Sleep: A Neglected Spiritual Discipline

Sleep: A Neglected Spiritual Discipline

I’m reading a convicting book—Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. The author explains why our bodies need to spend eight or more hours a day in an unconscious (and sometimes paralyzed) state. The publisher’s description reads:
Within the brain, sleep enriches a diversity of functions, including our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge, inspiring creativity.

 Regularly getting less than eight hours of sleep (or pulling all-nighters) is linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, diabetes, and a shortened life-span.
Walker offers intriguing insights into why some people are night owls and other morning people. He notes how cultures that value one over the other are only robbing themselves. He explains why teenagers stay up late and sleep so long (hint: it’s not necessarily that they’re lazy). Sleep plays an essential role in brain development—and its loss cannot be regained.
None of that should surprise the Christian. God designed us to sleep. It only follows that it would be a good gift and beneficial to us.
Sleep and Solomon
Yes, excessive sleep can be a sign of laziness (Proverbs 6:9; 20:13). Yes, there are seasons for rising early and working late (Proverbs 31:15, 18). But the opposite of laziness is not sleeplessness. Intentionally depriving oneself of sleep is merely a different way of sinning. Solomon explains (Psalm 127:2):

In vain you get up early and stay up late,
working hard to have enough food—
yes, he gives sleep to the one he loves.

Tremper Longman summarizes it this way: “Losing sleep in order to obtain food is a waste of time; God grants sleep (and food) to those he loves.” The child of God does not need to pull all-nighters and deprive herself of sleep to earn money for herself or others. God will bless his child while she sleeps. He will bless the child and the work of her hands.

Sleep and Unbelief

So, why do we Christians deprive ourselves of sleep? Furthermore, why do Christians boast about not sleeping and idolize those who don’t sleep?

Because we don’t trust God, and we aren’t satisfied with him.

Neglecting sleep may be a sign of unbelief, even if we couch it in spiritual excuses. “If I pull this all-nighter and then cut out two-hours of sleep a night, I can earn this much more and help this many more people.” What are we saying in that? Do we doubt that the God who feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies can care for others without our tired help?

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is not the motto of a Christian.

Jesus needed sleep and slept in faith. For the Christian, allowing oneself to sleep is a spiritual discipline—and might be one of the most neglected disciplines.

Sleep and Faith

To give yourself an opportunity to sleep eight hours a day is to “give up” one-third of your time, trusting that it is by God’s good design.

To sleep is to say, “I don’t need to keep creating, keep planning. I can trust God to provide me with what I need.”

To sleep is to say that what God gives us for refreshment is better than what Netflix, Facebook, and Candy Crush offer.

To sleep is to trust God to protect you while you are unconscious for eight hours (and paralyzed for some of that).

To sleep is to say, “God made me to work and to sleep. I worked. Now, I trust God to provide my wages. I don’t need more. I am satisfied with him.”

To sleep is to set aside a third of our day to confess that we are finite, and God is eternal.

To sleep is to remember that we need, and God provides.

To sleep is to trust God with our very life.

To sleep is to confess God is God, and we are not. 

Go to Sleep, Child

Lay your head on the pillow tonight. Tomorrow’s a holiday—sleep in. As you do, remember that God never slumbers or sleeps. He watches over you and provides for

When you were dead—asleep—in your sins, God saved you. If he gave his Son to save you, do you really think he’s going to stop loving you overnight?