Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Altaf Husain

Unable to stay awake after completing the Fajr prayer? Struggling to barely make it through the day?

Do you find yourself nodding off at your desk during idle moments at work? Are midday meetings becoming your favorite naptimes?

The hustle and bustle of our fast-paced lives leaves little time for rest. While college students are perhaps among the most sleep-deprived, more and more people are failing to get enough sleep. And for Muslims, living in a society that does not revolve around prayer timings poses an additional challenge.

Despite it being such a crucial part of our 24-hour day, we pay little attention to this often taken-for-granted activity. How many of us have seriously contemplated questions such as, “How much sleep do I need?” “What can I do who about insomnia?” “Can I really catch up on sleep?”

Believe it or not, there is actually an organization called the National Sleep Foundation ( that is dedicated to “improving the quality of life for the millions of Americans who suffer from sleep disorders, and to the prevention of catastrophic accidents related to sleep deprivation or sleep disorders.”

Sleep has been mentioned by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala in Sura An-Naba (78), verse 9, “And We have appointed your sleep for repose.” And indeed, Prophet Muhammad (Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam) himself emphasized that our bodies have a right over us. The carefully recorded biographies of the Prophet inform us that he spent most of the day in service to his community and most of his night in prayer to Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. It is said that the Prophet slept very little during the night, but encouraged a short nap between the Dhuhr and ‘Asr prayers. One wonders how it was possible for the Prophet to function with such little sleep; however, having had prophethood bestowed upon him, he was commanded by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala to prepare and train himself for that tremendous mission.

Stage 1 Muscles relax, irregular, rapid brain waves
Stage 2 Larger waves, bursts of electrical activity
Stage 3 Large, slow waves (delta)
Stage 4 Continuation of large, slow waves (delta)
Stage 5 1 hour or later, REM – rapid eye movement (brain waves as active as if one were awake. Dreams occur.
Stage 6 Recurring REM cycles until one awakens 
75% Non-REM sleep, 25% REM (dreaming)

In today’s society, people devote little effort to monitoring their sleep patterns. Indeed, most of us do not know what actually happens during sleep (refer to diagram). We do know, however, that if we do not get enough sleep, we can feel irritable and drowsy. Consider a typical summer day when daylight hours are long, and nights are short. In North America, the beginning time for Fajr prayer can be as early as 4:30 am while the time for ‘Isha prayer can be as late as 10 pm. By the time we wrap up the day and go to bed, it may be after midnight – technically, the next day. Waking up for Fajr prayer under these circumstances can be a struggle, to say the least.

And then, what does one do after completing the prayer? This can actually be the real dilemma. Consider this scenario: if you complete Fajr prayer at 5 am, yet you do not have to prepare for work (which starts at 9 am) until 7:30, what do you do during those 2-1/2 hours? Chances are you haven’t had enough sleep so you’d like to return to bed; however, you feel uneasy, recalling that the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam frowned on the habit of sleeping after the Fajr prayer.

Try, though, as we may to follow the Prophet Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam’s Sunnah, for many of us, those extra hours of sleep in the morning have become a source of revitalization. If you are fortunate enough to be able to fall asleep again, you may feel more rested and ready to take on a full day of work. If, however, it takes you a half hour or more to fall back to sleep, you may actually find yourself awakening later feeling groggy.

This scenario is just one of many, and addresses the individual who doesn’t make it to bed until late but still wakes for prayer. What about the individual who does not wake for prayer? The fact is that many of us, for a combination of reasons, rarely get a good night’s sleep.

We will now discuss the dangers of sleep deprivation, recommendations for sleep management, and the wisdom behind the habits of the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam. 

Scientists have conducted various studies on sleep patterns in which the most common finding is that not getting enough sleep is a threat to both our physical and mental health. A typical work day lasts approximately 9 hours. Adding another hour or so for commuting time means the average person requires at least 10 hours a day of alertness, notwithstanding family responsibilities and extra-curricular activities after work. A working mom may find it necessary to stay awake continuously for 18 hours or more, making it impossible for her to get more than 5-6 hours of sleep every night. And we’re assuming that her sleep is not disrupted by stress or any other physical ailments. As this cycle repeats itself over the duration of the workweek, it is not uncommon for many people to suffer from sleep deprivation. 

Many Muslims experience increased bouts of sleep deprivation during the month of Ramadhaan. Waking up an hour before the Fajr prayer, eating suhoor, staying awake through the day until iftaar, praying the Taraweeh prayers, and repeating this cycle for an entire month can cause shock to a body that is unprepared. 

