Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not sleeping

I don't know about big cities in other countries, but St. Petersburg is definitely a sleepy city. Sleepy in that no one ever sleeps. That's the way it seems, at least.

In the past, I associated all-nighters with the student life. Days were busy, and many assignments could only be done at night. We also used the night for socializing. I remember some great conversations that took place at 5 am. That was the way we lived. I also remember traveling home for spring break, in a plane or bus full of sleeping students who had not slept the previous week because of exams. During vacation I would sleep about 12 hours each night.

By the end of the student years, I was having problems with my health, particularly digestion. If I stayed up all night, I would throw up the next day, or simply have no appetite, or have bad stomach cramps. Not to mention, I slept during Sunday sermons, university lectures, and yes, even in the midst of drawing a portrait in art class. As graduation approached, I thought that I would begin the adult working life and get on a normal schedule, and everything would get easier.

That was before I moved to Russia. In St. Petersburg, it is common to see people doing their grocery shopping at 11pm, with kids in tow. Is it a weekend? No, it's a weekday. The next morning they may be getting up at 6. On the other hand, days off are days off. When I arrive to tutor Galina, an orphanage counselor, she is still in her pjs at 11am or 12:00. It's not the clothing that surprises me as much as the fact that she has just woken up.

Galina and I recently began a unit on the workplace environment. I asked Galina if she would prefer a 9-5 job (5 days a week). She said no, it's not enough days off. "But just think, you could be home by 6 every day and have the whole evening free!" No, she wasn't convinced. She prefers to work 14 hours just a few days a week.

We also read a text about a man who had been working every day from 7:30am to midnight. Then one day he collapsed and decided to make some changes to his lifestyle.

"What changes do you think he made?" I asked Galina. She suggested that he had decided to take some days off. My idea, of course, was that he work less hours each day.

Other people work in shifts of 3 days on, 2 days off, or something similar. If I ask a certain friend when she is free, we have to count this way instead of naming a certain day of the week.

At our recent church retreat, we discussed the practical implications of the 10 commandments. To my father and me who were present, keeping the Sabbath was as clear and simple as going to church on Sunday, with a few exceptions. It's a day of rest. But when you work in shifts, when is your Sabbath? It isn't so obvious.

A few years ago, I was having trouble getting on a regular sleeping schedule. I got enough sleep, but it was at odd times. I consistently found it hard to get up on Sundays, and felt sick to my stomach. I decided to attempt getting up at the same time everyday, so that no day would seem harder than others. It changes your attitude when you don't have to worry about whether or not you will be physically able to get up.

The Bible says, "Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare." (Proverbs 20:13, NIV) But it also says, "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves." (Psalm 127:2, NIV)

I take this to mean that sleep should not be an idol, but neither should it be the lowest priority. Although working hard may be a virtue, being constantly tired because of poor decisions does not bring you any reward. It's a very personal matter, and it's a matter of discipline.

I think that it is appropriate to count sleep as a part of our daily sustanance. When we ask the Lord for our daily bread, we expect Him to give us just the right amount. Maybe we won't eat like kings, but He will bless us with enough to give us strength. I don't know why it's harder for me now to live on less sleep. When I think of people who are up all night working or taking care of children, I don't understand how they do it. But I think that the Lord wants me to be responsible in my current situation. We are meant to be responsible with what we're given, but we're also meant not to worry about things we can't change, like noisy neighbors or big projects at work. I know that when a new season begins, He will give me my daily sustanance, as before.


  1. I think everyone has an individual sleep need. Some people require less sleep than others. Some people who sleep less may be actually hurting themselves in the long run.

  2. That may be true. I think it depends partly on whether you actually feel rested or if you're just hanging in there barely conscious. It's often possible to "tough it out," but are you working as effectively while sleep-deprived?

  3. I have always enjoyed sleep....not oversleeping or being lazy, but just going to be at a reasonable time, and waking up rested. I never found much that was worth missing significant sleep for. Never studied all night, for example. However, not long ago I realized that we were in serious need of some more money to pay off bills. The very day this realization hit home forcefully - I was told about a teaching job in the middle of the night....teaching Korean children English via webcam. I was horrified! Sick, really, at the idea that I would have to give up sleep...and not just stay up late - but wake up in the middle of the night. Yet - it was such a fall-in-your-lap answer to prayer. What could I do but accept it?

    Now I am sleepy a lot, and grabbing cat naps a lot. I don't like it at all. Though I do enjoy the actual teaching very much. And there is nothing in the world as blissful as completing my classes at 4 and falling into the soft, warm bed between Anastasia and Zhenya...to get two more blessed hours of sleep.

  4. Annie, I was thinking of you while writing. I admire your willingness to take on a new challenge.

    I suppose I do have cat naps in transportation a lot. But I don't like the drowsy feeling and not being able to control whether or not I fall asleep. And I hate falling asleep while teaching. That's pretty embarrassing.


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