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Why do Christians suffer from insomnia?

By Dr Valencia Wiggins, PhD.

Sleep is one of God’s most precious gifts for our bodies. We need sleep for optimal health. In Genesis, God created a natural order to our lives by separating night from day (Gen. 1:3–4), and He even designated a day for rest (Gen. 2:2–3). After a solid night of rest, generally seven to nine hours, our bodies feel energized for a brand-new day. However, circumstances that occur during our hours of wakefulness may sometimes disrupt our restorative hours of sleep. Stressful life events (such as the pandemic), problems in relationships, changes in routine, positive and negative experiences, may impact our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

We see this throughout the Bible when kings could not sleep due to the weight of responsibility or life-changing decisions (Est. 6:1; Dan. 6:18; John 4:6). This is not a new problem, but is experienced by believers and unbelievers alike. At any point in our lives, unexpected circumstances have the potential to disrupt our peace of mind and our valuable sleep.

One of my favorite verses is, “In peace, I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). Yet, as a clinical psychologist, I have talked to many Christians who struggle with insomnia. They ask: Why am I experiencing sleepless nights if I have put my trust in God? First, let’s look at the clinical understanding of this issue. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that includes difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, and/or difficulty maintaining sleep. Anyone at any age may experience insomnia.

Insomnia can be our bodies’ way of telling us that something is wrong. One of the beautiful ways God designed our bodies includes signals that sound the alarm that something is happening to our physical well-being and needs attention. Insomnia is a signal that something is occurring in our life that is causing a physical response. And, when we experience a sleep disorder such as insomnia, this sleep loss has an impact on our physical, emotional, and mental health. Lack of sleep has been known to increase levels of anxiety and depression.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experienced insomnia due to isolation, loneliness, limited exercise, anxiety, and depression. And we know that many times all of these factors are out of our physical control. Even when things seem peaceful and calm for a season, trials and events may occur at any moment to disrupt our routine and our sleep (James 1:2).

God’s Word provides several beautiful examples of rest, even from the beginning of creation. For example, we see God modeling rest after He created heaven and earth in seven days. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen. 2:3). So, what are healthy ways to cope with insomnia? How can you maintain a good night of sleep and restoration? There’s a term called “sleep hygiene” that hints at this good balance. Just like we take care of our daily needs, brush our teeth, or eat nutritious meals, we should take steps to improve our sleep health as well. Here are a few ways to practice “sleep hygiene”:

1. Develop a sleep schedule. Set your clock to get up at the same time every day, and go to bed the same time each night. Even if you cannot sleep, use this time to rest your body. Rather than trying to make yourself sleep, use the time to reflect on your day and God’s goodness (Gen. 2:2; Josh. 1:13–15;
23:1; Matt. 11:28–30).

2. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine and turn off your electronic devices for half an hour before you sleep. Use this time for prayer or Bible reading (Ps. 146; Isa. 26:3–4).

3. Identify and reduce obstacles to sleep, for example caffeine, long naps, or excessive use of screen time before bed (Matt. 17:20).

4. Seek professional help. If insomnia persists over time or if you experience increased anxiety or depression, I would urge you to seek professional help.

Remember to seek out professional help for chronic sleep disorders with your primary doctor or licensed counselor. Finally, remember that during sleepless nights we can rely on God’s Word, especially when our souls are weary (Ex. 33:14; John 14:27; Prov. 3:24; Ps. 91:1–13; Ps.119:114).

*Dr. Wiggins works in private practice as a clinical psychologist. Her clinical work includes sexual abuse, trauma, grief and loss, eating disorders, family issues, depression, adolescents, and women’s issues.

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