I have struggled with insomnia since 2003. It has been so long and so typical that I rarely talk about it unless someone asks. I long resigned myself to insomnia as a way of life.
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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 a 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 where 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-resolvable-ness 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:
- What kind of person are you?
- What do you need to add or eliminate from your life?
Who Are You?
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 weaknesses. 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, over-worked, 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.
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15 Tips to Consider
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.
- What is going on in your life situation?
- What are you thinking about that keeps you awake?
- What is bothering you?
- Who is bothering you?
- What are some things you can remove from your thought life?
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 subjecting them to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Process of Elimination
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.
- Eat Healthily – I am not talking about a diet but a lifestyle. Eating well, which includes what you drink, should be a daily habit.
- Exercise Often – Find a workout plan that fits your lifestyle. You must be active.
- Proper Weight – Most people don’t want to hear this, but you have to do something about being overweight if you weigh too much.
- No Smoking, Only Moderate Alcohol – I have a disdain for tobacco and have never enjoyed alcohol, so these two items are not a problem.
- Proper Sleep – I am working on this one. I do take power naps during the day, anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours—depending on what is needed. If I go too long without enough sleep, I tend to sin more. Proper sleep reduces sin problems.
- Clear Conscience – Your inner voice can keep you awake at night, which makes it imperative that you do not have hidden sin. If you are wrestling with sin, you must let someone know. Do not be intellectually dishonest, by talking about remedies for insomnia, while holding on to sinful habituations.
- Work Hard – When you work, work hard. Do not slouch around all day and go to bed. Exhaustion is one of the benefits of exercise, in that it wears you out to where you are ready for bed. Work your body hard, so when it is time to sleep you will have your best chance at sleeping.
- Remove the Blue Light – Technology is one of the biggest culprits to poor sleep habits. Devices have a blue light that tricks your brain into thinking it is daytime. During the evening your melatonin level rises, which helps you sleep. The blue light from the computer tells your brain it is not nighttime, which reduces your melatonin. Lowering a child’s melatonin at bedtime is a huge problem for children. Rather than moderating device use, parents put them on medication. I added f.lux software to my computer. This software changes my computer screen at dusk by filtering out the blue light. Changing my screen at night is a big help since ninety percent of my job is on the computer.
- White Noise – I have two forms of white noise, both of them blow air. One is room temperature air, and the other is hot air from ESPN. For several years, I have gone to bed with earbuds in my ears. The other end of the earbuds is attached to my phone, which plays various podcasts. ESPN is a bunch of talking heads blowing hot air about meaningless information. I’m not a big sport’s fan but have found listening to useless information distracts my mind from essential information.
- Blackout Material – Lucia put blackout material on the backs of our bedroom curtains. The Lord cursed the Egyptians with a darkness that could be felt (Exodus 10:21). We have nearly reproduced that kind of darkness in our bedroom.
- Keep Quiet – Lucia has to go to bed before I do. If she is up, moving around, it is nearly impossible for me to sleep. For the record, she totally loves this tip.
- Stop Eating – If I stop eating and drinking by 6 PM, I have my best chance of going to sleep. As I have aged, the need to go to the bathroom at night has increased.
- Midnight Snacks – Typically when I cannot sleep, I want to eat. Late night eating not only adds poundage, but it keeps me awake. Eating late at night as an answer to insomnia is not a good idea.
- Health Check – I have blood work twice year, which is part of my doctor visits. From these visits, I can adapt my health plan every six months
- Be on Time – Having a standard, though not rigid, sleep schedule is a good idea. I try to be in bed by 10 PM, always hoping to get eight hours of sleep.
The Gift of Sleep
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 about 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.
Also published on Medium.