When We Cannot Sleep
When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone?
and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day.
— Job 7:4
Job described exactly how it is when you cannot sleep. Many times I have experienced this — to lie in bed with restless mind, longing to sleep — but the mind, or the emotions, or both, defie the intent of my will.
What do we do when this befalls us? We know implicitly how important it is for our mind and body to sleep.
First, it helps to examine the reasons why we might be sleepless.
Causes of Sleeplessness
Often stress over the cares of the world — our need to ensure our finances, prestige, food, shelter — can erase our sleep.
“For what hath man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath labored under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.” — Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
Elsewhere, we read,
“When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes).” — Ecclesiastes 8:16
This sleeplessness is an equal opportunity offender. It affects both poor and rich alike.
If you live paycheck to paycheck and wonder every day if you will have money to pay bills or buy food, do not think that only if you would be rich, you would be able to relax at night.
“The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.” — Ecclesiastes 5:12
Grief is another robber of our sleep. We see this with Samuel the prophet:
“Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king: for
he is turned back from following Me, and hath not performed
My commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto
the LORD all night.” 1 Samuel 15:10-11
**Note: Do not think God’s repentance is like man’s repentance. God is perfect; God is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
The Psalms also attest to grief in the night.
“I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.” — Psalm 6:6
“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.“ — Psalm 127:2
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Ephesians 4:26
Scripture warns us about going to bed angry for two reasons: spiritual and physical.
First, God is slow to anger, and going to bed angry means we are not reflecting God. If God is slow to anger, how dare we think we be justified in nursing our anger so that we go to bed angry?
Second, if it is not your wrath but another’s — if someone else has blown up at you and remained angry even up to your bedtime, it can be very difficult to fall asleep.
Sometimes not only have I lain awake struggling to fall asleep but once I do fall asleep, I have had nightmares of dealing with the person’s anger, or I wake up in the middle of the night with my mind and emotions still disturbed by the anger.
Sometimes, even if we have no worldly, carnal stress, no grief, no wrath—we still cannot fall asleep because God Himself desires for us to stay awake. King Ahasuerus experieced this, as recorded in the book of Esther.
On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of
records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.
2 And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus.
3And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him.
4And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.
— Esther 6:1-4
We can see in this that God Himself stopped the king from sleeping because God was going to remind the king how Mordecai saved his life.
One of the Psalms, number 77, also mentions God preventing sleep. “Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” Psalm 77:4
The Solutions for Sleeplessness
With my soul have I desired Thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek Thee early. Isaiah 26:9a
Commit all your troubles to God:
- worry over money
- worry over bills
- worry about your appearance
- grief over a death
- grief over a wayward loved one
- grief over your country...
...whatever the care, give it to God.
This process can take time.
How long will it take for you to commit your troubles to God? That depends on your level of spiritual maturity.
Unlike prosperity televangelists, praying to God and casting your care upon Him is not a quick cliche of saying something to yourself and hey presto, the problem of your debts, your unemployment, your adultery, your prodigal child, your abortion, your addiction, will vanish in an instant.
Remember that in the Garden of Eden, the second lie Satan told Eve was that Eve could attain Instant Wisdom: “Eat the fruit and ye shall be as gods.”
And if you are lying awake, fretting and fretting over your next meal,
your next paycheck,
bodily desire, Matthew 5 records Jesus’ instruction about the cares of this world:
25Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. [...]
31Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
Pray for others and their woes.
In Job chapter 42, God told Job’s friends,
“My wrath My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.
Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.”
What happened to Job when he prayed for others, in the midst of his own affliction? “And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” — Job 42:10
Note: We are not guaranteed instant deliverance from our problems because we pray for our friends. This example does show what good can come for praying for our friends.
Also, praying for others helps us to take our mind off our problems, and put our problems in perspective.
Remembering that other people are going through trials — and especially if they are worse than your own — is very instructive and useful.
And when I meditate on the persecution of brothers in Christ, or pray for lost souls destined for hell, or read the accounts of someone such as Jeremiah, the intense desolation, the loneliness, the scathing feeling of failure, begins to recede.
Not only have others experienced pain as much or far more than mine, I know that all of our pain will be over someday.
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee because of Thy righteous judgments.” — Psalms 119:62
The Bible teaches that we have to thank God in good times and in the bad times:
- In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
- Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Ephesians 5:20
This grates on us. How can we thank God for an amputation? For a divorce? For no job? For persecution? We still must do it. Job, who lost everything, yet said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.”
God knows that it is a sacrifice to thank Him for trials.
In the belly of the whale, Jonah said, “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” Hebrews 13:15
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom,
neither shall fruit be in the vines;
the labour of the olive shall fail,
and the fields shall yield no meat;
the flock shall be cut off from the fold,
and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
“Let the saints sing aloud on their beds...” Psalm 149:5b
Singing songs or listening to songs is another way to help yourself relax.
Do not listen to music that is aggressive or heavily syncopated. Such music usually increases your adrenaline and is not conducive to sleep.
I recommend music that is calming and soothing, such as this rendition of Beneath
The Cross of Jesus.
At times, I also listen to Baroque pieces. Baroque pieces are generally better at helping me to sleep because the tempo in each section of music remains constant. The second movement of the Brandenburg Concerto is one example of music that is very useful for bringing on sleep.
When Paul and Silas were unjustly thrown in prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks, they could not sleep. But what did they do?
“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” Then God caused a great earthquake to come, and all the doors were opened, and every bond was loosed. And the jailer ended up coming to Christ.
Obviously, most times when we are sleepless, it is not because we are in prison — but Paul and Silas’ example shows what God can do when we sing praise to Him at night.
“My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips, When I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches.” — Psalm 63:6
Having devotions before you go to bed is one of the best things you can do.
I was raised in a nuclear family where my father led all of us in devotions every night before anyone went to bed. However, sometimes I needed to have my own supplemental devotions when I got to bed, and could not fall asleep!
The Body of Christ
Ask others to pray for you. And if you’re too embarrassed that you can’t sleep, then ask them to pray about the cause(s) of your sleeplessness.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” — James 5:16
This is the hardest part. It is the simplest and the hardest.
If God is preventing sleep, as He prevented King Ahasuerus, then you especially must wait.
For those struggling with insomnia, this holds a double meaning: “My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.” Psalm 30:6
Many verses testify to the necessity, to the reward, and the blessing that one receives for waiting upon God.
- “[B]lessed are all they that wait for him.” — Isaiah 30:18c
- “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” — Psalm 27:4
- “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and He shall save thee.” Proverbs 20:22
- “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7
- “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:26
The depth of your problem may mean that you will not overcome your sleeplessness quickly. But you can rest assured that, when you pray, thank God, read Scripture, pray for others, ask for prayer, and wait upon God, that there will come the time that Proverbs 3:21-24 will not seem like mockery to you. It will be reality.
21My son, let not them depart from thine eyes:
keep sound wisdom and discretion:
22So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.
23Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.
24When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.