Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


What to do when you can’t sleep

posted by xscot mcknight

Added later: I’m at the Chestunut Hill Coffee Company outside Philadelphia; best Latte I’ve ever had in my life. As we age, so I’m told, we don’t need as much sleep — or, with a darker twist, as we age we may not sleep as well. What do you do when you can’t get to sleep at night?
Before I reveal what I do, let me urge you to purchase and use — when you can’t sleep — Phyllis Tickle’s brand-new The Night Offices. A brief on fixed-hour prayer. The hours of prayer are roughly midnight, 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm. This does not mean a full hour of prayer, but the time at which one stops what one is doing, turns to God with hosts of Christians around the world, and sets a set prayer — usually some Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, and some other fixed prayers. (Some had eight, not seven, hours — adding one at 3am or so.)
I’ve gone on record to tell my story — and you can read about it in Praying with the Church. And I’m fixed when it comes to morning and evening prayers — early in the morning and after dinner. But the Church also has prayers for other times: midnight (10:30-1:30am), night watch (1:30-4:30am), and dawn (4:30-7:30am).
So, here’s a “fix” for nights when you can’t sleep. If it is late at night, pray the Midnight Prayers, or in the middle of the night pray the night watch or the dawn prayers. When you awake, instead of listening to radio or watching TV, why not open up The Night Offices and pray with Christians around the globe?
Now I know this book was not designed for insomniacs or for those with sleep disorders, but for the regular wakening in order to pray in a disciplined manner. Still, for those of us who have no intent of awaking at midnight, or 3am, or 4:30, in order to observe an hour of prayer, but who find themselves awake unintentionally, I’m persuaded this can be a good “fix” for those times.
Now, I don’t have trouble sleeping very often; I hit the sack about 11pm and sleep until … well about 4am or so and then fitfully until about 5:30am or so. Then we’re up and ready to go. Sometimes, though, I drink too much coffee or take a nap too long that keeps me awake at night. From now on, The Night Offices will sit next to my seat on the sofa and I’ll turn to spend some time in prayer with the Christians in my time zone who are up saying their prayers — many of them monastics. They may notice my presence; maybe not. But, I’ll notice theirs as we chant a psalm or two and remind ourselves of our place in this world: before God, in prayer.



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Bryan Riley

posted October 26, 2006 at 2:59 am


I pray. And God often blesses me with sleep as I’m praying. I used to feel guilty about it, but then I realized that there is no better way to go to sleep than while resting in His arms, talking to Him. The Lord gives sleep to the one He loves! Psalm 127:2.



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BeckyR

posted October 26, 2006 at 5:13 am


For years with my screwed up thyroid (now that we know it ws screwed up) I was a chronic insomniac. I can count back 12 yrs or so. I know all the advice.
What works best for me is steady in and out slow breath, counted – 3 count in, 6 count out. When that doesn’t work, I get out of bed, in a place dimly lit, with a book light, read. Sometimes switching from the bed to the recliner helps.
As I write this when another week of insomnia has set in per thyroid hormone level too high and it making other meds stimulate my brain too much.
I hope at some day to sleep the hours of other people.
I bought the Book of Common Prayer, but need to figure out how it works.
Just now getting off the computer to read to see if that helps bring on sleep. At least, being an artist, insomnia doesn’t interfere with work.



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RJS

posted October 26, 2006 at 5:31 am


Sleeping is not generally a problem. I also tend to be in bed around 11 and up between 5 and 5:30. When I can’t sleep it is usually stress – so this is good advice, to pray with the church – worldwide.



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Brother Maynard

posted October 26, 2006 at 6:31 am


While it’s not a chronic problem for me, I do have this problem from time to time. On this particular occasion, I just got up early and read this particular blog post. Thanks, Scot! ;^)



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John Frye

posted October 26, 2006 at 7:16 am


Scot,
Sound counsel…thanks.



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preacherman

posted October 26, 2006 at 8:25 am


When I can’t sleep. I work on sermons and get some of the best ideas late at 2 or 3 a.m.
I sometime blog late too.



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Michael Kruse

posted October 26, 2006 at 8:32 am


“What do you do when you can’t get to sleep at night?”
Read the Jesus Creed blog. :)



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Scot McKnight

posted October 26, 2006 at 8:50 am


Some are suggesting the cure for imnsomnia is to read Jesus Creed blog! :)



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Michael Kruse

posted October 26, 2006 at 8:57 am


I find regular exercise to be essential to sleeping well. The more regular my exercise the more regular my sleep. Not eating anything of substance after about 7:00 also helps.
If I am awake in the night ruminating or stressing about something, I usually get out of bed and go do a couple of things. First, I try to do something that might be a step to resolving the problem I am consumed with, even if it is just writing out a plan. The other is to go before God and reflect on what I am feeling (not thinking) about things. As I can name what I am feeling I own it and place it before God, for good or bad. (This may sound strange, but for a Myers-Briggs thinking type, naming and owning emotions can be hard work.) I often combine this with scripture reading that remind me of God’s character.



