A few of my friends recently are having trouble sleeping these days, and I’m praying for them hard because I have absolutely been there during extended times in my life. I’ve often felt the same as them, and have even been on prescription medication in the past to help my mind detach. When I was struggling with sleep, my mind just kept spinning in random directions. I would have a thought, and it would take me on a journey to another thought and then another and another, and I just couldn’t get it to stop. Sometimes, it was about some sort of relationship issue with a girl or a friend or a colleague. Mostly, though, it about was work-related projects or ways to get ahead with various life goals and pursuits. And in my head I would be yelling at myself, “Cut it out brain! Just unplug! Just relax, for crying out loud! LET ME SLEEP!!!”
When I was struggling with sleep, my mind just kept spinning in random directions. I would have a thought, and it would take me on a journey to another thought and then another and another, and I just couldn’t get it to stop.
Whatever was keeping me up, it usually wasn’t life-critical in some way – my mind just needed to gnaw on something and didn’t seem to realize that it needed to let go and go to sleep. Thankfully, God has helped me over the years to make progress in this area. Here are the two strategies that have worked the best for me.
Set boundaries so you can wind down
First, practically speaking, He made it clear that I can’t be working up until I go to bed. When I am in work mode, I am pretty intense and locked in to what I have to do (ask Rachel, haha!). And so if I want to sleep better at night, I need to start winding down multiple hours before bedtime. Perhaps you do too. I know the temptation to check your email one more time. But you’ll likely see something that adds to your mind’s load when the goal here is to lighten that load.
I know the temptation to get on social media because it’s a pleasant distraction. I totally get that. But that too just fills your mind with one more thought to mull over or one more emotion to feel. You need to be subtracting and emptying, instead of adding and filling.
Plus, I know we feel a strong pull to get on social media or watch some TV or play a game on your phone or console because it’s a pleasant distraction. I totally get that. But that too just fills your mind with one more thought to mull over or one more emotion to feel. You need to be subtracting and emptying, instead of adding and filling.
Exercise is a must
Second, also as a practical matter, it really does help if you’re physically active during the day (the research is very clear on this). It could just be a 30 minute brisk walk around the block, or something more intense like a jog, active yoga session, weightlifting, or team sport. Obviously, it will help tire you out while also allowing you to release stress, and there’s also something to raising your body temperature before allowing it to drop that induces sounder sleep. But give it time; my experience is that you need to make exercise a consistent part of your week for it to consistently affect your sleep patterns. Also, you do have to push yourself some to get that heart rate up. The byproduct is that both exercise and solid, quality sleep will make you so much more healthier!
A promise of rest
I realize these first two tips are not earth-shattering. But here’s where God helps me: Did you know that there are promises in the Bible related to sleep? I find them super encouraging, and such great reminders. The following is my favorite because it gets at my tendency to build my own kingdom and exhaust myself trying to make life “work” for me. Maybe you can relate? :)
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
In the Message translation, the last line reads: Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Wow. I love that so much. I love the reminder that He is in charge of my sleep as well, and if I am able to stop gripping everything so rightly and relinquish the illusory control I think I have, He delights in helping me rest. Perhaps dwelling on the meaning of this promise and implementing the two practical reminders above can really make a difference in your life. Commit to it for a solid seven days, and please let me know how it goes!
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