How well do you sleep at night? If you are like millions of people today, the answer is probably: ‘not very well’. According to a report from the CDC, over 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleep-related problem. The number is equivalent here in Canada. It is estimated that roughly 40% of Canadians do not get an adequate night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation is a huge problem today.
This lack of sleep affects not only our productivity and our mood, but also our spirituality. Sleep fails to be restorative for us. Instead of rest and quiet, we suffer through a sense of internal noise; our minds spins with all the questions and concerns of the day. Because of this, we toss and we turn, more out of internal frustration than any physical discomfort. And when we arise in the morning, we do not feel rested. We do not feel renewed. We wake up feeling like we have waged a war within ourselves – and we are still tired.
The Bible talks a lot about sleep. In fact, for the Israelites, each new day began at sun-down. Genesis 1 contains the recurring phrase ‘There was evening and there was morning, the nth day.’ An important lesson is seen in this. The very first thing Israel was to do at the start of a new day was to go to sleep. Each day began with act by which Israel lived out the realization that they were not in control. The day started with trust, with reliance. Each day began with the active laying aside of all the worries of life in order to be renewed in the presence of God.
Sleep is not to be merely a time in which we rest our body, but it is a time in which we lay aside all the frustrations and concerns of our souls. Instead of suffering through restless nights because of the anxieties and worries we carry inside, we are called to lay them aside and trust in the provisions of God. Biblical sleep is the laying down of our whole selves - body, mind, and spirit - in the presence of God, trusting that God will guard and keep us. Psalm 4 ends with the phrase ‘I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.’
Seeing our evening sleep as a spiritual discipline frees us from the constant demand of having to be the one to figure things out. We are able to lay aside the anxiety produced from feeling like we need to be in control. The constant churning of the mind is finally put to ease and we can sleep in peace because we are surrounded by the one who ‘neither slumbers nor sleeps.’
God does not want our sleep to be frustrating or anxiety provoking. It is to be a blessed thing. Every night we have the opportunity to experience the renewing power of the Spirit. Every night we are able to connect with that divine peace which is able to cut through all the noise and chaos of life.
Before retiring for the night, spend 5 minutes in silence with the simple aim of acknowledging the presence of God. Rehearse the day and ask yourself the questions, “What do I need to give God thanks for?”, “Is there anything I need to confess?” or “what plan, decision, or worry do I need to give to God?’ Importantly, this is not to be an active time, simply allow things to come to mind and simply place them before God. Wilfully choose to see your time in sleep as spiritually restorative, not just physically. Sleep in the conscious presence of God. As you get under the covers, ask God to be at work in you, to guide you, to restore you, to teach you. Sleep is not a time for you to be active, it is not a time for you to define or be in the driver’s seat. It is time for you to simply receive the loving work of the one who restores you.