What to do when you can't sleep

Posted by Ruthanne on July 17, 2017
Categories: 6pm blog

new bed

Psalm 127:2 ‘He gives to his beloved sleep.’ We all know the verse. We know we should be sleeping. We know it’s a good gift from God.

But what do we do when sleep eludes us? When we can’t get to sleep or we’re tossing and turning through the night? For some it’s an every night experience; for others it characterises a season– parenthood, or shift work.

The answer to this question is complex, and requires nuance. It depends on why we’re not sleeping, what we’ve tried, and who we are. It cannot be answered in a blog post. So instead, to help us start good conversations, here are some questions to think about if you are struggling to sleep.

#1 Is your struggle to sleep a lifestyle or a spiritual problem?

Some of us struggle to sleep because we are in bad habits; we work late, drink lots of coffee/alcohol, and fail to get to bed/out of bed on time. Others because we are in bad circumstances; we have noisy neighbours, a bright room, or a snoring husband. For some, medical conditions make sleep difficult.

But some of us struggle to sleep because of spiritual issues; often we are anxious, we lie awake worrying, fretting over what we should have done in the past, or how we’re feeling about the future. This anxiety may be something we are aware of, or something we don’t yet notice in ourselves.

Our struggle to sleep might be a lifestyle or a spiritual problem. For lots of us, it’s likely a bit of both.

#2 Does your struggle to sleep need a lifestyle solution, a spiritual solution, or a bit of both?

If your struggle to sleep is because of habits and circumstances, you can take action to change these. The NHS gives good advice on good ‘sleep hygiene’ here >>>. Stick with these habits for a few weeks; it takes time for the benefits to be felt.

But where our struggle to sleep is a spiritual issue, it is right to look for a spiritual solution. There are different spiritual reasons why we are not sleeping, but one common reason is anxiety.

So let’s (just) start to think about anxiety and sleep. While anxiety can be a diagnosable medical condition, it often has strong spiritual components, and the Bible has lots to say about it. It tells us anxiety is pointless because we can’t change anything (Matt 6:25-33). It tells us we should bring all our anxieties to our Father who cares for us (Phil 4:5-7, 1 Peter 5:6-7). It connects anxiety and sleep; telling us we often don’t sleep because we are anxiously working (Psalm 127:1-2). From my experience of chatting to people who struggle with anxiety/sleep we don’t just need to preach, ponder and pray these truths in the middle of the night, when we can’t sleep. In fact it’s very hard to do anything in the middle of the night. Rather, we need to be in the habit of preaching, pondering and praying about these truths, during the day. We need address our anxieties as part of our normal quiet times, and as we chat together as family. Often if we deal with these anxieties christianly during the day, they become less of a big deal during the night.

As we mentioned it’s impossible to answer the question ‘What to do when you can’t sleep?’ in a blog post. But if it has got you thinking, why not speak more with your RML leader, or read this helpful Christian book on sleep ‘And so to bed…a Biblical view of sleep’ by Adrian Reynolds?

Picture: Dorothy Cook

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