Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


This sketch called to mind the 2019 film Midsommar.* It is a pagan cult thriller set in an isolated Swedish village during a midsummer festival. It juxtaposes images of beautiful, young people dancing during the day and sleeping communally at night with sunlit atrocities, ranging from group suicide (by leaping from a cliff’s edge) to artfully curated dead bodies on display for unspecified pagan gods. The latter sacrifices are persons of color who are unwittingly lured to the festival. The film has been commonly read as an allegory depicting the horrors of white supremacy, as best detailed in the L.A. Review of Books

“Morning Devotions” text takes on similarly disturbing white supremacist undertones, as it introduces its subjects as "beautiful, healthy bodies, smoothly and broadly efficient." These figures embrace a “natural” means of sleeping, which is depicted as having profound powers in restoring individuals and unifying the social collective.

The sketch details: “Early sleep, because daylight was beloved, and darkness also, for rest and growth; long quiet hours of sleep, sound, dreamless, perfect. Then—the dawn.” Sleep is described as a precious blessing, offered by nature, to aid humanity in its social development: “The darkness was welcomed with soft acceptance, tired eyes closing; weary limbs relaxing; blessed sleep affectionately received; but the returning light brought consciousness, and consciousness, to humanity, was joy.” Gilman describes these sleep practices as a feature of a social utopia, in which a more enlightened society communes with the natural world to better rejuvenate their bodies through diurnal sleep: “As the east turned from gray to rose, . . . so stirred the myriad sleepers, smiling, as they woke to life again, in the new days. Clear of conscience and rested utterly; in pure health and vigor.” In these “new days,” awakening at dawn unifies “the myriad sleepers,” so that they are “held in one harmony by that long wave of rolling light, soft music rose . . . of glad hope and new-born power.” 

This “waking world”—made up of an unspecified human collective that, per the implicit class cues in these lines, are obviously neither domestic nor factory workers (who would not experience sleep as such)—represents a new dawn in social evolution, in which an unspecified human collective achieves social harmony through shared sleeping practices. This underlying reading foretells twenty-first-century issues related to access to deep sleep and diurnal sleep rhythms. 

Scientific America, for example, recently published an article entitled "Deep Sleep Gives Your Brain a Deep Clean." It cites medical studies that detail the flow of sleep cycles that supports brain function. This requires uninterrupted and protected rest: a form of sleep only afforded by those with the privilege of a safe and comfortable resting space. 

Similarly, the Journal of Circadian Rhythms** reports that physical fitness and diurnal sleep can improve cardiovascular health. Both elements—physical fitness and rhythmic sleep—are not essential rights in present-day U.S. culture. They are, rather, features of a privileged lifestyle that offers individuals enough free time and resources to keep up a routine practice of exercise and uninterrupted rest. 

**DOI: 10.5334/jcr.164

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