Proverbs 16:4 reminds us that “The Lord has made everything for its purpose.” From the life of the smallest insect to the very path of human history, everything that God creates and sets in motion has a purpose. Even the functions of the human body are thoughtfully crafted—we are the way we are for a reason.
But there’s one function that we, in our contemporary culture, seem to have forgotten has a particularly vital purpose.
God has a plan for sleep. Mentioned throughout the Bible, slumber is far more than simple rest. It’s an opportunity to hear from God, and to heal.
But there’s a problem. The busy schedules, sleep-shaming culture, and rest-destroying electronics which mark our modern lives often keep us from reaping the full benefits of sleep.
The American Cancer Society performed a survey between 1959 and 1960, asking around six million people about their sleep habits. Only two percent reported getting less than six hours of sleep per night. Contrast that with today, where a 2004 National Interview Survey put that number closer to thirty percent.
In this kind of environment, how can we get back to reaping the benefits of God’s plan for sleep?
This is one of the questions posed in Faith Blatchford’s book, “Winning the Battle For the Night,” an exploration of God’s plan for sleep that shows us how we can reclaim our rest from both the natural and spiritual forces working against us.
Let’s take a look at what Blatchford says about some of the most important aspects of God’s plan for sleep, and how you can reclaim each of these benefits.
From the very beginning, God has communicated to his people through dreams, granting them warnings, prophecies, and promises as they slept. Think, for instance, of Jacob in Genesis 37: 1-11, wherein Joseph dreamt of symbols which showed him that his family would soon bow to him in respect.
And because Paul, in Hebrews 13:8, tells us that God is unchanging, we know that He’s still doing this in our contemporary world.
But the problem is that we’ve stunted our ability to dream.
There are four stages of sleep, and only one—the final stage—supports dreaming. This final stage is called REM sleep. As the night goes on, we continuously cycle through these stages of sleep, with each cycle taking between 90 to 110 minutes. Our first few cycles have fairly short periods of REM sleep, but they become longer as the night progresses.
When we sacrifice sleep at the altar of productivity, we sacrifice what little time we get for dreaming, cutting off our ability to cycle into longer periods of REM sleep. When this happens, we lessen our ability to dream.
Blatchford emphasizes the importance of dreams in God’s grand design, breaking them up into three categories.
First up are the warning dreams. Blatchford writes that God “has chosen to invite us to work together with him,” allowing us to be His hands on earth. And sometimes, He uses dreams to warn or prepare us to act as those hands in order to avert human suffering, both great and small.
Next are the “wooing dreams.” This kind of dream, writes Blatchford, are visions of His love which draw us closer to God.
Finally, “revelatory dreams” grant us much-needed wisdom at the perfect time. This could be anything from knowledge concerning a big financial decision to sudden inspiration in how to deal with your children’s behavior.
Scientific research supports this, with studies showing that REM sleep stimulates the parts of the brain involved in learning, mentally preparing us for potentially threatening events. During dreaming, our brains can also combine thoughts and ideas from wildly different categories to help us form novel, out-of-the-box strategies. And, of course, some dreams are simply beautiful experiences, giving us comfort.
Dreams are an essential part of God’s plan for sleep, but they’re not the only part. Let’s look at what sleep does not only for the soul, but for the body.
The Health Benefits of Sleep
Blatchford writes that sleep is so important for our health that “when there is a deficit, our bodies will bypass the first several stages and head directly into stages where restoration occurs.”
Because God’s plans for our bodies include quality sleep, we physically suffer when we don’t allow ourselves adequate rest. Our immune systems are weakened, we become prone to injury and accidents, and increase our risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
And that’s only the beginning.
But when we get great sleep, we increase our quality of life. On this, Blatchford writes that sleep can increase our life span, reduce inflammation and disease, and enhance learning, creativity, and emotional stability.
These benefits occur because sleep is your body’s natural repair cycle. Just like you’d take your car to the garage when something breaks, so does your body take itself to the “sleep garage” every night to repair the damage done throughout the day, increasing blood flow to muscles and tissues and releasing growth hormone. The body also detoxifies the blood and rids itself of waste products and dead cells.
Your body is a gift from God, and you need sleep to keep it healthy and strong. Now, let’s find out how you can stop depriving yourself of rest.
Cultivating Great Sleep
Often, we don’t feel motivated to improve our sleep because we feel that it’s wasted time. But when we realize that sleep is God’s design, we’re more driven to improve our sleep health.
Now that you’ve got that motivation, there are a few ways to do this.
The first way to improve your sleep lies in creating a sleep routine. Our bodies and brains thrive on predictability, and so picking a bedtime and sticking to it—yes, even on the weekends—is rule number one. Make sure that you hit the hay early enough to get 7 to 9 hours, depending on your body’s needs.
You can supplement this by engaging in certain activities before bed which can become familiar over time, cuing your brain in that sleep is coming up. Reading is perfect for this, but stick to paper—the light of a screen can trick your brain into daytime-levels of alertness.
Make sure, too, that your environment is cool, dark, and if possible, quiet. This provides an optimal setting to go to sleep and stay asleep.
Besides a great bedtime routine, you can also turn to God for help in sleeping—after all, He did design it. Blatchford writes that besides naturalistic difficulties, spiritual ones can arise as well. Satan and his fellow fallen angels seek to rob us of God’s good gifts. But a great spiritual defense can negate this.
These spiritual attacks can lead to increased fear and anxiety in the night, but we’re anything but helpless. Pray for assistance, and realize the truth: the dark might seem scary, but God created darkness. He owns it. He’s in it, just as He’s there during the day.
Don’t give into thoughts that tell you that you’ll never sleep peacefully—God can give you rest. When you feel the fear set in, just start talking to Him.
Set yourself on the path to a great night’s sleep by taking care of yourself both physically and spiritually. You’ll find that sleep comes much more easily.
The Gift of Rest
If you follow Blatchford’s recommendations, you’ll position yourself to both receive the benefits of dreams, and to enjoy the physical health benefits that come from sleep. All of this is God’s intention, and when we try to reshape this design through our own efforts, we suffer for it.
And so, it’s time to put down your phone, say a prayer, and get in bed at a decent hour. You’ll find improvement in every area of your life when you win your own personal battle for the night.