Waking and Sleeping


By Dr.K. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve come to think of those first and last moments of consciousness, before I rise in the morning, and before I drift off to sleep, as important bookends of my day. Too easily, I pick up the phone at the beginning of the day to check the news. Too easily, I end the day drifting off to sleep mid-sentence in whatever I’m reading.

So I’ve started two simple practices:

  1. When I awaken, before I do anything else besides shut off the alarm, I lay still and give thanks for God’s protection through the night and offer him myself and my day, including the specifics of it I know as well as all the things that will occur about which I don’t.
  2. And before I go to bed, rather than read, I simply take the last moments of consciousness to review the day, to thank God for all his mercies, to offer anything up that remains undone even though I am for the day, and to trust myself to his care.

I’ve been thinking more of late of how much of my days I go through without consciously being aware of God. I still find myself far from the Apostle Paul’s “praying without ceasing.” Sometimes perhaps, it is just a brain that finds it hard to be engaged both with the matters of the moment and to engage with God. But I suspect there are deeper habits of being that play into all this.

For now at least, I want to get the bookends in place. Then, perhaps, I can work on what is between them.


Sleep Resources for Christians


Zwei schlafende Madchen auf der Ofenbank, Albert Anker, 1895

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 (ESV)

Yesterday, I posted a review of Arianna Huffington’s new book, The Sleep Revolution. In a book filled with scientific research and lots of practical help, my only quibble was that the meditations offered were rooted in meditative practices of other faiths and she offered little about the resources within Christian practice for sleep.

I speculated that perhaps Christians themselves have neglected these practices and the instruction of others in them. It was striking that a quick search on Google only yielded two titles from Christian authors on this subject: Surrendered Sleep by Charles Page and The New Bible Cure for Sleep Disorders by Don Colbert M.D. I’ve read neither book and so do not know whether they are helpful or not.

The truth is, many committed Christians are as “macho” about sleep as the culture around us. How few hours of sleep we’ve had is a kind of badge of honor at times. I wonder what it would be like to interject the Psalm above with its statement about the vanity (emptiness) of rising up early and going late to rest. If the number of emails I find in my inbox from colleagues sent after 10 p.m. (and I’ve sometimes been guilty of responding to them) and often into the early a.m. hours of the morning are any indication, we have a problem!

This is often the case in meetings or conferences as well where we rise in the night to catch cross-country flights and then sleep walk through the first day of the conference or meeting. It was such a gift recently to speak at a conference where we were encouraged to arrive the day before to enjoy personal retreat time, or just to recover from travel. A nap shortly after arrival and an early night enabled me to jump with both feet into a day of teaching and personal meetings and still have something at the end.

“The bread of anxious toil” is certainly part of why we stay awake at night. We often carry the conversations, the conflicts, and the troubles of the day to our beds, and then struggle to sleep. In recent years I’ve come to value several practices that are quite helpful. One is the examen of consciousness. The classic questions are what has given consolation and what has given desolation in the day, to look to God with thanksgiving for the former and insight, and sometimes forgiveness, for the latter. I have also come to love compline prayers, which may be found in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve also love the compline prayers developed by the Northumbria Community, a Celtic Christian community. This is a portion of the Wednesday compline:

I will lie down this night with God,
and God will lie down with me;
I will lie down this night with Christ,
and Christ will lie down with me;
I will lie down this night with the Spirit,
and the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit,
be lying down with me.

* The peace of God
be over me to shelter me,

* under me to uphold me,

* about me to protect me,

* behind me to direct me,

* ever with me to save me.

What a marvelous thought to know oneself surrounded and protected by the Triune God. When I travel and am sleeping alone and in a strange bed, it is a comforting thought that I am not alone in bed but God is with me and protecting me in this strange place.

As we age, we often wake during the night. Sometimes, all I’ve needed to do is begin praying the Lord’s Prayer, applying each phrase to my own situation, and many times I do not finish. There are breath prayers, like “Lord Jesus, I love you” (breathing in on the first phrase, out on the second). There are also prayers for the night hours. Phyllis Tickle collected these in a book titled The Night OfficesWhen I am particularly wakeful, I have found it helpful to get up rather than toss and turn and pray these prayers.

I wonder at times if our denial of sleep in our culture reflects our denial of death. There is a verse in a hymn by Thomas Ken set to the tune Tallis Canon that says:

Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
rise glorious at the judgment day.

Christians are people who in one sense have already died with Christ (Galatians 2:20) and so while we love life and still consider death “not as it was meant to be” we no longer fear death. Our daily rest may well be preparation for our eternal rest. The little “surrenders” we make each day to sleep may very well be preparations for surrendering ourselves to God in death, trusting him to raise us in Christ to new and everlasting life. Hence, as the psalmist writes, sleep is a gift which God bestows on his beloved children. Will you welcome that gift this night?

Review: The Sleep Revolution

The Sleep Revolution

The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington. New York: Harmony Books, 2016.

Summary: Huffington summarizes the research on sleep, the impact of sleep deprivation on our lives and performance, and steps we may take night by night to reverse this deficit and improve our lives.

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?

Arianna Huffington argues that this book is for all those who are, which includes many of us in our fast-paced modern society. We are the sleep-deprived, and it has crucial impacts on our relationships, our performance, our sense of well-being and even our basic health. Sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain, increased susceptibility to illness, and a variety of other ill effects that literally may shorten our lives.

The first part of the book is titled “Wake up call” and explores the statistics about sleep deprivation, including the dangers of drowsy driving, which are as great as intoxicated driving. She considers the sleep industry, particularly the dangers of pharmaceutical sleep aids, which may result in all kinds of bizarre behavior. She then explores the science of sleep, and here as elsewhere reiterates the importance of 7-8 hours of sleep a night and the particular value of REM sleep. She includes a chapter on sleep disorders and their treatment. This is when we dream and she, along with many through history, suggests keeping a dream journal by one’s bed to note down one’s dreams upon awakening from them when they are clearest in our minds.

The second part of the book explores “sleep hygiene,” what we should do and not do to get a good night’s sleep, preferably without any chemical sleep aids. She talks about how much sleep we need at different stages of life (never less than 7 hours!), strategies with children, in families, for college student, and when traveling, particularly across time zones. She, as many others extols the value of a nap, which may partly reverse the effects of sleep deficits and has been shown to improve work performance. Reducing light (particular the blue light of computer screens), stowing our technology in another room, watching diet (especially late night sugary snacks), curbing caffeine after 2 pm, and having bed-time rituals (baths, night clothes, etc.) that relax one are critically important.

The style throughout is a mix of information and personal story, making the book highly accessible and an easy read. She includes at the end appendices with a sleep quality questionnaire, guided meditations, and hotels and mattress firms that have taken sleep seriously.

My only quibble with the book is that some people in my own faith tradition would object to using the meditative practices she endorses, particularly at the end of the book, because they are rooted in a different religious tradition and worldview. I wish she had included some of the Christian practices that have a long history including contemplative prayer, compline and night prayers, and the use of the Examen of consciousness to review the day before resting. All of these (and others not mentioned here) prepare us for rest or help us during wakeful periods at night. Perhaps those in the Christian tradition need to do a better job teaching and practicing these!

However, there is so much that is helpful in this book concerning our need for sleep, the benefits of getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and hindrances to sleep. It is such a helpful contrast from a highly successful business woman to the “I don’t need sleep, and those who do are just slackers” culture of our modern professional world. Her inclusion of other examples from the media, sports, and professional life suggest there are the beginnings of the “sleep revolution” she envisions. Hopefully, this will reach a tipping point, which will hardly address all of society’s ills, but could have a marked effect.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”