A godly Bible teacher was asked what helped him most to walk in the Spirit. Of course, he studied God’s Word and met with the Lord daily. But his surprising reply to the question was this: “Getting eight hours of sleep each night.”
Sleep does indeed have a profound effect on every aspect of our being—physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. Sleep is the body’s most basic and extensive attempt at relaxation and renewal. Stress often causes a lack of good sleep. Ironically, a lack of good sleep will inevitably cause stress.
It’s easy to stay up late tonight, but tomorrow we, and those around us, will pay the price in the form of fatigue and irritability. Often the key to the quality with which we experience today is what we did last night and how late we did it. Put two or three busy nights with six hours of sleep together and we’re deep in debt, trying to spend energy we don’t have.
It’s a simple matter of mathematics. If I need eight hours of sleep and I must get up at 6:30 in the morning, then I need to be asleep at 10:30. Not heading for bed at 10:30, but asleep at 10:30, which probably means I should try to be in bed by 10:00.
But for many, Insomnia can be maddening. Here are a number of suggestions that Nanci and I and others have found helpful—perhaps you will, too.
1. Get a good mattress. We will spend one-third of our lives in bed. Isn’t it worth having a good one? Especially since the quality of that one-third will dramatically affect the other two-thirds. Many of us sleep better in a larger bed.
2. Watch the room temperature and the ventilation. Too hot or too cold means sleeplessness or restless sleep. Adding or subtracting covers or adjusting an electric blanket may be enough to make the difference.
Some people need fresh air to sleep, so they crack the window even in winter. Try it. If the air is too dry for you, get a humidifier.
3. Minimize distractions. Do street lights and traffic noise disturb you? Perhaps you can move into a bedroom at another end of the house. Try blackout shades to keep out light. I regularly sleep with earplugs, and have a sleeping mask beside the bed to cover my eyes in early morning.
4. Relax before you get into bed. Many poor sleepers instinctively tighten up when they get into bed, ready for the big fight for sleep, which they invariably lose. Instead of trying to relax once in bed, relax before you get there. Take a walk—get some fresh air. Take a warm bath to reduce your tension. Drink warm milk—it contains a natural tranquilizer.
5. Avoid chemical stimulants before going to bed. Avoid caffeine within five hours and chocolate or sugar of any kind within three hours of retiring.
6. Eat an early dinner, moderately sized. If you eat a large dinner or a late dinner or a big snack at 8 p.m., your body is still trying to digest it when you go to bed. You can’t give your body a chore to do, then expect it to sleep at the same time! On the other hand, if you eat like a bird you may be unable to sleep because of hunger pangs.
7. Avoid working on problems and reading or watching distressing things late at night. Don’t try to balance your checkbook or do anything that requires deep thought late at night; it just causes frustration and leads to sleeplessness.
A few years ago I was at the beach by myself for ten days of writing. Each night I slept soundly and woke up refreshed—except one night when I was fitful and restless, and woke up exhausted. That one night was the only one I had watched the eleven o’clock news.
The best cure for insomnia may be to avoid the late news. It invariably features murders, hijackings, kidnappings, wars, and natural disasters. Just thinking of these things will tighten you up. The same is true of watching violent or tense movies, or reading about distressing events in the newspaper just before going to bed. Your last dominant thoughts before the lights go out set the mood for your night’s sleep. If you want good sleep, make sure you close the day with good thoughts, such as words from Scripture.
8. Develop a bedtime ritual. We are creatures of habit. If we can associate sleep with a certain routine, then going through the routine can help induce sleep. A bedtime ritual might involve a warm bath, a cup of warm milk, soft music, or light reading. Some people read till they begin to nod off then turn off the light and go right to sleep.
9. If you just can’t get an idea or problem off your mind, get up and do something about it. Sometimes we really need to get something off our minds. Keep paper and pen (and perhaps a little light) by your bed to jot down anything you might need to think about tomorrow, but don’t need to do tonight.
10. Learn when to nap and when not to. There are two kinds of fatigue. Hypertonic fatigue is the nervous stress-induced fatigue in which you are tired but unable to relax. Hypotonic fatigue results from hard physical labor. The muscles are relaxed and the mind drifts quickly into sleep. If you experience hypertonic fatigue during the day, the best cure is exercise, not a nap. If you take a nap, it might not refresh you, but even if it does it will usually make it more difficult for you to sleep at night. (Sometimes this creates a vicious cycle in which you nap in the afternoon because you can’t sleep at night, but can’t sleep at night because you napped in the afternoon.)
If you’re fatigued, and especially if you have a big evening ahead of you, by all means, nap if you can. For most people, a short nap of no more than 20 minutes works best.
In his article “Three Reasons to Get Some Sleep,” Jonathan Parnell writes, “Just like oxygen and food, we need sleep to work right. It won’t look the same for everyone, and some are in situations where their care for others inhibits a solid snooze, but know for sure that we need sleep. It was God’s idea.”
Parts of this blog were excerpted from Help for Women Under Stress.
Photo by Nathan Oakley on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.