Sleep Disorders & the Glory of God

Whether you battle with sleeplessness or care for someone who does, here are a few thoughts on sleep disorders and the glory of God

The hope for anyone and everyone with sleep disorders is the sinless life, propitiatory death, resurrection, and ascension of the biblical Jesus Christ. We are not guaranteed sleep, health, or comfort in this world. No one and no thing can ultimately provide that. We live between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20. Everything is thorned and thistled. Including your bed. Our hope is not for a normal night of sleep, but an awake, risen, and reigning Savior.

 

We hear it time and again. “Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.” “Not getting enough shuteye is a serious problem that can threaten your health and safety.” “Be a good steward of your body by sleeping eight hours.”

Good suggestions, no doubt. But for those who suffer with sleep disorders, it’s a cruel tease. By sleep disorder, we’re not talking about getting four or five hours of sleep a few nights per week, but never getting a good chunk in a span of months. Ask someone with a sleep disorder when the last time they got six or seven hours of sleep, and they’ll be thinking back to a different decade.

With sleeplessness comes unique suffering. The side-effects tend to be many, complex, and severe. It can be hard to understand. Perhaps at times, we could benefit to brush up on both the struggles and glories of sleep disorders.

Whether you battle with sleeplessness or care for someone who does, here are a few thoughts on sleep disorders and the glory of God:

  1. Living with sleep disorders is difficult.

Sleep disorders bring a unique kind of suffering. It’s not Job-like, but it is suffering.

It’s different than a more visible type like a financial crisis, persecution, or death of a loved one. Instead, sleep disorders inflict with a slow and steady burn. It’s cannot be shooed away. The thing you need to cure it—sleep—you cannot have. It cannot be synthesized or bought. There is no sleep prosthesis.

You’re awake during the hours you don’t need to function. You’re comatose during the hours you need to function. It all seems so illogical. There are the late-night battles with God: “Why God?! You know I need to be rested for my kids, job, class, church, family, co-workers tomorrow. Why would you allow this?”

Some of the worst times are going to bed. You dread it. In the evening, it’s, “Would that it were morning!” and in the morning, “Would that it were evening!”

You crave but loathe laying down. For those who can get to sleep, it doesn’t last long. You wake. It’s still dark. There’s a faint hope that you sleep-warped to 4 or 5am. You look at the clock. 1:30am. Though exhausted, your brain is in calculate mode. It’s become a habit. “That’s two and a half hours of sleep. Sigh. Maybe I’ll get back to sleep.” Some nights, you try, but it’s futility. You zone in and out of wide awake and half-awake for a few hours. If you do collapse into bliss, it’s usually about 45 minutes before it’s time to get up, just in mid-REM.

Sleep disorders are like ruthless taskmasters, stingy with time. Each day, you might have a few hours of semi-coherence. The race is on. You need twelve hours of productivity, but have five of lucidity. Every day is about strategy: “Where is negligence ok today? To what or whom can I give incoherence?” For many, life has to happen in random spurts. A moment of energy and memory bursts upon you like an unpredictable geyser. Quick, catch as much water as you can because it’s going to end abruptly. The crash is imminent.

During the day sleep comes in the most precarious circumstances. Mid-conversation, during a board meeting, and while working at a desk. Driving is common. Others will tell you that they have dozed while walking, making dinner, and eating. One doctor friend of mine watched a fellow M.D.-in-residence fall asleep, scalpel in hand, over a patient. But the irony compounds the trial: you cannot sleep in the most comfortable, prepared places, but you can in the least comfortable and ill-prepared.

Sleeplessness is not an excuse for a day off work, though it takes everything in you to clock in. You can’t take a sick day, though you constantly feel ill. Even if you haven’t been numbing the pain with booze, you constantly feel hung over. Your job requires you behind the wheel, at the controls, before your students, on the scaffolding, or with the kids. Every moment demands physical and mental exertion.

Then there are Job’s counselors: “You should get some sleep. It’s good for you!” That’s like cheerfully telling a guy with two shattered femurs, “You should go for a long hike. It will cheer you up!”

And for the most part, insomniacs are not wired differently. Some say, “Well, they are able to function on half the sleep as me.” But they are a human, not a bat. They need about the same amount of sleep as others. Though it seems like they are functioning well; every thought, every sentence, and every move takes exertion.

  1. Sleep disorders are companions to many other struggles.

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