Sleep as a subversive practice?
Vishnu and I first met in 2016 in Sweden, while attending a Radical Contact gathering in Sweden. Since then, our dance journeys have overlapped in a number of ways at the intersection of activism and dance. In September this year we are co-teaching and co-creating a one week Yoga and Body Movement Retreat at Ponderosa. Since Vishnu has often told me about her fascination about sleep, and the subject rather causes me insomnia, I have asked her some questions that have been summarized into an interesting article. Thank you Vishnu!
You name yourself a body philosopher. What does that mean?
I graduated as a telecommunication engineer and Masters in Scientific translation, but always sensed in some ways that the science of the body is primary to our existence and to human meaning on a deeper level. And so Yoga, Dance, Acting have always been present in my life. I studied to be a yoga teacher while in India and when I moved to Finland about 6 years ago, without much thought I started giving yoga lessons, working at Finland’s Sleep Research Center, organising and performing at various dance movement, contact and theatre related events etc All these activities happened to give me glimpses into connections between nutrition sciences (which I’am studying more formally recently) sexual health, mental health and their links with movement, yoga and dance and so on.
Over time, curiosity led to a love and understanding within me of the interrelatedness of these many facets and aspects of the human body. At the same time I wanted to retain a sense of theory on the body.. to guiding principles for understanding human behaviours while also staying open to bodies which as not ‘standardised or commoditized entities. ’
I like to compare the body to the ocean, it’s one entity and yet it encompasses so many other water elements such as the seas... the rivers... the rain… Viola, this is just one perspective of how I see the world being a Body Philosopher.
Since when do you deal with sleep as a topic of your curiosity and inquiry?
I was always curious about sleep. Interestingly when I look back into my journals dated ‘98 I was writing about sleep then. I’ve been writing about sleep in my journals more actively since 2013, and with more scientific input I had started working as a ‘sleeping body’ at a sleep research-center by that time, helping develop the research behind a product called Beddit, and I began to realise how much simply sleeping a full good night of sleep was nourishing and enriching me. I started to inquire further into sleep and never stopped.
What struck me hard in my annual visit to India in 2015 was that none of the young working people were taking any naps, because of many factors, and the primary one being that they didn’t want to be seen as unproductive.
Napping is becoming an extinct habit in our society today. Especially in Finland, no one in my social circles take naps. I really wanted to do something about this - so I started to promote naps by creating public spaces called Nap Cafes, where people could go to take naps,. My approach to it at the time was that I was making art featuring sleep. Sleep grew into a continuous fascination… how do we use the conscious mind, thought, feelings, emotions, awareness, knowledge and so on to access this hidden, labyrinthine world of dreams and despair, and yet a source of magic and rejuvenation? How do we de-mysticise and scientifically grasp this amazing phenomenon while still not losing the essential mystery that makes it such a unique experience? My practical explorations of this inquiry continued I led a large group of people to sleep in public spaces in my home town Hyderabad, India, to raise awareness about homeless people that sleep in the streets. I was hoping to create similar events in Finland, where it is a bit more challenging due to the weather, access to free spaces, strict public regulations, and so on.. So I influenced my close social circles directly by incorporating sleeping into my Yoga sessions. I, along with many of my students vouch for the benefits of ‘Yoga Nidra’ - a nap to end the practise.
“Movement and stillness are both equally important for the wellbeing of the body”
Do you sleep a lot in your everyday life? How is sleep shaping your private and professional life?
I wish I had the luxury to sleep a lot. I try to sleep enough. I try to take naps whenever I can. I try to sleep at least 6 to 7 hours in summer and 8 to 10 hours in winter. When I don’t have to get up early to go to work before sleep and have long work related skype meetings or evening dance jams…
Sleep is a bridge that according to me links everything - a theory in sleep research is that sleeping alone rather than with in the company of others can give one the feeling of being rested within a short amount of time, . I notice this with naps.
Therefore, in my sexual relationship I make sure that I get at least a couple of hours of sleep alone time for myself, just as I like to have lone waking hours.
I have started to notice that certain mental health issues are manifested with sleep: a person diagnosed with schizophrenia, for example, sleeps far less than an average required amount and a person with depression sleeps far more. My mother is a person diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I noticed that when she was not getting enough sleep because of the household chores (a uniquely women’s responsibility in my community where equality is still way far from being established ) being overwhelmed with work until late hours into the night and then waking up early to start the day before other members of the family wake, her mental health started to go from bad to worse… This furthered my sleep-related curiosity. I started to research more about sleep and mental health. I notice the connection in my mother. Her symptoms are far less when she gets enough sleep.
Was there a moment you’ve been realized that sleep and racial politics are intertwined?
