Several recent conversations have made me think about sleep. It’s right up there with necessities like air, water, and food. It’s a big part of the rhythm of daily life for every living creature on God’s earth. Our health, both physical and mental, depends on the rejuvenating properties of a night of restful sleep.
And yet, many people struggle with their quality of sleep. It becomes a source of anxiety that reinforces itself by keeping us awake thinking about it.
When I was a Licensed Professional Counselor, this was a topic that many clients bought into our sessions. When a physician asks you, “How are you sleeping?” it’s because it’s a factor in determining a diagnosis for many health disorders. Sleep quality is related to so many things physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
I think I sleep pretty well most of the time, getting about eight hours, but it’s rare for me to sleep uninterrupted through the whole night. A few awakenings are okay if I get back to sleep quickly enough. But sometimes I don’t.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, let me ask you seven questions.
Have you talked with a doctor about this? That’s the first place to start – to see if there’s a medical reason for sleep problems. It’s not always about taking more medicine. They could find something that’s crucial to your physical well-being. Your regular physician may refer you to a sleep specialist who has more specific ways to explore what’s causing your difficulty. Go. If they don’t find anything organic rejoice, because that can put one worry to rest.
What have you tried that’s different? Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe behavioral and environmental things that may promote a better night’s sleep. You can find complete lists on the internet, so I’m not going to identify each thing they recommend. You’re a grown-up. You can look it up for yourself, if you need to. Try some of those recommendations, even if you don’t think they’ll work, because they might. And give it a good effort for a while, not just one or two nights.
I will highlight a few things I’ve found most helpful. Maybe this might point out something you haven’t thought of or haven’t tried yet.
Do you know how much sleep you really need? Aim for your ideal amount on a consistent basis. Yes, life gets in the way sometimes, but make it your norm, if possible. Eight hours is the usual recommendation, but some folks need nine, and others do fine with seven. I’ve heard some people say that six or less is okay for them, but as one who can sometimes sleep ten hours, I know I couldn’t get by with that for long.
Is it possible for you to have a regular sleep-wake schedule? Make this a priority appointment with yourself. After determining how much sleep you really need, set up a regular bed time for as many hours as you need before you have to wake up. Factor in how much time it usually takes you to fall asleep. (I know that may be a big part of the problem.) Also remember that you have before bed routines and responsibilities to finish. It’s a pretty big lifestyle change for some of us, but not unthinkable. You’ll also probably need to change your evening television and internet habits to accommodate this.
Oh, and stay pretty close to your same time to hit the sack on weekends and vacations. Experts say we can’t make up our sleep losses, yet we think sleeping-in on Saturdays will fix it. We’ve spent a large chunk of our lives trying to do this, and still stumble around tired a lot. As you get into a groove with your new routine, you’ll notice you don’t need those sleep binges as much.
If you do shift work, then God bless you. We do what we have to do to feed our families. But swing shifts are so hard on a person’s overall well-being. Dealing with this issue is a whole other discussion.
I will add that the idea of weekly Shabbat as a day of rest, recreation, and relaxation is genius. Who thought that one up? Oh, Adonai/Yahweh/God did. He knew we needed it. Make it a day to worship and study too. It is a gift most people rarely take advantage of in this culture. Go ahead, you’ve got permission. It’s not being lazy. It’s restoring your body and soul.
What do you do when you wake up in the middle of the night or way too early to get up? Some experts say to get out of bed instead of lying there, worrying for hours. Move to a different location in the house to rest. Read or watch television or do some other quiet, boring activity to get sleepy again. This may help sometimes.
I prefer to remain in bed and say to myself, “My body is resting, even when my mind isn’t.” Don’t forget that the benefits of catching forty winks are both mental and physical. Let your body rest. Help it along by practicing some physical relaxation techniques. Talk your body into relaxing. Once again, you can find specific examples on the internet.
How can you use this spiritually? When my mind is working overtime, I realize there’s a reason for it, even if I don’t understand it at the time. If I’m planning, worrying, reviewing, rehearsing, or having great ideas for what I’m writing, it’s helpful to have pen and paper nearby to jot down things in the dark. Otherwise, I’ll never remember them in the morning.
I’ve also learned to be thankful that this could be an appointment that the Lord has made with me. Maybe He woke me up at 3 a.m. so that I could pray. I’m never without things and people I can pray for and about. So I take it to the Lord in those dark night hours. I especially lay myself before Him to work with me, change me, forgive me, and use me. I seek His direction. I enumerate the things I’m grateful for, which are many. It can be such a good time in His presence.
But honestly, I never get to finish those prayers. Somehow, I ghost-out on God, because I fall asleep again. Hey, that’s what I wanted in the first place! God is good.
Could you be sleeping more than you think you are? As I said to one of my Twitter buddies, we may not be getting the good, deep REM sleep that we need, but we may have a lot more light sleep than we realize. In between looking at the clock every hour on the hour, you are probably dozing in and out. Having a more positive attitude about it can reduce some of the anxiety.
I hope this is not a chronic, incurable condition for you.
For most of us, it’s not. It’s periodic. It’s situational. It can be affected by things we do to improve the situation. That’s why you need a Doctor’s opinion.
When we can have more positive thoughts about our sleep experience, and we realize there are things we can do, it helps us relax about it. It can help us cope until this phase passes, and we get back into some good quality, deep, healing slumber.