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John Frye

posted October 26, 2006 at 9:12 am


Michael (comment #9),
I am a thinking type, too, and my mind can begin to ruminate (in a stressing way). I like your advice here and it can be combined with night prayers that Scot is suggesting as well.



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Pam Smith

posted October 26, 2006 at 9:24 am


We’re working through the Psalms as a leadership team at Biblical Seminary. When we came to Psalm 63:6: “I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night”, I reflected on, and continue to consider, how many times the thoughts that come to my mind during the night fall far short of this. I’ve always kept a notepad nearby at night to record ideas that pop into my brain that I can use in presentations or writings. I’m working on a more intentional meditation with God when those moments come.



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J-Marie

posted October 26, 2006 at 9:36 am


Unfortunately I had this experience last night. I went to bed at 7:45pm & woke up wide awake at 3:15am! Had rice krispies & milk, then slept downstairs on the couch.
What helps me to lessen ruminating thoughts is to journal & to pray. Although sometimes praying makes it worse. Sometimes I distract myself with a few minutes of television, or reading a fiction book I can escape too.
UNFORTUNATELY… sometimes I go online and end up purchasing things that I have no need for, & then the next morning I end up having cancel the purchases. Somehow the insomnia tells me, “Yes you DO need such-and-such”. Thank goodness for reason, albeit a tired version, in the morning.



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Gina

posted October 26, 2006 at 10:43 am


Who said the best coffee was in New York or Seattle. Ha! (native Pennsylvanian preening here ;) )
I fully agree about the night prayers- I first learned these from Robert Webber’s Book of Hours, The Prymer, and the Book of Common Prayer.
My falling-asleep strategy is to imagine a ball or coin going down one of those spiraling “wishing wells” they have in some restaurants. It really works, as long as the neighbors are cooperating to not make too much noise.



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Gina

posted October 26, 2006 at 11:05 am


P.S. For a different take on the hourly prayers, there is the Coptic Agpeya, here chanted from deacons at my own parish.



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David

posted October 26, 2006 at 11:11 am


Great idea… from someone who has insomnia on occassion. :-)



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Don

posted October 26, 2006 at 12:07 pm


I just re-read Henri Nouwen’s “Reaching Out” and began the hesychastic prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It’s doing some big things inside me.



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Andie Piehl

posted October 26, 2006 at 12:50 pm


Funny this should be the topic today because I didn’t fall asleep until sometime after 3:00 a.m. last night. I did my Compline prayers before sleep (which didn’t come), so laid in bed a long time because I didn’t want to get back up after saying my prayers. :) This praying the offices is new to me (less than 2 weeks), so I didn’t want to undo my final prayer requests. Silly, huh?
I usually have no problem going to sleep, but I do occasionally wake up between 3 and 4 and can’t go back to sleep, so I pray, or stew, and pray and stew.
I wish I had a good answer for how to deal with insomnia. It was a real problem when I was very young, but as I got into my 40s and early 50s I just quit having the problem until recently.
I even read about 10 pages of Reforming the Doctrine of God before saying my prayers. Usually, some really difficult reading will put me right into dreamland.
Blessings!



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Andie Piehl

posted October 26, 2006 at 12:54 pm


#9 Michael, I haven’t taken the test in about 10 years and never really understood what it all meant anyway. I do recall I scored very high on the thinking portion. If that is the T of the thing. You can tell how little I got from this. Anyway, does this have something to do with the way I am always, always thinking. My husband jokes with me about it, but I don’t know how to stop. Even when I am praying, I will discover myself off in thought about something I was praying about.
This is a bit off topic, but have you discovered some way to turn it off? I could probably totally do away with the insomnia thing if I could just turn off my mind. :)



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Michael Kruse

posted October 26, 2006 at 2:04 pm


Andie #18
Andie, the Myers-Brigs Temperament Inventory (MBTI) measures temperament based on four continuums (see more heree). The third of the four continuums is Thinking vs Feeling. It is addressing how we process information we take in. Everyone does both but most of us lean at lest slightly one way or the other. I am strong “T.” Tt sounds like you may be as well.
Robert Mulholland has a great book on spiritual formation called Invitation to a Journey in which he incorporates the MBTI with his reflections on spiritual formation. Our tendency is to engage in those disciplines that most correspond with out temperamental proclivities. But the “shadow side” of our temperament (as a thinker, that is my feeling side) needs nourishment too. When we don’t feed it, it has a habit of springing up and eating at us.
When trouble hits, I try to reason my way through it. Sometimes the presenting problem isn’t the real issue my mind is absorbed with. Sometimes I am angry, grieving, ashamed, scared, etc. The presenting issue may or may not be a serious problem that needs to be reasoned through, but the emotional side is screaming out for acknowledgement and attention while I keep telling it to go away because I need to think this through! My effort to reason it through is the problem and my emotions are determined to keep me awake until I confront them.
We sometimes tell people to stop being emotional and think it through. I need to be told to stop thinking it through and get emotional. Most of the time when I ruminate in the night, it is call to get out of bed and get emotional. :) I go into the presence of God and identify the emotions, reflected on them, and own them. Only then can they be incorporated into who I am and specifically surrendered to God. Of course, the better strategy is to find those disciplines that feed the shadow side before they get hungry in the night. :)



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Brian

posted October 26, 2006 at 3:01 pm


For those who are less spiritual late at night, you could try picking up a copy of The Scarlet Letter. Back in high school that used to put me to sleep in the middle of the day, so it would probably work in the middle of the night as well.