Indeed. Living in Finland, I have noticed that the people who do late night or early morning clean-ups in bars, nightclubs, gyms and restaurants are people from outside of Finland and mainly racialized persons. I have spent hours asking them about their sleep patterns and the reasons why they take up work during those hours - the big reason is that they are paid extra for being functional during the ‘ghost hours’ .
I see increasingly a clear link between their impoverished well being and one of their chief occupational hazards: sleep deprivation. minority communities. This is shaping up to be a ‘Necropolitics of the Night’ in my view: essentially, people of colour that are completely invisible during the daytime working hours.
A related idea: the Japanese practice of inemuri, or sleeping while present, allows people to multitask. People dozing sometimes on a park bench or a commuter train, at a dinner party, or even during a meeting at work. In a culture that values diligence, napping in public is taken as a sign that a person is tired from working hard but still wants to participate in their current situation. I find that just so-freaking-cool! Why don’t we appropriate or right out adopt such practices from clearly wise cultures?
Very interesting! Can you give us some of your social views on sleep?
Well, here’s one: why is the early bird so glorified? Mostly we human beings have a wide sleeping window of going to bed and yet at school, and work places have a non-inclusive time pressure. This has affected my sleep rhythm, making me want to rebel by not sleeping in the nights and being a sloth in the mornings.
And that very oppressive morning sleep value also sets the hierarchy in our society. Sleep - Social Hierarchies emerge, people that wake up too early to drop post or news papers, the milk distributors that wake up early to work in countries like India.
What is the effect sleep has on intimate relationships?
In the ‘developed’ world children soon after birth have independent sleeping arrangements all the way until the adulthood. Maybe in some cases the child shares a bedroom with their siblings, maybe even a bunk bed, but never a bed. At adulthood, when the person gets into a sexual relationship or any other form of intimate relationship where 2 adults choose to live under the same roof, there is an expectation to sleep in the same bed.
As we on the one hand deem sleep as an intimate activity, and at the same time we ignore that it is an intimate activity. This is deeply embedded contradiction in our culture and not easily noticed. Like a shower, there is a pleasure in sometimes sharing a good nights slumber with your mate. Making something so intimate an obligation has implications that bring about resistance within the couple’s behaviour. Think of all the jokes that revolve around a partner taking the couch because of an unresolved dispute. Even as it’s said in jest, it’s a huge factor!. As a body philosopher, thinking of what sleeping together takes away from your couple - the first thing that goes away is the sexual tension. Even though the best thing about sleeping together in the beginning of a relationship is start of a beautiful physical encounter.
Furthermore, discomforts of mismatched sleep patterns where one person goes to bed earlier than the other, or putting up with a snoring partner, sounds of another simply being in your intimate space, or using light when the other is about to enter deep sleep, which is actually needed in the next phase of your relationship. I see all these as critical but overlooked factors in our wellbeing.
Can you comment about sleep in our times ?
For example, taking the example of city lighting, I was in paris not so long ago and I was so taken with how intense the lights in the airports were I couldn’t get a shut eye.
In Helsinki there is now a bar that’s open 24/7 - it’s a bar mind you, where you can’t pass out being drunk, leave alone take a snooze.
I notice that the system around us is shaping for continuous 24x7 shopping, working and partying. But really there are no desginated places for - rest, the most vital healing ingredient for all round health! I am often frustrated when I travel in big cities where almost everything can be increasingly bought - but there isn’t any a place for quick naps or private shut-eye rest sessions. The choice is between going to back all the way to your AirBnb or home in order to nap - or forgoing the nap altogetehr in order to ‘save time’.
I wish to change this, starting in Helsinki but then the world over. I wish to create more nap cafes, lunch-nap and day-time nap places.
Do you observe a difference of sleeping patterns in Finland in comparison to India? I must immediately think of the dark winter Finland is famous for for example.
I notice that average person in FInland sleeps later into the morning and is awake later in the night compared to India. Most people are awake by 7 or 8 AM at the latest. Yes, the weather is an essential factor to consider. The sun shines so bright in India already by 8AM and if the household doesn’t have air conditioning, it’s hard to sleep late even during winter. However, people in India tend to take more naps, whereas napping as a habit in Finland is almost non-existent.
From the Indian perspective, in my particular community in India, there seems to be unconscious awareness of noticing the bed of a person, to see how the bed seems ‘to read’ and to communicate the psyche of its inhabitant. It is actually noticed when the sheets seem too crumpled or messy or unmade, a sort of disturbance can be read in the state of mind of the sleepr. When there is a lot of messiness sometimes , there can be quaint recommendations by grandmoms that the inhabitant oil their head and hair with powerful mustard seed oil, for example, in order to restore a boldily balance through inducing sound sleep.
