The Truth About One-third of Your Life

by | Mar 1, 2022

Normally, the 24 hours of a day are divided into 16 hours of waking time and eight hours of sleep, plus/ minus an hour or two. That means, one-third of one’s life is spent in sleep. Sleep is divided into two types – deep sleep and dream sleep. There are about five cycles of approximately 90 minutes each, with spells of deep sleep and dream sleep (technically called Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep). At the beginning of sleep, the cycle is mostly deep sleep and towards the early hours in the morning, the cycle is mostly Dream sleep. Overall, about 20% of one’s sleep is REM sleep. So, when you sleep late after watching a film, you lose mostly deep sleep, and when you wake up early to catch a flight, you lose mostly REM sleep.

Matthew Walker, a professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, and later, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in his 2017 book Why We Sleep defines, rather dramatically, the purpose of sleep as, “a consoling neurochemical bath that mollifies painful memories and a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge, inspiring creativity.” According to Prof. Walker, “REM sleep performed the elegant trick of divorcing the bitter emotional rind from the information-rich fruit.” The deep sleep is to repair the body by restoring cellular homeostasis. Almost all ailments of the body and mind are rooted in insufficient sleep.

It is unwise to use medication for sleep because all medicines are designed to sedate you to fall asleep about 10 to 20 minutes faster, and keep your eyes shut for about 30 minutes more. Alcohol robs you of REM sleep. And the more and late you drink in the evening, the more pronounced is the effect. It impairs your mental health. People who take sleeping pills regularly end up spoiling their waking time. They feel drowsy, have muddled thinking, experience dizziness, or lose their sense of priorities. Their ability to drive is seriously impaired. Besides, most sleeping pills are addictive. Exposure to the blue light emitted by TVs, mobile phones, and computer screens in the late evening, blocks the production of the hormone melatonin in the brain, impairing sleep quality. 

According to the Vedic philosophy, the soul lives through the waking, dream, and dreamless states. The Mandukya Upanishad defines the dream state as, स्वप्नस्थानः अन्तः प्रज्ञः (Verse 4), that is, “the wisdom of the inward,” and सुषुप्तस्थानः एकीभूतः प्रज्ञानघनः एव आनन्दमयः (Verse 5), that is, “in dreamless sleep, gathering wisdom and delight from the cosmic oneness.” So, why there is so much ignorance about such a fundamental fact of life? Why do we take sleep so casually? General irritability among children, attention deficit disorder, and a lack of body-mind synchronization are tell-tale signs of poor sleep. Adults pay for their poor sleeping habits through early ageing – hair fall, wrinkles, and high blood pressure – all occur in the absence of proper sleep. 

Your waking hours can be likened to when you are on stage, and sleep, to when you prepare for your performance. While it is essential to sleep well, it is very beneficial to understand your dreams, for there, you are not only pointed out your mistakes and what is going on behind your back but also provided guidance and hints to succeed and flourish in life. The Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), first described dreams scientifically, in his 1899 book, The Interpretation of Dreams. He said that dreams inform us about our unconscious desires, thoughts, wish fulfilment, and motivations. It was a great discovery.

But greater were the insights of his junior, the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875 –1961). Jung reversed the concept of the unconscious mind on its head by describing the conscious mind as emerging out of it and not the other way round, that it is the forgotten or repressed memories. He further introduced the idea of the collective unconscious, where all human beings, past and present and future in the making, get connected.  And we are connected to this great source of intelligence every night through the medium of dreams. 

What a waste life becomes, if this search for oneself is not undertaken, and one dies ignorant of the truth peculiar to oneself! And what a profound joy it is when this discovery is available every night, at no cost, in the privacy of our sleep. The idea is to access your unconscious, which is the best definition of God, a living God inside you. 

The popularity of a loving kind God who will protect you against all dangers, compensate for all your shortcomings, and forgive all your follies, is the biggest ignorance of our times. In the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, God’s Cosmic Force is described and the reality of God as Death, is explained without ambiguity कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धो लोकान्समाहर्तुमिह प्रवृत्त, God destroys things and people after they have lived out their time. (XI.32). 

