Turning Left and Right in Sleep - Reflection on Surah Kahf of Quran

وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ
وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ


Wa tahsabuhum ayqathan wahum ruqoodun 
wa nuqallibuhum thata alyameeni watha taashshimali


You would think them awake, although they were asleep,
And We turned them over to the right, and to the left.

- Quran, Surah Kahf, 18:18


In one of the more mystical chapter of the Quran, Chapter 18, Chapter of the Cave, the 18th Sign is the subject of this reflection where God speaks of few believing youth of ancient past who became distant from the corruption of the society and took refuge in a secluded place. This particular verse talks about two things: how apparent reality and real reality can differ; and while God is the Real Doer - yet divine will and human will are not mutually exclusive but mutually complementary.

The first part of the Sign tells that the mystical hibernation in which these youths were placed by God's plan in which they would be appeared to be awake but in actuality they were in a particular phase of sleep.

In our modern day knowledge of human physiology will tell us that turning from one side to another happens in a particular state of sleep. Another underlying theme of this part of the Sign is that in this phenomenal world, not everything is how they appear outwardly. The inward reality can often be complete opposite of what it appears from outside. A wise person will thus need not to take things for granted from outer appearances but need to practice careful consideration.


Second part of the Sign talks about God made them turn them over to right and to left. This is a very common phenomena we often seen in our daily lives during sleep.

WHY PEOPLE TURN INSIDE SLEEP


Quoting from ABC Australia site:

Rolling over in bed is something we take for granted, yet it appears we know very little about this basic human movement.

"No one that I'm aware of has specifically researched this," says Dr Harriet Hiscock, a paediatric sleep specialist at the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne.

Babies start to roll at about four months, says Hiscock. Before this time "they don't have the coordination to do it and they are simply not strong enough," she says.

"There's a big innate drive so that they learn to roll so they can get on all fours and start to crawl," she says, adding that rolling over is a "developmental milestone." She thinks that rolling over during sleep for adults and children is simply a matter of getting comfortable.

"If you just lie in the same position all night you'd probably get stiff joints, and problems with the skin," she suggests.

Dr Peter Roessler, a fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, agrees.

"I think movement while we are asleep is a protective mechanism to prevent problems developing from prolonged pressure — such as reduced blood flow to certain parts of the skin," he says.

When patients are paralysed for a long time, for example in intensive care, they need to be turned regularly to prevent pressure sores, he adds.

He thinks unpleasant stimuli from pressure on pain receptors (called nociceptors) initiate a coordinated rolling over response, and this can happen whether we are asleep, or simply lying awake in bed.

"We've all experienced this when sitting in one position. We can tolerate it for a certain length of time and then we have to move. I suspect it's probably a similar sort of response even when we are asleep."

The signals from the nociceptors would travel up the back of the spinal cord to the brain, possibly to the reticular activating system which is important in sleep and wakening, he suggests. Then signals to make movement happen would travel down tracts in the front portion of the spinal cord and go out to the muscles.

People under anaesthesia can't roll over because their sensory signals are suppressed, muscle power is diminished and brain activity can't be coordinated, he adds.

And the most common reason for someone turning over in their sleep is probably their spouse nudging them to stop them snoring, he laughs.

Degrees of consciousness
So how conscious do you need to be to detect these signals?

Hiscock thinks rolling mainly occurs during deep sleep.

"As we go through the night we cycle through alternating phases of light and deep sleep," she says.

"Rolling and other movements are not going to happen in the light sleep phase known as rapid eye movement sleep (or REM sleep).

"When we are in [REM] sleep we tend to dream and our body is semi-paralysed, so we can't roll over. We think that's to stop us acting out our dreams," she says.

During deep non-REM sleep, the brain has mini 'arousals' every six to eight minutes when the sleeper becomes more awake, says Dr Chris Seton, a child sleep physician at The Children's Hospital Westmead in Sydney.


End of Quote

The reason we changes sides in sleep is mostly to do with hydraulics and pressure. If you are sleeping soundly, your blood pressure lowers slightly, and so blood flows a bit more slowly through extremities, like your legs. An occasional mass movement, like turning over, gives a bit of a push to the muscles, and makes the blood move round a bit faster. This prevents cramp in the 'starved' muscles.

As suggested, it can also be symptomatic of a desire to relieve excess heat in your bed, or to move off a badly creased sheet which is causing some discomfort. It is a fairly normal situation - a healthy adult makes between 500 and 600 movements in an 8-hour sleeping period. (Credit)



SLEEPING STATES


A normal sleep cycle has two major categories termed REM and non-REM. REM stands for rapid eye movement. REM sleep is characterized by muscle relaxation, dreaming, episodic rapid eye movements, and low amplitude waves on an EEG (encephalograph). Non-REM sleep is divided into four stages from light sleep (stage 1) to stage IV (Delta or deep sleep). Non-REM sleep occupies about 75% of normal sleeping time while REM occupies the remaining 25% and usually occurs more toward morning.

NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep is dreamless sleep. During NREM, the brain waves on the electroencephalographic (EEG) recording are typically slow and of high voltage, the breathing and heart rate are slow and regular, the blood pressure is low, and the sleeper is relatively still. NREM sleep is divided into 4 stages of increasing depth leading to REM sleep.

About 80% of sleep is NREM sleep. If you sleep 7-8 hours a night, all but maybe an hour and a half is spent in dreamless NREM sleep.

REM sleep is when dreams occur. We have 3 to 5 REM periods per night. They occur at intervals of 1-2 hours apart and are quite variable in length, ranging from 5 minutes to over an hour. REM sleep is characterized by rapid, low-voltage brain waves, irregular breathing and heart rate and involuntary muscle jerks. (Credit)


SIGN OF SLEEP IN SURAH KAHF


So we know that inside our human body there is a built in mechanism by which even during a particular semi-awake state of Sleep (non-REM Sleep) we turn from one side to another through built in mechanism via our pain receptors (called nociceptors) that makes our body turn.

That is the physical explanation of how it happens.

Now when God uses language such as "We turn" in the Scripture, this include the built-in mechanism in which we are created by Him in the first place which causes the turning.

Similarly in other place in the Quranic Scripture when God says, it is the Compassionate God who make the birds fly high, it doesn't exclude the effort, the mechanism, the physics, the physiology of the bird and its wing. Those all are part of Divine Architecture and thereby part of Divine Will.

So God reserves the right to emphasis that I do this turning because the very mechanism through which this happen is also created by God.


Many people resort to fate and determinism on this very point by misinterpreting divine will and human will mutually exclusive. They say that God decides all, we have no power, our effort has no value. This thought is fatalistic and deterministic and against the nature of reality (which is also Sunnatallah according to Quran, or Divine Pattern) and also the Scripture.

What is consistent with the nature of reality and the Scripture is that Divine Will and Human Will are not mutually exclusive, rather they are mutually complementary. Man being the representative of God, is an instrument of God through which Divine Will is also exercised on earth as was and will in heaven.


And God knows the best, God is the Knower of All, the Source of Unending Knowledge and Wisdom.



# Further Read:

* How Your Sleep Position Affects Your Health, Your Dreams And Your Personality
* The Seven Sleepers


# Also on Technology of the Heart:

* Temporary Autonomous Zone to Permanent Autonomous Zone and Surah al-Kahf
* In Search of the Khidr of this Age by Imran N. Hosein

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Technology of the Heart: Turning Left and Right in Sleep - Reflection on Surah Kahf of Quran
Turning Left and Right in Sleep - Reflection on Surah Kahf of Quran
A reflection on the turning during Sleep of the Youth of Cave in Surah Kahf.
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