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Bryan Riley

posted October 26, 2006 at 3:53 pm


Just a note to say that although it appears that I posted in the middle of the night, I am in Hawaii and thus am 5 hours behind CST. I generally sleep well, and when I am not it is because I need to seek the Father in prayer because I am wrestling with worry and focusing on me rather than depending on Him to take care of things. And, as I go to Him in prayer, it normally results in the anxiety slipping away and sweet rest taking over.



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Clay Knick

posted October 26, 2006 at 3:59 pm


This doesn’t happen to me often. I sleep 7-9 hours
a night, most nights. But what will happen to me
is that I will wake up with a problem on my mind and
can’t go back to sleep. Usually I will go to the sofa
and read and then go back to sleep. Reading always
helps me to relax.



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MarkE

posted October 26, 2006 at 5:43 pm


At my age, I have come to view a good night sleep as such a wonderful thing. I no longer take it for granted and I have to work at protecting it. I found it better to focus my efforts at what I do during the day and night leading up to sleep than trying to fix things once I can’t sleep.
I have a “behavioral program” which my wife hates, but works well for me.
One of the worse things you can do is get on the computer. All that light from the monitor stimulates the reticular activating system in our brains. So blogging at night may not be such a good thing!
All I can say is that medications are not a good long term solution Most have nasty side effects the next morning, like depression and dull thinking.
Prayer is a good thing. It may or may not help you sleep, but it is good.



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the Foolish Sage

posted October 26, 2006 at 7:46 pm


Scot is here in Philly to speak at the Westminster Theological Seminary forum on the Emergent Church…and in his first presentation he gave us plenty to keep us up at night thinking about.
If you’d like to follow along, I’m live blogging the conference. Click on my name below, or go to foolishsage.com



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BeckyR

posted October 26, 2006 at 8:49 pm


Andie, supposedly doing the breathing thing, big breath in that fills the belly, slow, counting to 3, then letting it out slowly, counting to 6 or longer. You have to focus on breathing and counting that it supposedly is hard to let the mind wander. Or if it does, go back to the breath counting. Another side effect of that kind of breathing is muscles relax, and pulse slows down and blood pressure goes down. I did biofeedback to learn it.
Michael, I’m with you on the thinking/feeling thing. There’s sometimes I can identify my sleep is being disturbed because there’s something on the emotional side that wants my attention, and once I hear what’s going on there and take care of it, sleep gets back to being well.
Per my doc about sleep meds, there is a new one out that is the first of it’s kind in that it turns off the alert part of the brain, is not habit forming/addictive, and no dull-brain hangover in the morning. If I remember correctly what doc said, most sleep meds up till that one are a hynotic/amnesiad.



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marke

posted October 26, 2006 at 9:34 pm

Jim Martin

posted October 27, 2006 at 8:04 am


Typically, I will write in my journal, pray or read. Sometimes I will read a book. Sometimes Scripture. I have learned to watch what I am reading. I try not to read something that will only make it more difficult to go back to sleep.
I will pick up this volume by P. Tickle.



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Susan

posted October 28, 2006 at 8:42 am


When I cannot sleep I get up and make myself a pot of caffienated coffee, thumb my nose at sleeplessness and instead, revel in it. Sometimes I get my best praying, reading and writing done at 4am. My body ususally is quite happy to make up for lost sleep time the next night, and I sleep soundly.
Michael, on your comment #18…great stuff there. I am an INFJ and when I read your comments …that really made sense!! If I am kept awake because of “life” it is because I have a ton of feelings rumbling around– and forcing myself to think through it all carefully is what seems to help me (and this is difficult for me). I never thought of that in terms of personality type. I need to get a hold of this book you reference – sounds interesting!



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Michael Kruse

posted October 28, 2006 at 10:58 am


Thanks Susan. It is one of the most helpful books I have read on formation but beware; it was written by an INTJ like me. :)
Mulholland really gave me some great insights about personal health but one of the things I like about the book is his emphasis. Spiritual formation is not just about us. He gives a one sentence definition that has four parts, which he investigates:
“The process…
of being conformed…
to the image of Christ…
for the sake of others.”
That fourth segment is key to him. Our formation isn’t just a “Jesus and me” thing. It is about being formed for mission. But that begins with us being heatlhy.



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Susan

posted October 28, 2006 at 12:17 pm


Wow! I really like that definition Michael! I looked up the author on Amazon and there is another book of his that looks good too, about scripture and transformation. As I work on my thesis, I’ll be looking for books on spiritual formation and the words (and more specifically,lyrics) we use.



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Michael Kruse

posted October 28, 2006 at 12:46 pm


“…another book…”
Yes. “Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scritpure in Spiritual Formation.” He has a short 5 page Appendix about the Myers-Briggs Inventory and formation in this book as well. It is another great book. I read this sometime ago and was not able to really process it like I wanted to. I have it on my reread list.



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