SRILA PRABHUPADA taught that devotees of Krsna don't "live to sleep, but sleep to rest the body." They work hard for Krsna and rather unwillingly lie down for rejuvenating sleep. As it is said, "Sleep is sweet to the laboring man." Devotees don't want to sleep long, like a bear, or sneak in more than they need.
Devotees act to wake up in another sense too: they try to wake up to their true position as spiritual persons, eternal servants of Krsna. They don't wish to fall back into the dreamy slumber of being "English," "American," or "Chinese," "man" or "woman," "Christian," "Muslim," or "Hare Krsna monk." Of being young or old, awake or asleep, fresh or tired, ill or well. They want to be firmly situated in the absolute conception that they have nothing to do with the material body. To achieve this they adjust all relative aspects of their life.
So devotees get up early to take advantage of the special energy and clarity of the early-morning hours. They also try to go to bed early. As an old proverb says, "One hour's sleep before midnight is worth three after."
How much sleep do I need? Five, six, seven, eight hours?
Srila Rupa Gosvami, one of Lord Caitanya's chief disciples, generally slept for only one and a half hours, and sometimes he didn't sleep at all. Srila Prabhupada went to bed at 10:00 P.M. and rose before midnight to write his books. And he would rest for only another hour or two during the day. Just imagine how much extra time we would have if we could consistently do the same.
But Lord Krsna recommends moderation and regulation. So we should find out how much sleep we need and work from there to gradually decrease it. (With practice, roughly six hours should be about right.) We are servants of Krsna, not sleep. By practice we can conquer sleep, become Krsna conscious, and attain success in life.
Besides seeing sleep as an opportunity to renew failing energy, devotees see sleep as a reminder of irresistible death, which forces everyone, pauper or king, to lie down. Devotees acknowledge that they are not the controller of anything, even their eyelids. Before sleeping a devotee may humbly pray, "My dear Lord, if You like I will awaken here in this place, or perhaps I will awaken in another place. But wherever I may be, or in whatever form You give me, please allow me to serve You."
A few suggestions: Try reading or hearing about Krsna in the evening. Before going to sleep, resolutely consider what time you intend to rise and why—you may find you don't even need an alarm. And last, when you wake up, loudly chant "Hare Krsna!" and feel how the spiritual energy quickly dissipates the effects of the mode of ignorance. Sweet dreams.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. You can write to him c/o BTG.