If you have never had a problem with sleeping, you are blessed. However, don’t be proud about it because things can sometimes change quickly and unexpectedly. Your first confrontation with a sleepless night may be a crisis, but take hope, there is help. Don’t blame it on a lack of faith. Sometimes you just have to blame it on the genes. Seek medical attention, and of course, even in the midst of a crisis, keep that hope in Christ.
Sleep is very important to the health of every individual. Insomnia is the inability to sleep. Some people need at least eight hours of sleep per night, and others can function well on five. Most of us can miss some sleep and catch-up later on.
The Bible mostly speaks of insomnia in terms of a lack of faith or the inability to deal with fear. “If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (Prov. 3:24). “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). Jesus was able to sleep in the midst of a storm. “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves, but he was asleep” (Mt. 8:24).
Too much sleep can be a sign of laziness. “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11).
I’ve always been able to sleep, even in the midst of the some of the worst storms my life. When I would hear about the insomnia of others, I was usually unsympathetic. I thought maybe there was a heart problem causing this in some of my dear friends. However, there was always a bit of doubt in the back of my mind about this attitude because I knew that one of the godliest women in our church was an insomniac. I was confident that her problem was not sin, guilt, or anxiety.
Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, as if the Lord needed to teach me to be more humble and compassionate with others, I found that I had insomnia. It’s terrible watching the clock all night long, hour by hour, and being unable to fall asleep. Even if you do fall asleep, you may soon wake up in the middle of the night, knowing you won’t go back to sleep. It ruins the next day. Will it always be this way? Do I lack faith? Is there unconfessed sin in my life?
I am blessed to have two older brothers (one seven years older and one five years older). Most of my diseases are family diseases. If I have a physical problem, then I usually call one of my older brothers knowing that he probably has had it before me. My older brothers are an invaluable source of information. All three of us had prostate cancer at the same age. Now, I find out that my older brother was hit with insomnia when he was my age. Like cancer, it runs in the family. We compare notes a lot.
After months of dealing with insomnia, I have come to a few conclusions.
- Insomnia is a major problem in the United States, as well as in the church. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) “about 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder.” As I began to share my problem with others, I was amazed at how many of my Christian friends also have sleep disorders. The melatonin sales must be good!
- Certainly, insomnia can be related to such problems as guilt, and fear. This is taught in the Bible and it should always be a consideration.
- However, insomnia may have nothing to do with guilt or fear, or even our faith. Sensitive Christians tend to beat up on themselves and blame everything on a lack of faith. No, the problem may just be in the genes (coming via the Fall). My genes had a preset biological time-clock where insomnia was pre-determined to kick in at a certain age. I developed insomnia, and there was nothing I could do about it.
- We are blessed to live in the modern world where there is medication that can help. The National Sleep Foundation is a very helpful resource. Instead of making quick judgments, I now tell most people – don’t be silly, take the pill; it has nothing to do with your faith!
- I’m not sure that I will ever sleep as well as I did, but I’m making progress. I’m over the crisis period. I’m beyond the hopeless period where I spent all night praying to God for help, only soon to see another sleepless night.
I call insomnia the Non-Sleeping Giant. He is really big, and he will not hesitate to take your sleep away from you and make you miserable. If you have never had a problem with sleeping, you are blessed. However, don’t be proud about it because things can sometimes change quickly and unexpectedly. Your first confrontation with a sleepless night may be a crisis, but take hope, there is help. Don’t blame it on a lack of faith. Sometimes you just have to blame it on the genes. Seek medical attention, and of course, even in the midst of a crisis, keep that hope in Christ.
Larry E. Ball is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.