Rest and Sleep: A Mandate from God
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV).
We know God does not need to rest, yet he did and includes this in his Word. One wonders what “rest” looks like when God rests. What does rest look like when you allow yourself to do it? Duck hunting, reading, time with family, a solitary walk, golfing, a power nap?
The reason God blessed and made the seventh day holy was “because he rested from all the work of creating …” For pastors the seventh day is not a day of rest; however, God is clear about the value and even holiness of resting from all our work.
There are two kinds of rest: waking and sleeping rest. Waking rest is when we do something that is not work or work related. Sleeping rest is also a mandate from God because he designed us to need sleep every day.
Waking Rest—God’s Invitation to Honor His Creation
Waking rest is important to our health and well-being and the vibrancy of our service to the Lord. Time spent this way rejuvenates and refreshes us, like wading in a cool, clear stream on a hot summer day. It allows us to express a different part of who God created us to be, which honors him and makes us a more integrated human being. It is time well spent, and God says it is holy. So, include waking rest in your life without guilt—it is God approved.
Sleep—God’s Gift of Daily Restoration
Good sleep is necessary for physical, mental, and emotional health, but many of us have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or getting back to sleep if we wake up at night.
A good night’s sleep starts in the morning with a healthy breakfast, which includes protein and eating healthy meals throughout the day (nutrition experts say every meal should include some protein). Hydration is also important, which means drinking liquids, especially water, during the day. As we age, our ability to absorb the nutrients in our foods decreases. We need to talk with our healthcare provider about whether we should be taking vitamin/mineral supplements.
Vitamin D deficiency can affect sleep, mood, and energy levels. We get Vitamin D from being in the sun, but many people who work long hours inside do not have a chance to be outdoors. People who live in northern climates tend to have Vitamin D deficiencies. As the days get shorter over the autumn and winter, this deficiency increases until the springtime when it can be a serious problem. It is a good idea to get our Vitamin D levels tested with a blood test. Vitamin D supplements can be taken and/or a sun lamp can be purchased (along with spending more time outdoors).
Sometimes we rely on caffeine to keep us going, but in some people caffeine causes sleep disturbance, anxiety, panic, and/or heart palpitations. One cup of coffee or tea, even in the morning, can affect sleep for 48 hours. As we age, some of us become more sensitive to caffeine.
There is one activity that improves every aspect of our lives including sleep. It also reduces the chances of getting ill, improves mood and cognitive functioning, reduces pain, and keeps us energetic and strong. It is moving. God designed the human body to move.
Exercise researchers have found that three periods of 10 minutes of exercise equal the benefits of doing 30 minutes of exercise all at once. They suggest warming up the muscles with some easy movements for 2 to 3 minutes, some vigorous movements using both arms and legs, and ending with some slower stretching movements. To sleep better at night, exercise is a must!
It honors God to use our bodies in the ways he designed them to be used.
Difficulties with Sleeping
People have difficulties with sleeping for the following reasons: poor sleeping habits, a medical condition, the body is not tired (lack of exercise), and the mind will not shut off.
Sleeping habits include our mindset about sleep, what we do before sleep, and our sleeping environment. Sleep is a gift of daily restoration that God invites us to partake in nightly. We need to prepare for it with activities and thoughts that are calming and peaceful. A light snack before bed can be helpful. Our bedroom needs to be a calming, peaceful environment, quiet enough and dark enough, with the right bed and temperature.
Insomnia is a real medical condition that may require a doctor’s advice and participation in a sleep study to determine the cause(s): restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, a problem in one’s circadian rhythm, and brain chemistry issues are examples of conditions that adversely affect sleep. Chronic pain may also be affecting one’s sleep. Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs as the days get shorter and we have less exposure to sun (usually purchasing a sun lamp and using it 30 minutes a day reduces the symptoms). Age affects how we sleep as well. Do not hesitate to seek the support of a counselor at Christian Family Counseling if you have chronic problems with sleeping.
Calming the Active Mind
Sometimes we cannot turn off thoughts that keep us awake as we first try to fall asleep or if we wake up during the night. There are four kinds of thoughts:
1. Remembering—reliving positive moments
2. Creative—trying to mentally solve a problem or plan for a future event
3. Projecting—thinking about what one would like in the future or visualizing a scene
4. Circular—worrying about things out of our control, especially the past or the future
Circular Thinking is what keeps us awake. It is like the gerbil that goes around on his wheel but never gets anywhere. In order to manage Circular Thinking, one has to be able to identify it first.
Sometimes we do Creative Thinking at night, and an idea for solving a problem or a creative idea comes to us, but Circular Thinking is a form of worry, thoughts about the past or future (i.e., rehashing or rehearsing), which we have no control over in the present. If we ask ourselves, “Are these thoughts about things I have control over or can do some Creative Thinking about right now?” and the answer is “no,” then they are Circular Thinking.
Our mind is like a CD player. When Circular Thoughts play, we need to interrupt them with a different set of tracks. Paul’s wonderful words in Philippians 4:8 give us the answer: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Here are some examples:
1. Remembering positive moments and memories
2. Projecting happy futures
3. Visualizing nature scenes with movement (waves on a beach, the sun shining on a northern stream, geese winging their way south, the wind wafting through a poplar stand)
4. Listening to the sound and movement of your God-given breath
5. Repeating the words to a favorite prayer (23rd psalm) or hymn
6. Listening to instrumental music
7. Doing a progressive relaxation exercise (please click here for a list of helpful relaxation apps)
Interrupting Circular Thoughts takes practice. Some nights one of the above will work, and another night it won’t, but another one will. Thoughts are like clouds drifting through the sky of our minds. Push those clouds of worry away with thoughts of peace and joy.
Rest and sleep are gifts from God. He knows what is best for us. Taking care of ourselves makes us better able to take care of others. It pleases God when we rest and sleep at ease.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
This article was written by Kristina Davis, LCSW, and reviewed by Dr. Brandon Hayes and Pastor James Mattek.