Diaries of a Sleep Deprived Dad

Spirituality created by lost sleep.

I’m coming to the end of a six-month parental leave. The time I’ve been able to spend at home with my son has been a major gift, though I do feel like I’ve spent the better part of it in a state of altered consciousness. 

There’s a few reasons for that. For one, my regular day job doesn’t happen at home, but at two universities. That means my life is usually full of big ideas, hefty conversations, occasional debates and seminars, and working my way through the stack of books that always teeters on an end table in my living room. I’ve been away from all that during my leave. I’ve barely read a thing! (Though I’m not counting Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, a baby book that I’m sure I’ve read, aloud, at least 40 times lately). It’s as if I’ve detached the module in my brain concerned with that stuff and mothballed it away in the closet, in the box with the scratchy winter woolens.

Couple that with the sleep deprivation that goes along with caring for a teething, oft-fussy baby, and I feel like I’ve been looking at the world with new, if heavy-lidded, eyes. Sleep deprivation is a powerful, world-altering thing. It has its negative side for sure – when I’m tired, the slightest provocation can turn me into a bridge troll, whether it be from the lethargic driver in front of me, or some screech or spilt bowl of Cheerios conjured up by my three-and-a-half-year-old. Yet grouchiness isn’t the whole story; I’ve actually relished this new outlook on life. Being too weary to take a left-brained, over-intellectualized approach to the world has allowed a more intuitive, creative side to bloom. It’s produced marvellous results in areas of my life where I felt like I was spinning my wheels for some time. My guitar playing has developed dramatically, as I’ve been able to experience music as less a series of scales and arpeggios and more tones and colours. A similar thing has happened in the kitchen. I’ve always loved cooking, but lately I’ve discovered dishes and flavours that emerge from a more intuitive approach of attending to smell and sizzle, and less from following a recipe like it’s a blueprint or engineering manual.


What a funny thing perception is. What we take as reality, what we consider possible, is so dependent on the way we look at the world, which is conditioned by mood, disposition, and the accretion of experience and routine. How parochial that all seems!

I once took a drawing class at a local community art centre. In the first class, the teacher had us all draw a hand. Each student dutifully produced an abstract hand, fingers heavily outlined and outstretched, like you might see lit up at a pedestrian crossing. Gently offering his disapproval, our teacher said to hold up our non-pencil hand instead, in front of our face, wrist bent and fingers curling in toward us, and to draw that. Suddenly, we had to consider shadow and perspective. Such was the difficulty of this task that some of the students found their fingers gradually spreading back open as they scrawled, back to the safe familiarity of that abstract hand.

There’s been a spate of books published recently encouraging us to seek spirituality in the ordinary, in the familiar, in the routine. In the quotidian mysteries, as Kathleen Norris calls them. They are marvellous books. I do wonder though, what kind of faith may grow if we boldly pray, like some mystic of old, for a bit of altered consciousness now and again. I don’t know if sleep deprivation is the ticket. I generally counsel students to get more sleep, not less of it. But it seems like some wonderful vistas can appear when familiarity is shown to be an illusion, when we see the world slightly askew. More of that, please: who knows what reveries we may experience, what radiant glory we may find hiding in plain sight? 


  • Brian Bork

    Brian Is CC’s Review Editor and a CRC chaplain at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

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