7 Sleep Tips Anyone Can Learn from Islamic Tradition

From daytime naps to clean bedroom spaces, here are the great ways Islamic tradition can teach us about getting better sleep.

Muslim woman on bed taking notes from a computer
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Awake in the middle of the night feeling unease? Research shows rituals and routines — anything from a skin-care routine to meditation — can help transition your mind and body into rest mode, helping you fall asleep faster.

Whenever I have trouble, I turn to my faith, Islam. For Muslims, sleep practices are taken from the Quran and Sunnah, two forms of guidance and teachings, based on the life of Prophet Muhammad himself. Because sleep is considered a sign of Allah’s greatness, the texts frequently give instructions for how to observe and respect sleep.

Even if you don’t practice Islam, anyone who enjoys or finds comfort in routines may benefit from approaching sleep through a more holistic lens. Here are ways Islamic tradition guides followers towards a night of better sleep, plus ways you can adapt your routine, too.

1. Stop Activities In the Evening

In Islamic tradition, nighttime prayer, known as Ishahappens an hour or two after sunset. After that, it is advised to avoid any activity, including having conversations — although there is an exception when it comes to engaging with your partner.

It also discourages phone time or TV time. Without those devices — which both distract you and provide artificial blue light — you might find your brain calming down as daylight dwindles away, engaging with your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

2. Wake Up Early for Productivity

Pre-dawn prayer, known as Fajr, happens one hour before sunrise. After this prayer, instead of returning to bed, it’s encouraged to focus on early morning work. This period of work is considered blessed for productivity and allows for sleep to flourish at night.

Going to bed and waking up early is one of the foundations to maintaining a sleep schedule. Rather than doing your activities at night and delaying your sleep, try switching them to morning tasks.

3. Get Into a Clean Mindset

One of the prophetic sayings goes, “Whenever you go to bed, perform ablution like that for prayer, and lie on your right side.” Ablution means to wash yourself.

I spoke to Shaykh Amin Kholwadia, the founder of Darul Qasim, an Islamic institution in the suburb of Chicago, he explains how cleansing your mouth is an act of worship. He also mentions the other reason for cleanliness: It helps your mind drift into another dimension and promotes relaxation.

“You want to have a sense of purity mindset and be well-relaxed before you sleep,” Kolwadia says. “Sleep helps humans escape from a daily problem and go into a zone where there's comfort peace and security.”

4. Release Your Worries

One of the sleep instructions from Prophet Muhammad says Muslims should clean their bed while reciting the name of Allah. For Muslims, invoking the name of Allah during this routine serves as a practice for relegating human control and worries. This also translates across many faiths and belief structures. Research shows that religious doubt can bring on disrupted or poor sleep, and another study found that those who believed in their place in the afterlife slept longer, but not necessarily better.

One method of releasing control that may work similar to prayers is using sleep affirmations. These positive statements can help quiet negative thoughts and emotions and clear a calm pathway to dreamland.

5. Sleep On Your Right for Heart Health

Since the Prophet slept on his right side, it’s also become tradition to lie on your right side when going to bed.

That said, sleep position is about preference and comfort. Side sleeping on your left is thought to aid with digestion and avoiding compression on your organs while studies show sleeping on your right side may help blood flow to the heart, especially if you have congestive heart failure.

6. Maintain a Dark and Clean Environment

Dr. Omar Hussain, a board-certified physician in sleep medicine from Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, shares a saying from the Prophet. “Put out lamps when you go to bed, shut the doors, and cover water and food containers.” In more simplistic terms, it refers to maintaining the right sleep environment in your bedroom: dark and clean.

“Before the pandemic I had the occasional patient who would use a smartphone immediately prior to bedtime, keep the phone close all night, wake up with any message, reply, then go back to sleep. This behavior is a risk factor for insomnia,” says Hussain. “It appears this behavior has increased among my patients [during the lockdown]. I spend more time educating my patients that the screen emits light that can disrupt circadian rhythm and can contribute to insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

If you don’t want to keep your phone in a different room, you can DIY a side table that allows you to tuck away your devices while charging them.

7. Prioritize Naps

In Islamic culture, a quick mid-day nap is called qailulah. While widely practiced, the mid-day nap has a religious dimension for Muslims, as it allows for the body to rejuvenate to engage in further worship.

Napping is also cross-cultural practice — from the siesta in Mediterranean countries to the winter nap in Scandinavian countries — that sleep researchers agree has benefits for all ages. A 2010 review found that brief naps in the day helped memory processes for older adults.

And naps do not have to be long. An efficient power nap can be anywhere between 10-30 minutes. A 2007 study that looked at the napping habits of 23,681 Greek adults found that those who napped for about half an hour at least three days a week had 37% lower coronary mortality than those who did not.

Match Sleep Hygiene to Your Cultural Values for Easier Sleep

Islamic tradition makes following sleep habits easier for me because there is less pressure on the idea of perfect sleep. It’s also helped me practice some of these sleep habits, such as lying on my right side or maintaining a dark environment for me, easier, especially during times when sleep is scarce. But there is no wrong way to motivate yourself towards better sleep hygiene — as long you aren’t relying on substances like alcohol and drugs.

If general tips like “go to bed before midnight” feel too vague, try diving into your cultural values and letting those motivate your sleep habits. Whether it’s through faith-based guidance, the lens of trial and error of science, or childhood traditions, a bedtime routine for good sleep hygiene starts with relaxing activities that bring on familiarity and comfort.

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