Sleep is a Beautiful Act of Humility

“Sleep is a beautiful act of humility.  When we sleep we are declaring to God that we can’t do everything we want to do. You can’t keep going. You are finite. You must rest.”    

I’ve fought with my alarm for over a decade, and I’ve decided that I’m done.  Not that I don’t set an alarm, I still do, but I’ve started viewing it very differently.  Some people are morning people, they love to get up, they love the early morning, they love the quiet of a silent house.  I’m just not one of those people.

For years I’ve been convinced that getting up early and sleeping as little as possible was a form of godliness. I hear stories all the time of these people who survive (and even thrive) on 3, 4, 5 hours of sleep a night. Al Mohler is one that continues to haunt my sleeping hours. The guy reads late into the night, then pops up after a few hours in bed and hits the ground running for the next day, and while that kind of schedule may work for Dr. Mohler, I’ve found that it certainly doesn’t work for me. When I would fall asleep reading, or sleep a full night’s sleep I would always awake with a low-level guilt.

This sense of guilt was only magnified when I read passages in Scripture like Proverbs 6:

How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:9-11)

The point of this passage is that there is such a thing as too much sleep, and that sleep motivated by laziness is ungodly and ought to be repented of. However, I’m afraid that for many of us a misinterpretation of this passage leads us to believe that sleep is bad, a waste of time, and to be minimized at all cost, regardless of what our finite physical bodies need.

I even wrote a paper on sleep at one point in order to develop a biblical conviction regarding sleeping habits and strategies for developing a godly view of sleep. When I received the graded paper back there was one note from my professor that I didn’t quite know what to do with.  I stated in the paper that, for me, the institution of a firm 11pm bedtime and 6am wakeup time seemed an appropriate application of biblical principles. Next to this sentence he simply wrote: “Is that enough sleep for your body?”

I dismissed the note at the time, yet I’ve never forgotten it. Of course that’s enough sleep for my body! The average person sleeps 8 hours. Al Mohler sleeps 4. I can at least get away with 7, right?

I’ve spent years not listening to my body. This has manifested itself in a number of different ways, but one of the most significant areas that I haven’t listened to my body is in the area of sleep. Now, by “listening to my body” I don’t mean to encourage us to do whatever “feels good.”  What I do mean, however, is that we ought to be paying attention to the ways that what we drink, what we eat, how active we are, and how much we sleep affects our bodies, which (in this life) house our souls.

Each one of us requires a certain amount of sleep to function well. The exact amount may differ person to person, but we all need sleep. Sometimes we are prohibited from getting that sleep because of a work deadline, kids, or some other impediment. And while we can survive such seasons, they don’t change the need.

Sleep is a beautiful act of humility. When we sleep we are declaring to God that we can’t do everything we want to do. You can’t keep going. You are finite. You must rest. My desire to shorten my sleep was not an act of faithfulness but an act of pride. I assume that I should be less dependent, less limited than God has made me. But the truth is, I’m not.

Our house doesn’t quiet down from children until 9pm. Many evenings we have people in our home after that, or are out ourselves past then. If I am ever going to have any time with my wife or alone reading it’s going to happen even later in the evening. And if that is the lifestyle God has called us to, there is no reason for feeling guilty that I can’t get up at 5…or 6 for that matter. I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that my body needs 8 hours of sleep to function well. Too many people boast of how little sleep they can thrive on. I figure that maybe it will relieve some of the pressure on you to hear that if you can’t, you’re not alone. Of course I can get by on less, and have done so during different seasons. Of course there are some nights where I have to stay up later or get up earlier than is ideal. But I’m done feeling guilty for needing a full night’s sleep to feel rested and to have sufficient energy. And I think you should be done feeling guilty for that, too.

Maybe instead of being haunted by Proverbs 6:9-11, you and I should meditate on the blessing of sleep and the dependence in requires on God. As the Psalmist meditated:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)