a similar conclusion. Food deprivation can be endured longer than sleep deprivation. Absolute insomnia cannot be survived for more than a few days.
Resistance is quickly worn down, and psychological symptoms such as hallucinations and experiences mimicking alcohol-related delirium tremens occur. It has been reported that at one time in China death penalties were carried out “non-violently” by sleep deprivation.
Absolute insomnia is not compatible with life. Just as the physical body needs food, so must the soul body draw nigh to the images of the surrounding spiritual world through sleep. It is these archetypical images, whose source lies in the spiritual world, that make possible the construction and maintenance of the human form.
We say today, usually, that the information is contained in the cells. But how do the individual cells know to differentiate in embryonic development into liver, lung, or brain cells? A higher power is at work that is archetypal in a certain way and, at the same time, has a precise effect.
The workings of these specifically-organizing, differentiated, formative forces can easily be disturbed. This can lead to defective developments or carcinomas, for example. Construction of the physical body and its maintenance is bound to organized, new construction, guided formation, and growth all subject to a concept.
In the embryonic phase these constructive forces are the most intensely active, but there is no actual consciousness present in the normal sense of the word. An infant also has few conscious functions.
Directed movements or even thinking are not yet possible. A newborn infant goes through the day sleeping, for the most part, and completely abandoned to a horizontal position.
Older infants sleep about sixteen hours per day and toddlers about twelve hours. The more the formation of the physical body, the internal organs, is completed, the less sleep is essential and the more a person can use these forces which were previously used in organ formation for a quickened soul life.
The same forces which were active in building the physical organs then transform themselves into thinking forces. So, it becomes clear that the result of conscious, lively, soul activity causes a tearing-down of the physical organism. Consequently, adults require sleep.
Unconscious, formative activity with the building-up of the physical body alternate in a rhythmic sequences when the deconstructive elements of the processes of conscious thinking, feeling, and willing. That explains the alternation between waking and sleeping bound up in cosmic rhythms.
Just as a person turns toward the outer, earthly world during waking consciousness and tarries in the spiritual world during sleep, so is a person an earthly being between birth and death and between death and re-birth without a physical body in the spiritual world.
People work through their earthly experiences in the spiritual world and gather impulses which allow them to build up new physical bodies in accordance with their future tasks. In this sense we can understand the saying: “Sleep is death’s little brother.”