As a body philosopher, now I am beginning to understand the the reasons behind such interesting beliefs and practicesit is when we the sleeper has nights of agitation or mental turmoil they moves a lot in bed and that causes the sheets to crumple up and oiling the head calms them down enough to have a deeper sleep.
Coming back to Finland, I gathered this interesting anecdote from a conversation with some people in Sodankyla (in Northern Finland at the arctic circle) about sleep patterns in pre-digital technology times: In the 60’s and 70’s or earlier people slept around 8:00 PM and woke up around 2:00 AM and went back to sleep around 5:00 AM to sleep till 8:00 or 9:00 AM. They had a ‘night coffee’ during their sleep break! A real curiosity which I want to further investigate as a habit.
Speaking of which, any thoughts on coffee’s influence on sleep?
Coffee in a moderate dose can compliment a quick nap incredibly well. However, a regular intake of coffee and certain kinds of beers (with Hops) can hike estrogen levels in the body. Estrogen as a hormone could cause sleep disruptions.
You once have stated, that you are thinking of sleep as a form of resistance? Could you elaborate your thoughts?
My grandma always said “Sleep is the quintessential medicine” that nourishes the body creates regenerative process, declutters the mind.
Sleep isn’t an act of being lazy. Please sleep as part of your self-care regime. Sleep as a demonstration against capitalistic high-productive oppressive systems that are constantly built around us, referring to 24/7 Jonathan Crary (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/22/24-7-late-capitalism-ends-sleep-jonathan-crary-review)
The places of rest are becoming more and more scarce vs the places to shop, the co-working, co-building, places are popping up more and more. We innately have a need to be together to build and yet for rest we seek solitude and therefore public places to rest feel uncommon as we stopped seeing people snoozing in random places.
In the times, where we work in shifts catering to a country that’s on the other side of the globe with grand variant time zone, sleep is exchanged for money, and I am simply looking at it as an inverse logic, If time is money and sleep is the new currency, I say SPEND IT!!!! ENJOY USING YOUR CURRENCY in yourself. It’s the only currency that enhances your quality of life by multiple folds.
I find it emotionally nourishing to see a child falling asleep in my arms giving into the state of vulnerability. The innate trust that we are born with but we build walls around us to the point we can’t sleep in the same place as others (strangers) . My process to create a borderless community is also to create a space where we as a being can take a snooze together going beyond the social constructs where we can just be sleeping resting rejuvenating bodies.
You’ve made sleep profundly political during this conversation, I’m curious - any Thoughts on Sleep and Gender?
Just a couple of quick thoughts I’ve been pondering lately: when a female body hosts a child and then chooses to nourish the child with her breast, the body of the person and the baby are entangled at that time that they are codependent. However many productive people choose to do chores while the baby sleeps than rest with the baby themselves.
Just as Female balding isn’t discussed much, female snoring is not discussed much neither. Every time I looked up snoring, I only see stereotypical pictures of a male person snoring and a female person looking frustrated. This, according to me, augments the trauma of snoring among certain genders.
Parenthood, especially as a breastfeeder: many countries that still don't still give parental leave, especially mother's leaves are really short and there really isn’t a ‘father’s leave’ in countries like India.
As an artist, freelancer and a person with a busy mind, I often have difficulties to fall asleep or giving myself enough time to sleep. Do you have thoughts or even recommendations for me?
If you can create your work-life around your sleep as parents with infants do.. Treating yourself as your own child… you are setting out on a path to true and sustained health.
I have questions for you rather than recommendations.
Do you laze around enough ?
Do you use sleep as a tool to process your mental clutter ?
Do you have a good sleep hygiene ? (meaning - do you prepare to go to sleep as you would to go to a party ???)
Are you excited about sleeping ?
Do you enjoy slow mornings ??? (Wake up - eat breakfast - go back to snooze for 20 minutes - ???)
Do you ever sleep outdoors ? In a hammock ?
Do you create sleep adventures for yourself ?
Do you sleep alone as part of self-care ?
Do you sleep with people you appreciate as part of self-care ?
Have you invested in a good mattress ?
Do you sometimes sleep on the ground ?
Do you plan your next morning’s breakfast, so you are excited about waking up the next morning ?
And I’m leaving you with 3 statements on ‘Sleep as Privilege’:
If you are able to have time to sleep as much as you want ; take 3 steps forward
whenever you want ; take 3 steps forward
Where-ever you want ; take 10 steps forward.
I am working quite a lot with specific individuals on helping them better their sleep posture. You can already guess what this means- . We spend nearly 8 hours each day in bed, it’s essential to give your body enough support so you don’t have cricks in your neck or shoulder pains or mid back pains. You can contact me with further questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Music I am listening to while I write this text.