Staying up late
We have received so many questions about this problem that we know it is crying out for a solution. So many people are wasting so much time in staying up late at night.
But the truth of the matter is that this phenomenon is not homogenous. There are three kinds of staying up late:
(1) Staying up late to worship Allaah. This is the worthy kind of staying up. It includes staying up for reasons that are of benefit to the Muslims in general, such as engaging in jihaad and guarding the borders of Islam, as well as staying up to pray (qiyaam al-layl) and read Qur’aan. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “They used to sleep but little by night [invoking their Lord and praying, with fear and hope].” [al-Dhaariyaat 51:17].
We should not forget, in this context, the great Sahaabi who was guarding the Muslims at night, and spent his time on guard duty praying. He was struck by an arrow fired by the mushrikeen, and his blood began to flow, but he kept on praying, enjoying his contact with his Lord.
It is reported that some of the scholars used to discuss hadeeth until the sun came up. Some of the sincere da’iyahs (callers, Islamic workers) still stay up at night discussing matters that keep those who care about the ummah awake. An example of this is what happened with Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hameed ibn Baadees and Shaykh al-Basheer al-Ibraaheemi, the founders of the Muslim scholars’ organization (Jam’iyat al-‘Ulama’ al-Muslimeen) in Algeria. During their time in Madeenah, they used to stay up all night, until fajr time, discussing the state of the Muslim ummah and the bid’ah, myths and backwardness in which it had ended up, and planning how they would rescue Algerian society from this sorry state.
This kind of staying up is entirely worthy, so long as it does not lead to the neglect of something more important or more obligatory. Some people may stay up for a legitimate purpose, then miss fajr prayers. This is a mistake.
(2) Staying up for a permissible reason. This is fine, as long as it does not lead to the neglect of something obligatory. This includes, for example, travellers staying up to talk to one another, in order to relieve the tedium of travel. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would stay up to talk to one of his wives and keep her company, when they were on a journey.
This also includes talking to one’s guests and keeping them company.
Also included is the staying up involved in modern-day shift work, created by the demands of materialistic circumstances. No doubt some of the interests of the Muslims demand the work of people at night, such as those who work in the security forces, in hospitals and airports, in supplying electricity, and so on.
(3) Staying up to commit sin, such as staying up to watch movies, to play haraam games such as cards, or to consume the flesh of others by gossiping and backbiting and slandering, and other kinds of sin. This kind of staying up is haraam, and those who do it are sinners who deserve the punishment of Allaah. Their number has increased in modern times, for the reasons mentioned by the poet:
“Youth, idleness and good health,/ corrupt man in such a bad way!”
It is important to distinguish between one type of staying up and the other.
The habit of staying up late at night has become widespread in our times for a number of reasons, including the following:
Staying up for worldly purposes, as in the case of some traders and businessmen who stay up late putting their affairs in order, or students who stay up to study. People in this situation should try to organize their time so that they will not need to stay up late and can thus avoid its bad consequences.
The nature of modern life and the social changes which it has wrought. Earlier generations used to slow down and go to sleep when darkness fell, but the presence of electricity in modern times had led to people doing many activities, kinds of work and social activities that they never used to do during the hours of darkness. In some cases, people’s nights have become just like their days.
Many people’s indulgence in the arts and media, by means of TV, radio, video, etc.
Many people make their visits to family and friends, or organize programs etc., at nighttime, because of the nature of their work and studies. So you rarely find anyone who will visit you during the day, except at the weekend. Even gatherings for the pursuit of Islamic knowledge are mostly held after ‘isha’ prayers.
Some people indulge to excess in idle chatter and trivial discussions, even disturbing others with their talk and laughter. This phenomenon is perhaps most obvious among students living in university residences, where some inconsiderate visitors stay up late talking about who said what, causing harm to themselves and others, then neglecting many of their duties.
Insomnia, which is often caused by indulgence in sin and being far away from Allaah. Being far away from Allaah means that a person can never feel content or at peace, but will be dogged by constant anxiety, alienation and confusion.
Problems with one’s family, money, studies or work, etc., also have a clear role in causing anxiety and insomnia, until they are resolved.
Also, we should not ignore the fact that there are those who are prevented from enjoying the calm of sleep by insomnia that is caused by the fear of Allaah and the keen desire to reform this enslaved ummah.
