The Quran frequently presents “day” and “night” as significant signs of the creator (Allāh). The Quran mentions the alternation of day and night in 37 places and in many places asks Muslims to observe the succession of night and day. For example, “And it is He who has made the night and the day in succession for whoever desires to remember or desires gratitude” [verse 25.62]. In the Quran, the word “night” always precedes the word “day”, “And We have appointed the night and the day as two signs. Then We have obliterated the sign of the night with darkness, while We made the sign of the day illuminating” [verse: 17.12]. It is clear that the Quran considers humans to be diurnal creatures who need light in the daytime and darkness at night, “And it is He Who makes the night a covering for you, and the sleep a repose, and makes the day Nushūr (i.e., getting up and going about here and there for daily work, after one's sleep at night)” [verse: 25.47]. The Quran stresses the importance of the daily pattern of light and darkness and considers the cycle of night and day as a mercy from Allāh, “Say: See ye? If Allāh were to make the Night perpetual over you to the Day of Judgment, what God is there other than Allāh, who can give you enlightenment? Will ye not then hearken? Say: See ye? If Allāh were to make the Day perpetual over you to the Day of Judgment, what God is there other than Allāh, who can give you a Night in which ye can rest? Will ye not then see? It is out of His Mercy that He has made for you Night and Day, - that ye may rest therein, and that ye may seek of His Grace - and in order that ye may be grateful” [verses 28.71-73].
Muslims have five obligatory prayers per day. The first prayer (Fajr
) is at dawn (about one hour before sunrise), so Muslims are obliged to wake up early on weekdays and weekends; the last prayer (Isha
) is in the evening, about 1.5-2 hours after sunset. Summer nights have earlier dawn and shorter nights, so Muslims may have less night sleep during the summer. Sleep scientists have not yet studied the physiological effects of this, although available evidence suggests a possible seasonality effect in bed times and wake times.[22
] Honma et al
. studied 10 healthy male volunteers from Japan and reported that wake-up time in the summer was 60 min earlier than in the winter and that bedtime was earlier in summer, resulting in a slightly longer total time in bed during the winter than summer.[24
] They also reported that the acrophase (circadian maximum) for core body temperature and plasma melatonin changed with the seasons, with a 2 hour phase delay in winter, compared to summer.[24
] Another study examined nine healthy males at the Antarctic zone for 15 months. The peak phase of melatonin rhythm was phase delayed by 4.1 hours in winter, compared to summer. In addition, the trough phase of rectal temperature rhythm in two of three subjects was phase delayed by approximately 2 hours in winter. However, in this study there was no change in total sleep time in winter, compared to summer.[23
] Seasonal changes in the phase of circadian rhythms are normally due to seasonal changes in the intensity of light and in the times of sunset and sunrise.
Unique topics about sleep in Islamic culture
In this section, we will discuss sleep and death, the story of the Companions of the Cave, and dreams and dream interpretation in Islamic culture.
Sleep and death
indicates some resemblance between sleep and death. The Quran
to describe death, and one of the verses states, “It is Allāh Who takes away the souls (Wafat) at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for people who think deeply
” [verse 39:42]. Another verse states, “It is He Who takes your souls (Wafat) by night (when you are asleep), and has knowledge of all that you have done by day, then He raises (wakes) you up again that a term appointed (your life period) be fulfilled, then (in the end) to Him will be your return. Then He will inform you of that which you used to do
” [verse 6.60]. The Quran
divides the “state of self” into two parts, a state of consciousness and a state of “Wafat”
] The state of “Wafat”
is divided into sleep (temporary death) and death (real death). Thus, the above verses indicate that Allāh takes and retains souls during real death, but releases souls after rest for an appointed term. The Hadith
from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) supports this view. It is reported that whenever the Prophet (pbuh) went to bed, he said, “O’ Allāh, it is with Thine Name that I live and it is with Thine Name that I die”, and when he awoke, he said, “Praise is due to Allāh, Who gave us life after our death (sleep) and unto Thee is resurrection
” [SM 2711]. Muslims believe that people in Heaven do not sleep, because sleep is a form of death. The Prophet (pbuh) was asked, “Do people of Heaven sleep?” He answered: “Sleep is the brother of death. People of Heaven do not sleep
The people (companions) of the cave
In Sūra Al-Kahf
(the cave), the Quran
describes the People or Companions of the Cave (as’hab al-Kahf
), known in Christian literature as “the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus”.[27
] The verses [18.9-26] describe young believers who found refuge from prosecution in a cave. When the boys asked Allāh for mercy, He put them into a sleep state that lasted for 300 solar years, adding nine (for lunar years). We present this story, because it provides information that corresponds with our current understanding of sleep and the effect of light and noise on sleep.
The verses describe the regular turning of the boys from side to side during their long sleep, “We turned them on their right and on their left sides” [verse 18.18]. Modern science has documented that staying on one side for long periods can cause bed sores. In addition, prolonged immobility increases the risk of numerous conditions, including thrombosis. Therefore, in modern medical practice, patients who are bed-ridden are turned regularly.
The description of the Companions of the Cave portrays their conditions during sleep. One verse states that the boys appeared to those who saw them as if they were awake, when in fact they were asleep, “And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep” [verse18.18]. This verse suggests that their eyes were open and blinking when they were asleep. In the context of modern sleep science, open eyes allow more light perception and are important for the regulation of circadian rhythms.
