It is not a nice feeling.
You are lying there in bed, the clock says 1:45 AM, and you know that, despite being tired, you will not be falling back to sleep anytime soon. What’s worse - you have to get up at 5:30 AM and a heavy day lies before you. Why is precious sleep so elusive? Is there anything you can do?
If this is your situation, take heart: you have plenty of company. Sleep problems afflict many people. This is more and more common as our lifestyles become complex and busier. In my own family, there are three people who have had major problems with sleep over many years.
Case One: He falls asleep immediately but then wakes up at 2 AM; goes to the living room to watch television and that is the end of his sleep for the rest of the night.
Case Two: The other goes to the TV room at bedtime and stays there for 4 hours until sleep finally overtakes him; then goes to bed for half a night.
Case Three: These two at least have some regularity in their sleep patterns; the third one falls asleep anytime (even at the steering wheel), wakes up anytime, but once awake, he goes into the kitchen and starts cooking, even in the middle of the night. Every night and every day is different.
Is this how it’s suppose to be?
Short answer: No. In unison, health experts are all extolling the virtues of a ‘full-night’s sleep.’ It is good for the heart, the mind, the spirit, indeed, our entire being. While there is no consensus on how long is a good night’s sleep, all agree we need to aim for it. So we are faced with the question: How do we get it a good night’s sleep?
From a Biblical point-of-view, we understand that sleep is a gift from God. Twice in the psalms it says that God gives His beloved sleep (Psalm 4:8; 127:2). It is God’s will for people to sleep. Good sleep is the reward of those who work hard (Ecclesiastes 5:12) and for those who embrace sound wisdom and discretion (Proverbs 3:24). In truth, sleep should be as natural as breathing out and breathing in.
At the same time, the Bible condemns too much sleep. The slothful man turns on his bed like a door on the hinge, and excess sleep is a recipe for poverty (Proverbs 6:9-11). We need to strike a moderate chord.
Everyone can have the occasional bad night of sleep or half night; but for far too many, as described above, sleeplessness is becoming a way of life.
Sleep is deprived through the burdens of leadership (Esther 6:1; Daniel 2:1) or the cares of the rich (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Worry, stress, fear, bringing outside problems into the centre of the home, all can drive your sleep away.
Is there any way forward?
Yes. As one that suffered the same as those described above, I learned some things along the road that have helped transform half nights into full-nights.
What can you do?
First, learn to live a balanced life. Let God’s peace come into your heart and mind. Like sleep, it is a gift from Christ (John 14:27) that you receive by faith. You can grow in God’s peace through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7), God’s Word (Psalm 119:165), and putting your complete focus on Him (Isaiah 26:3-4). If you can have peace in your heart, you can also have it in your head and home, thus positioning you to have a fighting chance to sleep soundly.
Second, learn to become less busy. So much of our busyness is fruitless and vain (Luke 10:38-42); thus depriving us of necessary sleep and making us less productive and effective. After living a lifestyle of non-stop activity from 5:30 AM to 10:30 PM, only to dive into the bed, fall asleep, and wake-up half a night later, I learned the secret: unwind. Take 10-20 minutes during the day to ‘de-stress:’ Read a book, listen to relaxing music, drink a hot beverage, stroke the cat, meditate on Scripture, close your eyes and relax. Again, make sure it is some time during the day. Then closer to bedtime, start the ritual of unwinding once more: A warm drink (camomile is amazing), brush your teach, take a warm (but not hot) shower. All these things are telling your body it is sleep time. Then, if you wake up during the night, you are much more likely to fall asleep again.
What If You Have Problems Sleeping: If, for some reason, you wake up and can’t fall to sleep, here is the constructive thing to do: if you remain awake more than 30 minutes, don’t panic. Get up, make another hot drink, do something relaxing that will not stimulate the brain. Stop worrying about the lack of sleep. Just enjoy yourself, again, reading, listening to soft music, relaxing, and meditating on Godly things. After a certain amount of time (30-60 minutes) try going back to sleep again. You are more likely to fall asleep again.
To maximize your ability to fall asleep and stay that way, make sure you have an environment conducive to sleep. The room must not be too hot; it it is, turn on the fan. It also needs to be dark and quiet. Try going to bed earlier, make sure you are not looking at computer screens, iPad screens, even cell phones screens two hours before sleep, otherwise you will mess up your sleep pattern. Use your bed for sleeping, not for work. Again, camomile tea can help the relaxation process. If necessary, avoid caffeine in the evening and take herbal relaxation supplements or the sleep hormone melatonin. The latter should not be taken every night or it will lose its effectiveness. Remember that supplements are just that: supplements. Use them as needed but not all the time. If you follow the above principles, your chances of getting better sleep will be greatly enhanced, without drugs.
Give it a try and sweet dreams.