BBC Radio 4:Rev Lucy Winkett - 28/09/2017

I met a GP recently who told me that there is a well used acronym among medics which they write on prescription pads pretty much every day. TATT. Tired All The Time.

I was reminded of this when I heard Professor Matthew Walker, the sleep scientist, talk about his new research this week - which identifies in his words, a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” that is affecting many of us, not only in day to day living and energy levels, but long term. “We’re a lonelier, more depressed society” he says; “alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.” His research is going so far as to say the shorter you sleep, the shorter your life.

Most of us know that our habits are just as affected by our cultural assumptions about sleeping as they are by scientific facts. In our culture, sleeping is often associated not so much with restorative refreshing recovery, but with laziness, even shame, and it’s often associated with the end of life itself. As Captain Barbosa says in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies: you can sleep when you’re dead. People who appear successful often seem to boast that they need less sleep – it’s the early risers who “get ahead”. Yawning is often read as a sign of boredom or disinterest. There’s much spiritual reflection on the meaning of sleep to put alongside the science. In Christian teaching, we’re often encouraged to “keep awake”, or to “wake up” . But there is also a strong emphasis on the related concept of “rest”: a good use of time – to process, in the dark, what has happened in the day. Putting together the science and the spirituality, it seems to me that in a 24/7 society when constant light and noise form the backdrop to most days, a commitment to sleep is a social and moral question for society, not just an individual preference or choice.

In our church every day, we say Morning Prayer accompanied by the sound of snoring. We set aside some of our pews for people to sleep; people who are seeking refuge from a life lived outside. And by offering this simple space, we want to try to state our commitment to sleep being not just a temporary retreat from busyness, but a fundamental human right, that deepens the flourishing and wellbeing of all of us.

That a church is a place not only to pray, or to be awake and active, but also to sleep, is a small attempt to put into practice one of the most evocative and powerful invitations of Christ - that seems to me more resonant today than ever…..Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden: and I will give you rest.

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