ANCIENT EGYPTIAN SLEEP INSPIRATION PART TWO:

SARAH JANES
4 min readDec 14, 2019

SLEEP LIKE AN EGYPTIAN

Sleeping on a slope and the head-resting horizon

INSTINCTIVE SLEEPING

Most animals in their natural environments will sleep on a slight slope so that their head is raised above the rest of their body — an instinctive approach to sleep and rest which was reflected in the early craft of bed-making in Ancient Egypt and elsewhere. The bed above shows this kind of construction. This is the bed of Queen Hetepheres I of the Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty. On the left is a footboard and on the right a headrest (weres). It is thought Ancient Egyptians would sleep on their side, resting a cheek in the padded cup of the headrest.

SLEEP AND DEATH

Most archaeological evidence of Egyptian bedroom furniture comes from elaborate funereal caches found in tombs around the ancient world. The head rest was a vital piece of the duat armoury. It was believed to confer protection upon the deceased and prevent decapitation in the afterlife. The relationship between sleep and death is well-evidenced, head rests often bearing the inscription ‘sleep-well’. The sleep being a sort of daily death, the dream — a nightly journey through the otherworld and the awakening, a rebirth into a new day.

The hieroglyphic logogram for horizon (a circle cupped between two mountains) reflects the contours of the classical head rest and this may be symbolic as the sun of the deceased is due to rise again.

TUTU

Tutu, the anthropomorphic god was a protector of tombs and later guardian of sleeping and dreaming. Tutu defended sleepers against nightmares and demons and his dual function of tomb-protector and nightmare defender echoes once again the parallel nature of these two altered states. Tutu was often represented with the legs of a lion — and bed legs were often fashioned in this style.

KA,BA, AKH, SHADOW and NAME

The Ancient Egyptians believed in different kinds of bodies, in spirits, souls and material bodies. The soul — the ka, and the ba — your personality. They unite in your physical body- akh when you are awake but can travel in dreams and death. You also have your shadow and your name, your shadow was your protector and your name was the spell that brought and bound your magical aspects together. The cartouche (the hieroglyph that was used to encircle a name) reflects this concept.

INCLINED BED THERAPY

If you’ve ever had a cold and found it difficult to breathe at night, you’ve probably already experimented with inclined bed therapy — raising the head end of your bed around 5 inches can help relieve congestion and make it easier to get a restful night’s sleep. Inclined bed therapy has been found to have some extra health benefits too. It relieves pressure on the head which can relieve migraine symptoms and aids in the natural nightly process of flushing toxins from our bodies. It is being used in everything from treatment for MS and Parkinsons and has been shown to stop snoring, sleep apnea and related health conditions. Unsettled sleep can have far-reaching health implications as obstructive conditions reduce oxygen in the blood and often put a strain on the heart.

IBT is a popular and well-evidenced branch of sleep medicine and is an easy experiment to conduct on yourself. Try increasing the the incline of your bed a couple of inches at a time, so you get used to it more easily.

DREAMING SLOPE

How might sleeping on a slope effect dream content and quality? Well I’m going to try it starting tonight. My ideas about dreaming and the relationship between dreaming and internal biological processes would make me guess that if the inclined bed has positive and harmonising effects on the body and nervous system, and in particular helps clear congestion, that dreams would as a result be more calm and peaceful.

I believe nightmares and distressing dreams are in part caused by the incredible sensory sensitivity that comes to the resting body and generates dream content, the dream action and environement often reflecting the activities and processes of the autonomic nervous system. Things like digestion, breathing, heart rate, chronic pain and temperature, are relayed back to us visually and emotionally in dreams. So the more peaceful and rested and calm your physical body is — the more likely you are to have calm and peaceful dreams. Potentially, as there is an increase in oxygen to the blood according to IBT — such an increase might increase opportunities for alertness, clarity and self-awareness whilst in the dream state? Would IBT create more lucid dreams?

If you would be interested in joining this experiment, I would be very delighted to collect any anecdotal evidence, so please email me at : sarahjanes@hotmail.com

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SARAH JANES

Author, researcher, presenter and workshop host exploring the anthropology of sleep, ancient dream cultures and philosophy www.themysteries.org