A Theology of Sleep

In a recent conversation with a doctor I found myself discussing the occasional sleepless night.  She started asking me questions.   Was I under stress? How was I dealing with anxiety? 

In general, sleep is my good friend.  However, there are nights when I find myself staring wide-eyed at impossible numbers on the digital clock.  Awake at 2:36 A.M.  Really?  Still awake I glance again: 3:14 A.M.  Then the internal monologue begins:  Don’t think!  Whatever you do, don’t turn your brain on!  Too late.

I try deep breathing and other relaxation techniques.  Then, I recite favorite Scriptures (Psalm 91 has served me well as a calming “sleeping pill” over the years.)  Prayer is an excellent use of early morning hours, but it’s a bit dangerous, because it tends to put my mind and heart on full alert.  So, back to intentional breathing.  Don’t look at the clock!  And then I peek: 3:54.  Ahhh!

What’s going on?

There is no call for stress, fear or anxiety for a Christian.  Jesus promised rest for my soul, and Solomon wrote, in Psalm 127, that the Lord “grants sleep to those he loves.”  Therefore, I should sleep like a baby, resting securely in my Heavenly Father’s care, right?

On the other hand, there are times when prayer is more important than sleep.  Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before he selected his twelve disciples.  The Psalms are peppered with David’s prayers poured out throughout anxious nights.  If extended night-time prayer sessions were ok for David and Jesus, they’re ok with me.

My new theology of sleep is one of surrender.  It seems to me that my nights and sleeping hours belong to the Lord just like my days and waking hours do.  So, here’s my plan, and it won’t be easy, because I really do like a good night’s sleep.  I think I’ll just trust God to wake me when he wants me awake and give me restful sleep when I need it.

I’ll let you know how it works.

How do you handle sleepless nights?

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Psalm 4:8

18 thoughts on “A Theology of Sleep

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  1. When I was first saved there were many nights when the Holy Spirit would wake me up, leading me to pray. I was confused, wondering why He would wake me up during all times of the night when I had school the next day. In the beginning, I would try to fight my “sleepless nights” then I began to catch on. Prayer is more important than sleep. If He needs us to pray at a specific time, hoping to pray in the morning is acting out of His will. After a while I began to submit to His leading and I would pray as He led. I was so surprised when I noticed that when I had a sleepless night, He restored my energy. I wasn’t tired one bit. Prayer at night gave me energy and power for the day, the complete opposite of what I expected. It was confirmation that prayer was indeed better than sleep! Great post.

    1. I have had the same experience. God often does “the complete opposite of what (we) expect,” doesn’t he? And it’s always better than we had imagined. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

  2. Sorry, this isn’t very spiritual, but I take Benadryl. It’s an antihistamine with a sleep inducing side effect; it’s the “PM” in Tylenol PM. I don’t take it later than 3am, though, or I’ll be too groggy when it’s time to wake.

    I find if I begin praying, it stimulates, rather than relaxes me. Another tactic is to stop trying to sleep, get up and do something low key until you become tired. Although, one time I made chocolate chip cookie dough. : )

    1. Sounds like you have quite a bit of late night experience, Amy! Thanks for the tips. So…how did the late night cookie dough work out? I think if I had tried that when my kids were all at home, they would have gotten up and joined me. Probably would have had a great time!

  3. I will now handle my sleepless nights with a different attitude. Dare I say I even may look forward to the next one?? :).

  4. I have had so many close spiritual moments at 4 am I am convinced I will die in this hour! Best gift to yourself is to let God truly rule your waking and sleep time. I learned this caring for my Wounded Warrior son this summer. Don’t be afraid of not sleeping. Better to be a little tired and in tune with God than being rested and in tune with things that are not God in your life.

    1. “Better to be a little tired and in tune with God than being rested and in tune with things that are not God…” That is very well said, Beth. Amen.

  5. I went through a period time when I woke up every night at around 2 am. It was a stressful time but that’s never stopped me from sleeping before. I finally came around. It was the only time in MY busy day when God could get my attention. There were some things we needed to discuss and I had not fully listened to what HE had to say. I would then get out of bed, read some scripture and sit quietly. It turns out that was more refreshing that battling for sleep. So that is my ‘cure’ for sleeplessness which seldom occurs now unless I have too much caffeine late in the day. 1 Samuel 3, 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

    Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

    1. I’ve never been very good that that sitting-and-listening-quietly part of my spiritual life…working on that. You are so right that we are more likely attentive in the middle of the night. Thanks!

  6. Your comments inspire me to imagine night time as hours of great and powerful spiritual activity. The Bible tells of God speaking through dreams, of night time visions, and all night prayers. Even though it is dark in the world (at least in the part in which we live), there is great light and action in His Kingdom. I wonder at all He might accomplish in us even as we sleep and through all the prayer and meditation that happens when we’re not sleeping. Kind of makes me want to engage in those middle of the night moments a little more intentionally.

  7. As I read your blog, Judy, I realized that the truth of this verse – Psalm 4:8 – is part of my testimony. As a child I had recurring nightmares that would wake me up in the middle of the night. I remember my parents letting me sleep in their bed when I was very young and then as I got older just having to curl myself up in a ball of fear in my own bed until exhaustion took over and I could drift back to sleep. I was given a Bible for my 13th birthday and I kept it on my bedside table and would often look at the watercolor plates – I particularly liked the one of Jesus holding a lamb. That year I woke up one night from one of my nightmares and sensed the presence of evil in my room so strongly that I just started reciting the Lord’s prayer, which my mom had taught me as a child, over and over. I literally broke out in a full sweat I was so frightened. The moment passed and from that day on I have never had a nightmare again. At the time, and to this day, I believe it was Jesus who made me dwell in safety that night. Fast forward…as a young mom with two children and a husband who was travelling weeks at a time, I would often wake up in the middle of the night. As soon as my mind latched on to something to be anxious about, I would lay awake for hours – the issue at hand becoming bigger and more worrisome as the minutes ticked by. At the time I was just beginning to attend Community Bible Study. I don’t know if I heard this from someone or if I just decided it would be a smart thing to do, but I began the discipline of turning on my light and reading the scripture we were studying at that time. These days when I wake up wide awake in the middle of the night I will recite scripture I have memorized or sometimes I’ll list out all the attributes of God I can think of. I don’t always fall right back to sleep but I am peaceful.

  8. I had a friend who used to say that when she was awaken in the middle of the night, she would respond as if God was asking her for a “date” when it could be just the two of them. I have used that thought myself when I can’t sleep – that it is time for me and God to be alone. For whatever reason, I am more honest with him in the middle of the night (probably because I am cranky and overtired!). The other thing that I am more aware of in the middle of the night is the random people who come to mind – I take that as a call to pray for them. God has placed them on my heart and I spend those minutes/hours (as aggravating as they are to be awake!) to pray for them. Don’t think I am that holy – to be honest, usually I spend the first part of the time saying “seriously God, can’t I sleep? Come on now – I am exhausted.” 🙂

    1. So true, Mimi. In a way, those quiet hours are the most intimate, aren’t they? Truly no distractions (except for wanting to go back to sleep:)

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