“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
As I made my way across Tokyo to my destination, I quietly congratulated myself for securing a seat on a very crowded commuter train. However, I soon had misgivings about my good fortune when a stranger’s head awkwardly started to nestle on my right shoulder and the passenger slumped on my left began to snore. Momentarily trapped by my weary traveling companions, I studied the other passengers on the train. Approximately half of them were in a semi-comatose state and the others, while awake, were equally detached from life around them as they silently focused on their mobile devices. For a moment, it felt like I had mistakenly boarded a zombie train in an apocalyptic world and I would soon become one of them!
This scenario is actually quite common in Japan, which explains why it is often described as a nation of sleep deprived people. Multiple surveys confirm this assessment, revealing that Japanese workers average only six hours and 22 minutes of sleep on work nights—the lowest in any industrial nation. Therefore, it is not unusual to see people taking catnaps in cars, restaurants, public transportation, classrooms and park benches as they try to catch a few moments of rest so they can press on with the unrelenting demands of life. The Japanese word for “nap” is 居眠り(inemuri) which means literally “sleeping while present,” a description that underscores one’s ongoing attempt to engage with life while at the same time momentarily checking out. Such napping is often considered a sign of diligence in Japan and is quietly accepted by employers and fellow citizens as an unavoidable fact of life. This propensity to sleeping in opportune moments on trains can create comical scenes often posted on social media. Many have even mastered the art of sleeping while in a standing position and almost everyone seems to intuitively know when to stir from their slumber as their stop approaches.
Obviously, continued sleep deprivation is not a healthy habit for anyone, but sometimes it is unavoidable due to the demands of family, health issues or work responsibilities. Some of these elements are beyond our control and can lead to chronic sleeplessness. However, there is often a spiritual aspect to this problem that we should keep in mind. That’s why we must frequently remind ourselves that God reigns supreme in the affairs of our lives so we should learn to rest in Him. Framed in these terms, sleep becomes almost a spiritual exercise as once again we place our burdens of the day and worries for tomorrow in the hands of a loving, all powerful God. That can lead to true rest.