During their sleep, the Quran
describes sunlight that comes with sunrise and leaves at sunset and to maintain the light-dark cycle, “And you might have seen the sun, when it rose, declining to the right from their Cave, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in the midst of the Cave. That is one of the signs of Allāh
” [verse 18.17]. New discoveries revealed that a regular light-dark cycle is essential for the calibration of circadian rhythms, and maintenance of the circadian pattern of body functions and hormonal secretion.[28
] To create a suitable environment for sleep, the Quran
mentions that the hearing of the boys was sealed up during their entire sleep period, “Therefore, We covered up their (sense of) hearing (causing them to go in deep sleep) in the Cave for a number of years
” [verse 18.11]. Although sensitivity to noise decreases during sleep, modern scientists believe that the sleeping body still responds to noise stimulation.[29
] Noise during sleep has a negative impact on the quality of sleep because it increases arousal, increases changes in sleep stages, decreases slow wave sleep, and disturbs the rhythmicity of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.[29
] In addition, noise during sleep may disturb the autonomic and endocrine responses of the body. Although autonomic reactions that occur during sleep may be small, their accumulation over time may result in harmful effects, such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease.[31
] Subjects do not become adapted to these changes following long exposure times.[29
Detailed discussion of dreams in the Muslim culture is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we provide an overall summary of the importance of dreams in Muslim culture. Muslims in general have great interest in dreams and dream interpretation. In general, Muslims consider dream to be a kind of supernatural perception. One Hadith states that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “A good dream vision of a pious man is a forty-sixth part of prophecy” [SM 2263]. It has also been reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “A good vision (ru’ya) is from Allāh and a bad dream (hulm) is from Satan; so if one of you sees anything (in a dream which he dislikes), he should spit on his left side thrice and seek refuge with Allāh from its evil, and then it will never harm him” [SB 3118).
Oneiromancy is a traditional type of dream interpretation that is common in the Muslim world. In general, Muslims have much higher regard for dreams and dream interpretation than people from Western societies.[4
] Muslim countries traditionally used the terms Tabir
for “dream interpretation”, and dreams continue to play an important role in the lives of modern Muslims.[32
] Muslim interest in dreams and dream interpretation has not been well documented in the English literature, and most Western dream researchers are not familiar with the rich traditions of dreams and dream interpretation in Islam.[4
] The theories, insights, and observations of dreams proposed by Muslims over the past 1400 years correspond with many of the recent theories developed by Western psychologists during the past 150 years.[4
] Traditionally, Muslims believe that dreams appearing in the last third of the night are more truthful. This correlates with the current scientific understanding that the longest periods of REM sleep occurs during the last third of the nocturnal sleep period, when dream imagination is most active.[4
The Quran uses several terms to refer to dreams, such as ru’ya (vision) (verses 17.60, 37.105, 48.2), hulm (dream) (verses 21.5, 52.3), manam (sleep) [verse 37.10], and bushra (tidings) [verse 10.6]. Because of the central role of the Quran in the Muslim faith, discussions of dreams are fundamental to Islamic dream interpretation. Dream description plays a major role in three Sūras (chapters) of the Quran:
- Sūra 12, Yussuf (Joseph): This Sūra provides a condensed version of the story of Joseph and some of the best known references to dream interpretation.
- Sūra 37, As-Sāffāt (Ranks): This Sūra focuses on Allāh's command to the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son.
- Sūra 8, Al-Anfāl (Spoils): This Sūra describes a dream of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). “(And remember) when Allāh showed them to you as few in your (i.e., the Prophet's) dream; if He had shown them to you as many, you would surely have been discouraged, and you would surely have disputed making a decision. But Allāh saved you” [verse 8.43]. This verse describes the experience of the Prophet (pbuh) the night before a particular battle (Badr), when the Muslim army was across the valley from its enemy.
The night journey (Laylat al-Mi’raj
) in Sūra 17 (Al-Isrā) says, “Glory be to Him (Allāh) Who took His slave (Muhammad) for a journey by night from Al-Msajid Al-Harām (in Mecca) to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsā (in Jerusalem) whose surroundings We have blessed, that We might show Him (Muhammad) some of Our signs
” [verse 17.1]. Some Western scholars who have written about dreams in the Quran
consider this journey as one of the dreams of Muhammad (pbuh).[4
] However, although this journey occurred in a short period in one night, in the Muslim faith, this miraculous journey is considered to be a physical journey, not a dream. In particular, the body and soul of Muhammad (pbuh) travelled from Mecca to Jerusalem and then ascended to heaven. This led him to the wonders of heaven, where he met with many prophets and messengers who had gathered to meet him, and He led them in prayers. Therefore, we will not discuss this journey as a dream.
Some interpreters of the Quran
have interpreted verse 39.42 (“It is Allāh who takes away the souls (Wafat) at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for people who think deeply
”) as Allāh seizing souls during death and sleep (dream). For instance, the Islamic scholar, Al-Qurtubī (1214-1273 C.E.), noted that true dreams are visions experienced while the soul is separated from the body during sleep, whereas nightmares and lying dreams occur when the soul has returned to the body, but before it has again taken firm root.[11
Numerous Muslim philosophers have proposed theories of dream interpretation. Ibn Arabi (1164-1240 C.E.) proposed a metaphysical system that merged Islamic theology and Greek philosophy.[4
] Ibn Sirin (653-728 C.E.) is the best-known dream interpreter in Islamic history,[4
] and his method of dream interpretation reflects the fact that dream interpretation is important in the Quran
. He proposed that the interpretation of dreams depends on the personal characteristics and life circumstances of the individual.[4
] Ibn Khaldūn, a great Muslim scholar and thinker (1332-1402 C.E.), considered dream interpretation to be a science.[37
] In the monumental Muqaddimah (An Introduction to History
), he classified three types of dreams: (i
) dreams from Allāh (Allāh
), which are clear and unmistakable in their meaning and content; (ii
) dreams from Angels, which are received in the form of allegory and require interpretation; and (iii
) dreams from Satan, which are confused dreams that are futile.[2