Sneaking Shuteye

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to sleep (Prov. 6.10).

Insomniac? Me, too. Let’s swap coping methods. Benadryl or Ambien? Yoga? Counseling? What about caffeine: Less? None at all?

Maybe you’ve had better luck than I have with stuff like that. Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to an inadequate night’s sleep on a regular basis – catching up on reading in the wee hours, or I Love Lucy reruns on TV Land, or even doing dishes on occasion – and so my challenge is figuring out how to make up the sleep deficit during the day.

Napping is the obvious stopgap remedy, but hardly a real solution, especially when it comes to the more serious effects of sleep deprivation. Michael Twery of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, says that naps “may reduce the feeling of sleepiness but do not help the biological rhythms associated with long-term health.” Better sleep – good sleep, long sleep, at night preferably – is what’s really needed. Right. I know that. It’s a work in progress.

In the meantime, of course, naps are imperative, but not always convenient. Depending on where you work, it might be frowned upon to simply spread out on the floor for a refreshing doze. Consequently, unless you work in a part of the world where afternoon siestas are de rigueur, sneaking some sleep on the sly becomes an anappingrt form. Probably you’re already an old hand and already know all the tricks, but here are a few pointers if you’re a sleepless newbie.

1. Car naps – Let’s be clear from the get-go on this one: The car must be stationary before napping occurs. In fact, car naps are a great way of preventing nodding off when the car actually is in motion.

That being said, I put this one first because, although seasonal, it’s very convenient. Seriously, what could be easier (when the weather is clement) than stopping in a parking lot, making your way to the outer rim (where the well-heeled park their Lexus sedans and shiny new SUVs in hopes of avoiding car dings), and camping out for a spell. You put back your seat, insert a couple earplugs, and then cover your eyes with a handkerchief or bandanna. Bring along a small pillow for your neck’s sake, and perhaps a light coverlet in the fall and early spring. Five or ten minutes, tops, and you’re ready for that next meeting or financial report!

A variation on this method is what I call the “River Nap.” This was a favorite when we had babies that weren’t all that great at sleeping themselves. I’d secure the wailing child in a car seat, and we’d go for an extended drive all around town until the wails gave way to lullaby land. Next, I’d find some quiet, picturesque spot to park the vehicle (often a spot by the St. Joseph River – hence the name), lock all the doors, and put my seat back to join my son or daughter in a restful slumber. Dad gets a nap, baby gets a nap, and exhausted mom of nursing newborn gets a nap (hopefully) at home. A non-REM trifecta – sweet!

2. Library napsDid you know you’re not allowed to sleep in public libraries? It’s true, and now my kids have been alerted accordingly.

We were in our neighborhood branch the other day. My teens went off to find bosleepingoks and movies and music, and my younger children plopped down in front of the computers to play games (which they normally don’t get to do at home).

I found a poofy chair within eyeshot of the computer bank and settled in. Then, after the librarian making her rounds had passed me by, I leaned back, covered my eyes with a cloth, and caught a quick snooze. Five minutes is all it takes usually, sometimes even just a couple. Sleep experts say that cat naps are better than daytime full-fledged deep sleep anyway. It’s just a recharge, and then back in the game.

Later, on the way home, I mentioned to the kids that I was glad I wasn’t caught napping or else I might’ve been thrown out. It was hyperbole, of course, but my youngest daughter thought it was a curious comment. “Why would you get in trouble for sleeping in the library?” she asked.

This was a tough one, because we’re pretty much talking homeless folks here, and the no-sleeping rule is designed to prevent libraries from becoming drop-in centers. And, as I recall, that’s one of the main purposes for drop-in centers: To catch up on sleep in a safe, climate-controlled environment.

In Chicago, I remember getting kicked out of libraries pretty regularly for sleeping – the Bezazian branch on the north side was the first. I was brand new in the city and on a February urban plunge. I hadn’t slept much in the rescue mission the night before, so I was pretty beat, plus cold and sick. I just wanted a warm place to sit and snooze a bit, so when I came across the Bezazian branch, I went in, sat down, and dropped off to sleep. It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two before a librarian shook me awake and let me know I’d have to move along surprise!

Next time you’re in a downtown library, look around. You’ll see men and women (mostly men) slouching in chairs with strategically placed books to forestall the inevitable tap on the foot or shoulder. It was true in Chicago, and it’s true here in South Bend. It’s telling that I’ve never been nailed for napping in our neighborhood branch isleepern the subdivision, but downtown I’ve been called on it at least a couple times. And it’s apparently a pretty common library protocol nationwide – even in Seattle, where the public library has intentionally reached out to the homeless – but I’m glad to know that librarians wrestle with it when called upon to enforce it.

3. Church napsUnlike sleeping in the library, sleeping in church is acceptable. In fact, I even had a priest give me implicit permission once. “The least important part of the Mass by far is the homily,” he said. “If you have to duck out for some reason or catch forty winks, that’s the time to do it.” He well knows that I’ve taken him up on his advice many times.

Yes, I’m a notorious Mass-napper, I admit it. In fact, we have a saying in my family OK, not a “saying” so much as an inside joke, and the joke is on me. You’ve probably heard the musically inclined quote St. Augustine: “He who sings, prays twice.” Our family gloss on that saying is this: “And he who falls asleep, prays three times.”

But napping in church doesn’t have to be reserved to worship alone. If you can find a church that is open for prayer and adoration all day, then your drowsiness problems are over!

The key here is adopting the proper attitude of prayerful sleep – “attitude” as in positioning in the pew. My favorite napping church is still St. Peter’s in the Loop in Chicago. When I lived at the Catholic Worker, and got desperate for a break and some Z’s, I’d hop on the ‘L’ train (another good sleeping venue, but not to everyone’s taste), get off at Madison, and walk over to St. Peter’s. Like most Catholic churches, the front pews were typically empty, so I’d usually pick a spot a few rows bst. peter'sack from the Mary altar to the left of the sanctuary. I’d half kneel/half sit, and lean my head forward on the pew in front of me. I could stay in that position a good 15 minutes, and then wake up refreshed and ready to head back into the do-gooder fray, with only a big red mark on my forehead as evidence of my AWOL respite.

So, church napping is not only liturgically acceptable (during the homily), and socially respectable (as long as you don’t snore too bad), but theologically appropriate as well. Sleep is like death according to the Scriptures – especially in St. Paul:

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

And what’s the goal of the Christian life after all? To die in Christ, right? For to die in Christ is to be rise with him on the last day. St. Paul gets at this from the negative point of view in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15.16-18, 20).

We’re all going to die, short of the Parousia, and hopefully we’ll die in Christ with hope of resurrection to follow. If Christ is the church, why not think of sleeping in church as a display of Maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus!” spirit?

In any case, please give me the benefit of the doubt. Next time you see me nodding off in church? Think of it as a theological statement and an affirmation of faith….Zzzzz-zzzzzz……
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