Having examined the types of staying up late, and explained the reasons for it, we may now turn to ways of treating this widespread problem.
Treatment from the theoretical point of view:
We should think about the physical harm that may be caused by staying up late and its detrimental effect on many of our interests, such as:
Neglect of Islamic duties, such as missing fajr prayer, whether by not managing to attend the prayer in congregation, or by missing the prayer altogether and having to make it up later, or by praying in congregation but without the necessary concentration because of feeling so exhausted that one is left fighting sleep and failing to understand what is being said. So a person may not even know what the imaam is reciting, or which rak’ah he is praying, or what he is saying at the various stages of the prayer. For this reason, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) forbade conversing after ‘isha’.
Physical harm may result from making the night a time for activity and the day for resting, contrary to the natural rhythm which Allaah has created in the universe and in mankind. Allaah says (interpretation of the meanings):
“And [We] have made the night as a covering [through its darkness], and have made the day for livelihood.” [al-Naba’ 78:10-11]
“Say: ‘Tell me! If Allaah made night continuous for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is an ilaah [a god] besides Allaah who could bring you light? …’” [al-Qasas 28:71]
“Say: ‘Tell me! If Allaah made day continuous for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is an ilaah [a god] besides Allaah who could bring you night wherein you rest? …” [al-Qasas 28:71]
So we find people who have gone astray and gone against their innate nature (fitrah) suffering from ill health. One hour of sleep at night is worth twice as many at any other time, as is well known from experience.
Many employees fall short in their work (as a result of staying up late). A man may come to work late, exhausted, and put in a poor performance, treating clients badly. It may be so bad that there is even doubt that his salary is entirely halaal, because of his shoddy work.
The same applies to students who stay up late, and come late to school or university the next day, not caring if they have missed their early classes and barely understanding anything that is said in the classes they do attend.
Staying up late may cause a person to sleep at inappropriate times, such as sleeping after ‘asr. The salaf (early generations of the ummah) used to dislike sleeping after ‘asr unless there was a need for it – but if it is necessary, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Moreover, sleeping after ‘asr can cause headaches, and make it difficult to get to sleep at night.
Staying up late makes it difficult to do some voluntary acts of worship, such as devoting the last third of the night to prayer, or getting up to eat suhoor prior to observing a voluntary fast – how can those who stay up late manage to do these things? There is no doubt that exhaustion would prevent them from getting up, and so they deprive themselves of a great deal of good.
Missing out on the blessing of getting up early in the day. Those who stay up late sleep until after fajr, thus missing out on the time of which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The early morning has been blessed for my ummah.” (Saheeh al-Jaami’, 2841). These people cannot stay in the mosque until sunrise in order to remember Allaah, or go out early to earn their living during the time of blessing and virtue. This has become so widespread that in the mornings you can hardly see anyone who will open his store or business early.
When the wise person realizes the kinds of harm that result from staying up late, and the great loss that befalls him as a result, no doubt he will try his utmost to reform himself and make up for what he has missed. Thus he will take the first step towards solving the problem.
There follow a number of practical steps which can be followed by anyone who wants to solve this problem:
Trying hard to get used to sleeping early. Staying up late is basically a habit, and if anyone is prepared to struggle against his own self (jihaad al-nafs) with determination, he can win the struggle in a few days, by the grace of Allaah, and join the ranks of those who sleep early.
Getting married. Many single young men are quite disorganized, staying up late together and encouraging one another to do so, as they have no wives or children to think about. But the one who is married feels his responsibility towards his wife and children, so he is keen to go back to them early so that they will not worry about him, or feel afraid if they need him in the middle of the night, when he is away. Anyone who has experience of this will understand.
Strengthening one’s feelings of responsibility in all areas will also be of help. When a man feels the burden of responsibility on his shoulders, he has no choice but to fulfil it. He will not be able to waste time, unlike those careless people who squander the vast treasure of time in trivial matters and have no appreciation for the value of time.
Adopting the habit of taking a siesta, instead of sleeping at the wrong times. Sleeping after ‘asr or before ‘isha’ is a harmful practice, as we have mentioned above. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) advised his ummah to take naps: “Take a siesta, for the shayaateen (devils) do not take siestas.” (Saheeh al-Jaami’, 4431).
These are a few of the practical measures which one can take to combat the problem of staying up late. And Allaah is the One Who guides to the Straight Path.