Do getting adequate sleep and spiritual self-care have anything to do with each other? The answer may surprise you.
This month we’re talking about sleep and why it’s an important self-care tool we can all tap into for free. It costs nothing, yet has amazing benefits for our mental, academic, physical, and spiritual self-care.
Surviving, But Not Thriving
I heard a door slam and I looked at my watch. “Rats!” I muttered, what had happened to my alarm?
I threw back the covers and stumbled to the bathroom. I had exactly 15 minutes to get ready for work. This NEVER happened to me. Well, usually. For the past month it had happened more often than I’d like to admit.
My well-structured mornings filled with a meaningful routine had fallen apart. I felt like I had started falling apart, too. Waking up later and later had squeezed the life out of my morning routine.
I’d reduced my time with God to a quick Bible verse and a prayer flung heavenward as I walked out the door. I quit wearing makeup. Breakfast? Who had time for that? Sometimes I’d grab a muffin as I sprinted out the door.
Despite going to bed by nine, I couldn’t get out of my cozy nest in the mornings. My parents had moved in with us at the beginning of the school year to help out when Pedro’s cancer came back. With three other adults in the house, I knew our girls would get fed and get a ride to school.
After a scary seven months in and out of the hospital, Pedro had returned home to recover after a stem-cell transplant. I taught for two hours, ran home during my prep period to check on him, taught for another two hours, came home to fix him lunch, and then returned to finish off the school day.
Pedro got stronger every day. But me? I felt like a mess. God seemed far away, although I really appreciated the miracle he’d performed in saving Pedro. I couldn’t fit God in to my schedule the way I once had.
What Goes First When You Feel Weary?
I don’t know about you, but I usually let the most important thing in my self-care routine go first. My time with God gets traded for a few more minutes of sleep. Next, academic and artistic self-care fall by the wayside. If the stressful event goes on for more than a week, I drop my physical self-care routines. The last to go? My mental self-care routines—I’ve journaled 99% of the days in the past 40 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t totally ditch taking care of myself, I just abbreviate my routines. Sometimes, to the point they no longer serve me well. I’ve often wondered if I let my spiritual self-care routines go first because I know, deep down, God will have mercy on me. He’ll understand my need to sleep more or take care of other areas of my life.
But the longer I put aside the relationship, the more difficult taking care of myself in the all the other areas of my life becomes. I know the importance of spiritual self-care on an intellectual level, but when I feel sleep deprived…well, things go awry.
The Interconnectedness of Spiritual Self-Care and Adequate Sleep
But finding research on the connection between spiritual self-care and adequate sleep proved more difficult. I did discover a study from 2012 called Religious Doubts and Sleep Quality: Findings from a Nation-Wide Study of Presbyterians. Christopher G. Ellison, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, San Antonio, led a study exploring the relationship of sleep quality and religious doubts. They used self-reporting of both spiritual doubts and disturbed sleep, seeking to determine if spiritual doubts caused poor sleep. The researchers discovered a high correlation between religious doubts and poor sleep.
“Although religiousness and spirituality tend to have salutary effects on mental and physical health for individuals in general, they may be particularly valuable for the well-being of persons who are experiencing high levels of stress.”Ellison, et. al
While the study examined lack of sleep as a side-effect of doubting God, some people see the relationship the other way. A lack of sleep causes doubts about God. Gary Jansen, an author and current editor of Loyola Press describes how his lack of sleep caused him to doubt God in an article in Angelus News.
Not many people have studied the relationship between spiritual self-care and adequate sleep, but both the scientific study and the anecdotal story suggest a relationship exists. Researchers have established the connection between sleep and mental health. Poor mental health can result in lack of sleep and poor sleep can result in deterioration of mental health.
Perhaps our spiritual health and sleep hygiene share a similar intertwined relationship.
What Does the Old Testament Say About Sleep and a Relationship with God?
In Psalm 4, David writes about his relationship (as well as the people of Israel’s) with God. David suggests the people should spend time at night reviewing their actions of the day (verse 4). He acknowledges blessings and joy come from God and finishes the Psalm with, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
David’s psalm suggests an interactive relationship with God where we question, repent, and review. As a result, we will have peace and sleep.
Solomon has a seemingly conflicting view in Psalm 127: 2. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Read out of context, it would seem God only grants a good night’s sleep to those he favors.
But a careful reading of the first verse reveals the error of taking Bible verses out of context. The first verse of Psalm 127 talks about the uselessness of trying to do things on our own, apart from God. When we try to trust in our own efforts without acknowledging God, our efforts will prove useless—whether it’s building, establishing, or sleeping.
