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Insomnia is like an unwanted acquaintance, who periodically shows up late at night. He makes his visits without warning. I call him my seasonal friend. I can go for weeks with relatively good sleep, though I have probably not had sound sleep the way a child enjoys sleep since I was a child.
My children seemingly can sleep anywhere, while waking in the morning fully refreshed and ready to go about their day. They never complain about a poor night of rest. I do not believe it has occurred to them that a person cannot sleep well.
When my poor sleeping season comes, I go for weeks without sleeping through an entire night. On those nights, it’s 3 AM before I finally give up the fight. Most nights I toss and turn until 5 AM or later.
During the first years, I became angry as I tossed and turned through the evening. I finally grew weary of going through the anger ritual, so I repented, which began by asking the Lord to forgive me.
I then asked Him to give me the strength for the day after a rough night of sleeplessness. The Lord is faithful; He provides what I need to get through a day when I had two or three hours of sleep the previous night.
Though my sleeping cycles have not changed and some nights are long, I’m okay when the sleep debt is high because I became a practitioner in grace appropriation, a fancy way of saying, “Dear God, help me.”
If you are struggling with a lack of sleep, my best tip is for you to pray, asking the Lord to give you what you need to endure seasons of sleep deprivation.
Insomnia is like depression in the sense that each person is different and there is no way to provide accurate answers for all its causes. My best advice is, “I do not know why you do not sleep well.” I have some ideas, but I am not dogmatic about them–any more than I am dogmatic about the causes of depression.
There are mysterious elements in life, which requires a level of comfortableness with the un-resolvableness of difficult problems. But we are not left without practical help. With the backdrop of prayer as your constant “go-to” help and your willingness to live in mystery, consider these two things:
Gift of Faith – Sleep is connected to faith. In a real and practical way, a lack of sleep is a trust issue. It reminds me of Jesus sleeping on a boat during a dark and stormy night (Mark 4:38). To sleep well is to trust well.
You can substitute the word security or stability for the word faith. A child in a secure environment, for example, where he is not worried about anything, is not distracted from sleeping well.
A child in a chaotic home, where arguing and drama are the norms, has more difficulty being at peace. Things like worry, anxiety, drama, chaos, and instability interrupt a person’s faith, which interferes with their sleep.
The object of your faith is what gives strength to your faith. The solution for weak faith is not more faith. The solution is to figure out what keeps you from appropriating the object of your faith to your life.
It is the breaking of your faith in Jesus that weakens you, which leads to this question: What are some of the things that keep you from appropriating Christ to your life?
My Top Three Things
Self-Reliance – I struggle with self-sufficiency, which is doing things under my strength rather than trusting the Lord. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 teaches how we are to rely on the Lord rather than ourselves. God sent trouble into Paul’s life to break him from his nasty self-reliant habit.
The irony here is that my insomnia is God’s merciful instructor, sent to help me. I’m learning to rely on the Lord regarding the things I cannot fix or change. In this case, the thing I cannot fix is insomnia.
If you wrestle with the un-fixable things in your life, which fear, anxiousness, anger, or despair reveal, you are not relying on the Lord. If you do not break your habit of self-reliance, insomnia may be your nightly bedfellow.
The Gifted Curse – In the television series, Monk, there was a repeated theme when folks experienced Monk’s unique gift for solving crimes. They would say, “It is a gift,” to which Monk would always follow with, “And a curse.”
Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. Oswald Chambers said, “An unguarded strength is a double weakness.” Tied to my problem of self-reliance is the gift of my mind, which is a perpetual, overworked, whirling processor.
I do not know how to stop my brain from thinking. My “always on the move” mind is most active when the Lord gives me a thought, even if it’s at night. I call them my nightly visitors that come out and latch onto my brain.
Most of the time it is a thought about creative ideas or better ways to run our business. Once my mind latches onto one of these creatures, it speeds up to the point that I cannot stop thinking about it until the idea is exhausted.
Communal Tension – I do not do well when people are angry with me. It is hard for me to ignore tension in my close relationships. I am not necessarily bothered by internet “friends” who say nasty things about me, but it is different with those who are close friends.
Though this circle is small, when there is tension it affects my thought life. People become significant, and God becomes insignificant. Tension is one of my faith interrupters, like the kid in the angry home. I can spend more time thinking about the individual who is angry with me than my Lord who owns me.
It is important for you to spend time thinking about what is going on in your mind when sleep is escaping. Here are a few questions that will serve you.
Spend some time over the next few months thinking and talking about these questions. (Just not at night.) As you begin to discern your faith interrupters, drill down into these problems, with plans to take those thoughts captive and subject them to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
I have spent the last ten years thinking about insomnia. I am not an expert on insomnia, but I have learned a few things. I have also implemented a few things that help me do battle with sleep problems.
What I do is not a prescription for you. My list is not your list. I am not a doctor, but a regular guy, who experiments with insomnia problems. The main thing I do is pray. That is your best action item for sleep, and for gracefully enduring the next day, after being up most of the night.
These first five things are standard practices that nearly every health professional believes are musts if you want a better quality of life. These are non-negotiable, not just for a sleep problem, but for all potential health concerns.
Sleep, like faith, is a gift from the Lord. He controls all things. He can give you the peace you need to sleep well, and He can remove that peace. His sovereignty does not relieve you of your responsibility for sleep or faith, which is why your cooperation with the Lord is essential (Philippians 2:12-13).
Your cooperation ensures you have eliminated all of the things that hinder your sleep. If you still cannot sleep, ask the Lord to explain to you why you cannot. Use your seasons of sleeplessness to learn more about yourself while enriching your relationship with God. You may find being up late is a gift.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).