Sleep: Keeping in the Guardrails

Sleep is great.

Who doesn’t want to get a full eight hours every night and wake up feeling rested and refreshed? Some of us find this quite challenging, if not impossible. There can be any number of reasons why we don’t get a good night’s sleep: work demands, small children who often cry out at night, household chores that must be completed, our favorite TV show that comes on late, a guilty conscience or racing mind, or even a health problem. For others of us who don’t have as much responsibility, oversleeping can be a temptation: college students who don’t have class until 11am, the retired or unemployed who don’t have a boss waiting on them, or the self-employed who don’t have a fixed schedule. What can we do to avoid losing control of our sleep and this causing damage in other aspects of our lives? God’s Word teaches us to stay between two guardrails: too little sleep and too much sleep.

The first guardrail, too little sleep, is found in Psalm 127:2, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.” In Psalm 127, Solomon addresses those who neglect proper sleep for the purpose of increasing productivity. These workaholics think sleep is overrated because it doesn’t appear to produce anything. They are too busy toiling, but their toiling is “anxious” toiling, the opposite of faith-fueled effort. They “labor in vain.” There is nothing wrong with hard work. God commends hard work; but if we cannot cease from work to rest, chances are its anxious toil. Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, sleep is a gift God “gives to His beloved.

Both Scripture and reason say we’re fools for neglecting proper sleep. Ignoring God’s wisdom to get enough sleep at night can lead to a number of health problems: physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual. Oftentimes our walk with the Lord suffers because we are disobeying Him in this area of rest. While a full eight hours cannot bring you any closer to God, a habit of perpetually ignoring God’s counsel to rest is dangerous. It’s humbling that God has hard-wired the human body so that our batteries run out and require hours of re-charging every night. Practically a third of our lives are spent unconscious! So if you’re tempted to burn the candle at both ends on a regular basis, humble yourself before the Lord, confess your weakness and frailty, pray for more faith, then exercise faith in the Lord by getting some rest at night.

The other guardrail we must avoid is too much sleep. Proverbs 20:13 states, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.” If overworking and under-sleeping go hand in hand, oversleeping and under-working do too. For those with a normal nine-to-five, being late a few times could cost you your job, so this may not be a problem for you. But for those with different schedules, sleep can easily become an idol. The Lord created sleep as a gift, but He never wants us to worship the gift over the Giver.

So what can we do to ensure we stay between the guardrails of ignoring sleep and idolizing it? Work hard for the glory of God no matter what you do, then exercise faith in God by going to bed at a decent time.

This may mean eliminating certain things like late night TV or caffeine or changing habits to ensure you get the proper sleep you need. If we really believe God is sovereign over all, we must put that faith to practice by embracing our humanity and resting in His goodness. The world’s problems will still be around in the morning and the wheels won’t fly off if we stop working for eight hours.

I’ll conclude by offering my own variation on 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink [or sleep], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

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