Proverbs 3:24 says, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” This promise comes towards the end of a chapter talking about wisdom and a right relationship with God. Suggesting, once again, a connection between sweet slumber and a relationship with God.
Proverbs also warns against sleeping too much. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” Proverbs 6:9. The first part of the chapter warns the reader against folly—the Biblical equivalent of denying God.
What About Jesus and Sleep?
The one incident in the Bible which mentions Jesus sleeping seems to bear out David’s conclusion about adequate sleep and a right relationship with God. The famous incident involves the disciples crossing a lake when a sudden storm threatens to swamp the boat. Jesus remains asleep while the disciples struggle to battle the water.
“Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping (Matthew 8:24).”
The disciples wake Jesus, who chides them for their lack of faith before calming the storm.
Jesus also spent considerable time preparing for ministry and praying—so we know he cultivated and maintained a close relationship with God.
The incident in the Garden of Gethsemane indicates we should forgo sleep to fight spiritual battles. “Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners (Matthew 24:45).”
Balance plays a key role in our spiritual self-care, and sleep plays a huge role in our overall health.Are spirituality and sleep somehow connected? #sleep #selfcare Click To Tweet
Hacks to Improve Your Sleep
Don’t do what I did when Pedro had cancer. I let the stress of his condition lure me into thinking I didn’t need to spend quality time with God. As Pedro’s condition improved, my disordered sleep from the previous nine months contributed to depression. Depression made it difficult to wake up in the mornings and resume my pre-cancer routines.
Did God understand? Yes. Did he forgive me for all the times I ignored him? Yes. But the next time a crisis came out of left field, I knew the importance of taking care of myself spiritually.
If you want to improve your sleep, do all the things the sleep hygiene experts advocate:
- Put away electronics 90 minutes before bedtime.
- Establish a bedtime routine.
- Eliminate lights from your bedroom.
- Use essential oils to set a calming mood.
- Breathe deeply when you get into bed.
- Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary (no television or computers).
In order to ensure you take care of yourself spiritually, you might consider taking the following steps to ensure you get adequate sleep.
1. Journal Before Bed.
Write out your worries and your woes as well as your accomplishments. Give your worries to God and thank him for what you accomplished. Stating our fears and worries—either out loud or on a piece of paper—will help us put them into perspective.
This will help you do what David describes in Psalm 4.
2. Nurture a Relationship with God
Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, saw the necessity of having a right relationship with God. If you’ve relied on church for your spirituality, there’s no time like the present to start a personal relationship with him.
Schedule a time to read the Bible, reflect, and pray. I’ve recently started personalizing the YouVersion Bible app verse of the day in my journal each morning. Instead of just copying the verse down, I add parenthetical comments on what the verse means to me. For example, this morning I wrote Hosea 6:6 like this:
“I want you to show love (even to the people who annoy you or make you angry), not offer sacrifices (going to church has its place, but it can’t compare to making the effort to actually love the people who are difficult to love). I want you to know (really know my heart and my desires for you) me more than I want burnt offerings (those burnt offerings were to help you understand sin and its consequences. I think you’ve had ample time to get the point).”Hosea 6:6
3. Check Your Balance
If any one area of our life feels out of balance, other areas will suffer. The longer we live out of balance, the more apparent the imbalance will become. But it doesn’t always show up in the unbalanced area. For example, getting adequate sleep seems like a physical self-care area. But maybe our mental self-care has gotten out of balance or our relationship with God needs work.
Track you sleep and decide whether or not you get adequate sleep, on average. Make a list of what wakes you up or keeps you awake.
Right now, pain wakes me up several times during the night (I had ankle surgery). I keep the tools to fight it handy so I can use an ace bandage to keep an ice bag from slipping or take Tylenol if I think I need it.
If restless thoughts wake you up, try keeping a journal next to your bed and jot down your thoughts. Maybe essential oils help soothe you. If so, keep some on your bedside table.
If you struggle with getting adequate sleep, consider setting up bedtime routines for the entire family. Remember to seek medical help if your insomnia persists for very long. You could have an underlying medical condition or need a sleep study to pinpoint the problem.
Weekly Sabbath Rest and Your Spiritual Self-Care Routine
The last thing God created was Sabbath rest. He gave it as a gift to all creation. Maybe your problem with getting adequate sleep stems from a lifestyle without Sabbath rest. You can look at these posts for more information about Sabbath rest and how taking a day off once a week will actually increase your productivity.