God can’t be a wishful projection of our fanciful and selfish thinking. By looking towards God for our good and welfare without assuming responsibility for our omissions and commissions, is a seriously flawed way of living. You don’t pray before an exam without studying for it, break the law and pray for escaping punishment. This error is also at the root of all our psychological problems, wherein all physical ailments start. How can we, by denying death, live a meaningful life?  

Daily sleep is a reminder of the ultimate sleep from which one would never wake up, eventually, and every morning bestows upon us the renewal of life. Mahatma Gandhi had famously said that every night when he went to sleep, he died as if to be reborn the next morning, when he woke up. I would add, not just reborn, but born better. The wisdom acquired in dreams can do wonders for your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Every night, your errors are displayed before you, warnings are given, consequences are foretold, and remedies prescribed. 

Know that an emotionally balanced person is satisfied with life, happy, cheerful, and peaceful. Conversely stated, if you are sad, irritated, and disturbed, something is wrong with your life.  A person enjoying psychological well-being enjoys optimism, hopefulness, and positive relationships. Social well-being means a belief in the potential of people and society, and is reflected in personal self-worth, usefulness to society, and a sense of community. Where do you stand? 

Develop a daily habit of spending some quiet time alone and looking at your life. Sleep well to live well. And learn from your dreams, which are your best guides, supporters, and your connection with the Cosmic Mind, where nothing happens without purpose and no life is redundant. Learn to go to bed early and wake up a little early. Review your dreams every morning for a few minutes before the rush for the day. The truth of your life is inside, and not outside.

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23 Comments

  1. An extraordinary insight into an ordinary truth of our life, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your advice to spend some quiet time alone looking at our own life goes a long way in reflecting our usefulness to society and sense of community !!

  2. Sir, may I add this Walt Whitman’s poem on sleep:

    This is your hour O Soul, your free flight into the wordless,
    Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
    You fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes yours love best.
    Night, sleep, death, and the stars.

    Thank you for making an important point.

  3. How we feel about sleep has gone through dramatic changes over the years especially with gadgets, our lifestyle and evolution of MNCs. Yes, sleep was revered by the ancients because dreams were considered as a sacred bridge to transcendence, in all religions.

    Costs of sleep deprivation are enormous. For our good, we’re starting to see more and more awareness of these facts in the mainstream media. Interactions in timeless virtual spaces must be reduced to be born new every other day. We must honour a few hours of darkness, thereby rest, recuperate and reflect upon our actions and thoughts.

  4. Thanks Arunji for bringing up this very interesting topic in your blog series. As you called out, we almost spend one third of our life during this activity, but still it is often most ignored, under valued, mis-timed and neglected. For a new born, sleeping is so natural and effortless. And as we pass through the journey of life from being infants to kids to youth to grown ups to seniors, it keeps on getting messy and complicated every passing stage.

    Irrespective of whether dreams emerge out of conscious mind or framing of conscious mind happens through dreams, sleep and dreams are aspects that have always been intriguing to great minds. It is a great reflection of quality of life. Over years, may be right or wrong, I have often got to speculating about personalities of people on how they behave immediately when they wake up in the morning or how they react once broken out of incomplete sleep.

    And finally, can’t agree more on the below –

    “Know that an emotionally balanced person is satisfied with life, happy, cheerful, and peaceful. Conversely stated, if you are sad, irritated, and disturbed, something is wrong with your life. A person enjoying psychological well-being enjoys optimism, hopefulness, and positive relationships. Social well-being means a belief in the potential of people and society, and is reflected in personal self-worth, usefulness to society, and a sense of community. Where do you stand?”

    Let us all, as the readers of this blog, resolve to take at least one small step we may feel the best for moving towards living a cheerful life. And as cheers are highly contagious, it will add cheers to all the near & dear ones around. With the cycle continuing, it will definitely scale out and have positive impact on our planet as a whole!