Are You Sleep Deprived? 

Do you want to know if you are sleep-deprived? One simple test is to see how fast you are able to fall asleep. Spouses of people who are sleep-deprived report that they fall asleep almost immediately after their heads touch the pillow. They often cannot sit still during prolonged meetings else they risk falling asleep. And often, the irony is that they are sleep deprived because of intense periods of activity without breaks or pauses. 

As mentioned above, sleep deprivation poses risks for both physical and mental health. For example, research has shown that two out of three road accidents in the U.S. may be linked to drivers who are sleep-deprived. Slower reactions combined with an inability to think clearly often puts sleep-deprived drivers at a higher risk for road rage and, even worse, of missing important cues such as slowed traffic or unsafe road conditions. 

Recent studies in the West have also reported that starting schools later in the morning may help reduce discipline problems while increasing academic performance.  This finding sits at odds with the traditional notion in the Islamic culture which emphasizes rising early for Fajr prayer, and memorizing Qur`aan, for example, in the early hours of the morning. 

Sleep and Teenagers 

Sleep deprivation is not uncommon among teenagers as well. Ever wonder why teenagers enjoy slumber parties so much… during which they comfortably stay awake all hours of the night and sleep in until the Dhuhr prayer? Over the past few years, various studies have indicated that adolescents, in their prime years of development, need more sleep than they are getting. Some scientists have based this finding on the possibility that teenagers have internal clocks that prompt them to stay awake late at night and sleep later in the morning (Washington Post, 10/19/00). Recent studies in the West have also reported that starting schools later in the morning may help reduce discipline problems while increasing academic performance. This finding sits at odds with the traditional notion in the Islamic culture which emphasizes rising early for Fajr prayer, and memorizing Qur`aan, for example, in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps one explanation could be that in Islamic cultures, typically very little activity takes place between the ‘Isha and Fajr prayers. A household that abides by this tradition is likely to produce youth who are more alert and effective in the early mornings. On the other hand, non-Islamic lifestyles socialize the youth to stay awake for hours on end after the ‘Isha prayer. In this lifestyle, the night comes to life – ceasing to be a time for rest. 

Sleep and University Students 

University students are perhaps among the most vulnerable to sleep disruption and deprivation. Muslim students try especially hard to juggle strenuous schoolwork, Islamic study circles, and extracurricular and social activities. We asked two seniors and a first year student at Georgetown University about their own sleeping habits. The three students averaged approximately five-and-a-half hours of sleep per night. Admittedly, senior Shaheen Kazi added that her six to seven hours of sleep a night are reduced drastically during peak exam times. As vice-president of the campus Muslim Student Association, and coordinator of the Muslim Housing Co-op, Kazi has to maintain a delicate balance between excelling academically while fulfilling her obligations to the Georgetown Muslim community. 

But exactly how do such students make it through the day with such little sleep? Rehenuma Asmi, a first-year student majoring in Arabic and pre-medicine says she does not usually have to take a nap during the day. Kazi and her roommate, senior Nadia Chaudhri indicate that they take power naps (20-30 minutes) during the day. 

Prophet Muhammad’s Sleep Patterns 

The Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam was known to sleep very little. There are several authentic reports regarding his sleeping habits. During the early period of revelation, he was commanded to spend most of the night or some part of the night in prayer. After the initial years of revelation, the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam continued the night prayers in the last third of the night. He would stop, and rest lying on his right side until his companion and the caller to prayer, Bilal, came to wake him for the Fajr prayer. He did not sleep after Fajr prayer, but we learn from the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam that he recommended a nap between Dhuhr and ‘Asr prayer. Indeed, the reader is invited to further explore the blessed habits of the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam in the various books of seerah and throughout the books of Hadeeth. 

Overall, we would all agree that our bodies deserve their share of rest. As Muslims, we are reminded by Prophet Muhammad Sall Allaahu`alayhi wa sallam that our bodies have a right over us. We must monitor our daily activities to ensure that we are getting enough sleep. Most of all, our sleep patterns should not make us miss either Fajr or ‘Isha, as they mark the beginning and the end of our days. So make sure that from time to time, you ask yourself, “Am I getting enough sleep?” 

Editor’s Note: There are several sleep disorders (like insomnia, parasomnia, or hypersomnia for example) and the reader is invited to visit the American Sleep Disorders Association at to learn more about them.


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