I don’t know how many people struggle with sleep—it’s probably in the 1000s. You go to bed only to toss and turn because of thoughts which go through your mind, and it’s very hard to switch off.
I know what that’s like. Many of us have trouble falling to sleep and staying asleep—apparently it’s very common. The Great British Sleep Survey, published in 2011, found that over half of us report regularly having trouble sleeping. It’s an issue that is even more key for women, 3/4 of whom admit to regularly having trouble sleeping.
The Guinness World Records no longer endorse a record for the number of hours without sleep because we know that sleep deprivation has a critical impact on human beings—in situations of total sleep deprivation, lack of sleep can kill. So, it can be a serious health issue. (For the interested, the last record they hold records for stood at 264.4 hours—that’s 11 days 24 minutes!)
Trouble Sleeping—a Contemporary Problem
Sometimes the addition of sleepless nights can be the final straw for someone already struggling to get through the days. If you are stressed out and anxious, finding that you cannot sleep is only going to make things worse. We are all more prone to negative emotions and unhelpful patterns of thinking when we are tired and find it hard to cope.
Is there something about our modern 21st century life that makes having trouble sleeping more likely?
Stress is certainly one culprit that needs looking at. Time magazine had a lead article some years ago titled “Stress, can we cope?” It carried a complete discussion of the effects of epidemic stress on our society today. Life expectancy is diminished because of stress. Many of our illnesses are stress-related. Peptic ulcers, high blood pressure, certain strokes, migraines, asthma, are all diagnosed as illnesses often produced by stress and our physiologic response to it.
Too often we push ourselves relentlessly, allowing little or no time to wind down and relax, juggling responsibilities and demands on our time from both home and work, and also carrying the weight of guilt. We keep pushing ourselves, getting more worried and the stress level goes up and up. Is that you today?
God Can Give You Peace—and a Good Night’s Sleep
The Bible frequently uses the metaphors of light and darkness and it is certainly true that we feel more spiritually (and emotionally) vulnerable during the night. You can find yourself a different person—at 11 am on an ‘everything going according to plan’ day you may feel like you could conquer the world but at four in the morning—after five or six fruitless hours seeking sleep—you may well turn into a blubbering wreck.
But there is comfort in the Bible—in knowing that even in those darkest nights, God is with us. There is a delightful verse in Psalm 56:8 from The Message version:
You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights.
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.
And have a look at Psalm 74. It reminds us (in verse 16) that God owns not just the day—but the night as well night. No matter how alone and desperate you feel at night, God is with you.
Stress is a physical or mental tension, and is one of the biggest causes of ill health. Too many of us are stressed out and tense all the time—chronic stress makes people sick. Take a look at the Bible and see characters who knew about stress—David for example. He was the King of Israel, but his son Absalom wanted to take his crown by any measure he could.
David had to run away in fear of his life. Thousands in Absalom’s army were chasing him, wanting to kill him. It was a life-threatening situation. He ran through the hills and valleys of Judea trying to escape. There was the fear of wild animals. He had come from the comfort of his palace to living like an animal. But here’s the amazing thing: David trusted God and we can read how he felt in Psalm 3:
My adversaries are too great…
But You, eternal God, wrap around me like a shield…
You answer me from Your sacred heights…
I lie down at night and fall asleep.
I awake in the morning – healthy, strong, vibrant – because the
Eternal supports me.
No longer will I fear my tens of thousands of enemies
who have surrounded me. (Psalm 3:1;3-5 The Voice).
The amazing thing is that today God surrounds you and me with his love and protection. Nothing has changed since David’s time. God has not changed. He is still our divine protector. This Bible story tells me, if nothing else, that it is possible in the depths of life’s darkest experience to still have hope in God—even to still get a good night’s sleep!
You have the same God, don’t you? David’s God—and although everything was against David, what made the difference to him was he knew that God was for him! If God was for him, all those things, though they were against him, could not prevail over him.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
That word ‘stayed’ means leaning upon. So if you’re leaning on God and trusting in him, he’ll keep you in perfect peace. Take the back seat and let God take the front seat: he’s a much better driver. And your stress levels will come down.