  5. Sir, In our deep sleep, there is no I, me, and mine (अहं भाव). When we get up from our sleep, we again attach ourselves with the “I” concept! There are yogis who sleep for one hours or two hours because they have freed their minds from “I-ness” even during their waking hours. If we keep less resistant to the system then the quality of our sleep will improve, and we will require less sleep. This is indeed a practical yogic practice.

  6. Dear Tiwari Bhaisab, Thanks for writing on one of the most important part of human life cycle. Sleep is a very important and essential requirement for all living beings.. You have very well explained all aspect of the sleeping cycle which constitute ones sleep.

    REM sleep plays an important role in re-energizing your mind. Equally important is deep sleep during which your muscles grow and repair, your immune system is refreshed and brain flushed out the toxins. It is very important to get a good nights sleep. and what you have narrated about sleeping well is very true.

    A deep meditation and calming your mind prior to sleep can help. Appreciate your wonderful blog on such an important part of human life. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Sir, I must thank you for drawing attention to sleep. Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your abilities to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories. All bad behaviour grows on bad sleep.

    Adults require eight hours of nightly sleep and let there be no shortchanging in that. Children and teenagers need even more sleep. A healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits can help ensure an adequate amount of sleep each night – but most important is avoiding watching TV late night. I have enforced a “screen ban” on televisions, computers and tablets, cell phones, and other electronic devices in my bedroom.

  8. Thanks a ton, Sir for writing a very useful blog on sleep. I have always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed in a trunk and kept under the bed.

    The worst experience of life is to lie in bed awake; with thoughts haunting you every night about all your past mistakes. Only sleep can set it right in our lives and not thoughts. And may I add that there is no better experience than watching the sunrise every morning. But only those who sleep well are qualified for this.

  9. Dear Sir, by discussing sleep you have raised the most important and perhaps the most neglected, or should I say, avoided aspect of our lives. It is so commonplace for people to keep watching TV till almost midnight and on average half of our waking hours are now spent looking at mobile or computer screens, which radiate Blue Light, determinantal to good sleep in the night.

    The habit of getting sleeping pills also is spreading and you have explained quite clearly that all this medication just makes you drowsy, you are lying in the bed half-awake like some drugged beast. It is very commonplace that people who take sleeping tablets are normally irritated, quarrelsome, and even depressed in their waking hours. You have also cautioned right about alcohol.

    I totally agree with the observation of Swati Kalam ji about the question “Where do I stand in my satisfaction with life, happiness, cheerfulness, and peace of mind? Life is not merely to have a family and job, there is a lot one can do for the other people. But for that it is essential that a person enjoys psychological well-being. Thank you for making us think about this important aspect.

  10. A blog full of valuable insights –. and a great question at the end of the second-last para!
    Thank you, Sir.

  11. The one-third is usually forgotten. It is taken for granted
    You have brought out very eloquently the necessity, the interpretation given by various personalities and lastly brought out the need of the hour.
    Very nice, thought provoking blog indeed. I wish more people read and appreciate the need for a ‘good sleep’
    With best wishes and Holi greetings to all.

  12. Loved reading this blog. This makes me remind of the conversation we had regarding what dreams are? Why do they keep coming? On a lighter note though, being a new mum, I desperately want that my child understands the importance of sleep and let me sleep a bit. Thankyou for sharing the importance of sleep.

  13. Sir, Sleep is an essential function to refresh our body and mind.A minimum of eight hour sleep needed for an adult human.During the sleep our body undergoes many changes like decrease in body temperature and heart beat etc. Sleeps works at circadian rhythm it has four stages . The first 90 minutes of slow sleep is crucial otherwise if we are tired with hectic day schedule we fall in deep sleep with tiredness.Anyway it was a pleasure to read the blog.It is informative and thought provoking in this hectic busy day to day life. Sleep is a psychological process also. Thank you sir.

