There are several different orders of activity that take place during sleep. Confusion about these separate things leads to mistaken attempts to simply limit sleep in order to ‘become conscious during sleep’. First, there is the activity that takes place with the external, surface being consisting of body, life and mind. While the surface awareness recedes, the body has a chance to reconstitute its energy and undertake various healing activities. Sleep is considered to be a great healer of the body. It is also an opportunity for the nervous system to calm, and the mind to become quiet and withdrawn. Many people have the experience that when they withdraw the conscious mind from a problem they are trying to solve, they awaken the next day with the solution.

The exact mechanism of the mental solution presented in this way is not specifically known. Some attribute it to subliminal mental activity during the sleep period while the active focus or fixation is withdrawn; some attribute it to the knitting together of items in the subconscient to present a new view or solution; and still others attribute it to the operation of the inner being, the psychic entity, which has the chance to come forward while the active mind and senses are at rest. It is likely that one or more of these mechanisms is operative at different times and under varying circumstances.

The body in particular requires a certain amount of rest and uses that period to build up energy and redirect needed energy to any healing required. Lack of sufficient sleep can cause grave disturbances to the external being and does not lead to becoming conscious in sleep as is sometimes believed. One may find that the tiredness, fogginess and physical exhaustion as well as nervous tension or mental stress can be relieved through the sleep process.

When the external being withdraws during sleep, there is an opportunity for the inner being to come forward. Becoming conscious in sleep is really focused on building awareness and linking to this inner being such that while the body-life-mind complex is withdrawn, the development of the inner being and its own action on other planes can be undertaken and at some point, actively recognised and supported.

There are of course yogic practices that can reduce or minimise the need for any of the functions of the external being, but that is not the object of discussion here.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “it is not possible to do at once what you like with the body. If the body is told to sleep only 2 or 3 hours, it may follow if the will is strong enough — but afterwards it may get exceedingly strained and even break down for want of needed rest. The yogis who minimise their sleep succeed only after a long tapasya in which they learn how to control the forces of Nature governing the body.”

“It must be the want of sleep that keeps your nervous system exposed to weakness — it is a great mistake not to take sufficient sleep. Seven hours is the minimum needed. When one has a very strong nervous system one can reduce it to six, sometimes even five — but it is rare and ought not to be attempted without necessity.”

“Both for fevers and for mental trouble sleep is a great help and its absence very undesirable — it is the loss of a curative agency.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.