  14. Dear sir, You brought about such an important point that impacts our daily life and long term health. In these days of anytime, anywhere services & night shifts sleep timings and durations have changed drastically. 8 hour sleep is a luxury. Cutting into sleep is the easiest way to generate more time be it for leisure or for getting more work done.

    Your article is a great reminder to us that good health has no short cuts. Thank you for bringing to our attention this important aspect of life.

  15. Insightful article, Prof Tiwari Ji. I also understand Culture affects when, where, and how we sleep. Another perspective!

  16. Dear sir, Thank you once again for an interesting blog. This is one topic where every one gets connected easily. Each one of us know and appreciate the importance of sleep but we are dictated by our habits and ignore the importance of sleep. As you rightly brought out sir, the dreams forewarn us both about positive and negative things that could happen to us but we ignore them and continue on our path of ignorance and arrogance. We start linking our dreams after the event takes place.

    I would say, lucky are those who can fall asleep within few minutes of lying on the bed. Our plant medical officer used tell me that people who can sleep quickly are most clear headed and are people with clear conscious. I would go further and say that we should pray for a very good night sleep everyday. This will indirectly address all the hidden health issues, thereby paving way for healthy and happy life.

    There are different views about the dreams, on one side people out rightly reject dreams as things that happen in some kind semi conscious state of mind and they have no relevance and on the other end people totally believe in dreams and start worrying and look around to circumvent the bad things that could happen as per dreams. But I believe that there is a connection between the dreams and future occurrences but we donot know how to connect the dots to get meaningful interpretation.

    Sir thank you once again for interesting blog on sleep wake cycle and for bringing out and reminding us all on importance of sound sleep and bringing out a connect between what happens in our sleep and the future.

  17. Thank you Arunji for explaining the importance and benefits of sleep. I sleep 7 hours without medication. I agree that truth of my life is inside.

  18. Thanks for sharing this, Sir. This blog of your connects the dots between, sleep and being awake, while awake there are lot of distractions, whereas sleep gives an opportunity to like you mentioned in the last para to learn from the dreams.

    The challenge, is how do you recall your dreams and spend that quality time before starting the day.

  19. Very nice piece! I like your concluding remark as it reminds your readers to have a quiet time alone and go to sleep early and wake up early which is extremely important in this accelerating technology-driven age. I come from a culture in which dreams play a significant role. We often examine the meaning of our dream and take necessary precautions if required.

  20. Dear Prof, Beautiful insights on sleep and it’s good effects.

    As a doctor, I agree with all you said about sleep. Indeed, good sleep is a like a good bath for the body (outward) that you can touch and feel. Good sleep, will similarly, bathe your subconscious body (inward) that you can’t touch.

    And, we know that a healthy subconscious (mind) leads to a healthy body …

  21. Dear Sir, Thank you for enlighting us with your blog. I totally agree with your point i.e., ‘The truth of your life is inside, and not outside.’ In this busy life, people are hardly spending time with themselves. Sleeping time has become very precious for the people. Emotionally balanced person is rare to find. Thank you once again for this wonderful post.

  22. What a great blog. This has become the USP of Prof Tiwari’s blog, every fortnight you get an opportunity to learn new things. Thanks for the solid homework you do before writing your blogs. We are blessed with the information, or rather Knoledge, you pass on to us

    Dreams are also a tool to convey an impending danger. There are people who are Blessed with this ability where they are forewarned about a danger which is likely to come. It is up to us to prepare ourself against this danger.

    People have written books about how to interpret dreams. I’m not sure though if these interpretations come out to be true.

    Death is a reality every religion talks about and this is something we know for sure that it will happen. I am aware of a person who narrated dreaming about his impending death which ACTUALLY happened within a few days. Thanks again Prof Tiwari.

  23. Excellent Blog Sir, After such a long time, I am feeling so much satisfied reading this blog about dreams.

    You are right Sir, every big things happens inside and nature guides us, give us sign and symptoms to catch and act accordingly. Dream is also one part of that, once you are in coordination with nature and mind, the body starts moving towards the divine forces for the sole purpose of our existence on this earth.

    “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Warm Regards.

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