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Sleepless in Singapore:

Why We Can (and Should) Get More Rest

Eliza Tan

What does the Bible have to say about finding rest and getting enough sleep?

Henry, a friend of mine who has a young child and is a busy professional, gets less than 5 hours of sleep every day. He could sleep more, but he wants to enjoy some “me” time each evening, catching up on the latest Netflix shows or finishing a book. As Henry says, where else can he find the time? Something’s got to give, and it’s sleep. So Henry makes up for the lack of sleep with many cups of coffee and afternoon naps on weekends.

I’m sure many people have this habit. It’s been called “revenge bedtime procrastination”—when people choose to sleep later despite knowing it’s bad for them. No wonder Singapore ranked as the second-most sleep-starved country in Asia, just after Japan, in a 2021 global sleep survey. Sleeping beauties are rare in this country.

There are many other reasons, of course, for the lack of sleep. Some people toss and turn worrying about a job interview, a big project, or an exam the next day. Some are kept awake by guilt or frustration over a broken relationship. Some are sleep-deprived because they’re taking care of newborns. Some struggle with chronic insomnia, and others suffer from sleep apnea, which interrupts their breathing and affects their sleep quality.

The luxury of sleep, it seems, is coveted by all but elusive to many.

If you’re like Henry or one of the many who can’t sleep, you might be wondering: What comfort or advice would God’s Word offer to those who are feeling perennially tired or suffer from insufficient sleep? Consider these truths that we can find in Scriptures about the secrets of sleep.

We can sleep . . . because God watches over us

When I asked a friend how she managed to live with chronic insomnia for so long—and to even serve in church joyfully—she replied: “By God’s grace, He adjusted my body to cope with less sleep than most people.”

Psalm 3:5 speaks of this sustaining power of God whether we are asleep or awake:

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

God enables our hearts to continue pumping, our lungs to keep breathing, and our body to rest and repair itself when our minds lose consciousness in sleep. Not only that, He also keeps watch over us as we sleep, because He doesn’t. The anxious parent who keeps watch over a sick child, or the soldier who is on guard duty, might struggle with staying awake through the night. But not God. As Psalm 121:3–4 assures us:

He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

To sleep is thus to trust in God. And that trust enables us to have peace as we close our eyes. David testified in Psalm 4:8 that “in peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety”. We can trust that God watches and sustains us as we lay down our heads.

We can sleep . . . because He provides

Observing the agony of those whose toil prevented them from getting any sleep, King Solomon commented: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest” (Ecclesiastes 2:22–23).

Pondering on this question, Solomon came to this conclusion: It is good to restrain yourself in work, for it is better to have less in your possession but to have more peace (Ecclesiastes 4:6). We can trust that despite our limited toil, God will enable us to accomplish what we need to as we rest. Our heavenly Father who feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies knows what we need, and He will surely provide.

The Message renders Matthew 6:33 with these practical words: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Sleeping is an act of faith in God’s character. As we sleep, we can trust that He is keeping watch over us and providing for us.

We can sleep . . . because of God’s promises

In my own struggles with bouts of insomnia, I discovered how it helped to, like David, “meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4 NASB). Our Daily Bread writer Cindy Hess Kasper writes of a friend who also found out that stillness can help us focus on God. When this friend experienced similar moments of sleeplessness, she would recall her favourite hymn and reflect on God’s promises and the many reasons she loves Him.

“King Solomon suggested that we can receive sleep benefits when we embrace God’s wisdom, understanding, and knowledge,” notes Cindy, pointing to Proverbs 3:22–24:

they will be life for you . . .
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

A vicious cycle of sleeplessness can result when we stay awake because of anxiety, and become even more anxious over losing sleep. “Maybe we all need a ‘middle-of-the-night’ song, prayer, or Bible verse to softly whisper to help us shift our jumbled-up thoughts to a mind fully focused on God and His character,” writes Cindy. “A clear conscience and a heart full of gratitude for God’s faithfulness and love can bring us sleep that’s sweet.”

We need sleep . . . because we are finite creatures

After a dramatic showdown with the prophets of Baal, the prophet Elijah received death threats and fled for his life. In his physical and emotional exhaustion, Elijah prayed to die. And how did God restore him? Through ample sleep, food, and an encounter with Him (1 Kings 19:1–18).

There is a direct link between our physical condition and our emotions. Had a bad night of sleep? You’re likely to feel irritable and short-tempered the next day, and possibly less able to cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotions that can bring us down. Ensuring that we get sufficient rest is part of being a good steward of the bodies that God has given us.

Today, we have too many things that we can do during our leisure time, which can eat into our time for sleep. In such a context, King Solomon’s observation in Ecclesiastes 5:11–12 rings especially true:

As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a labourer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.

Our “wealth” of entertainment options today can lead to us consuming more than we should—and depriving our bodies of the rest they need.

Like Henry, I’ve often been tempted to sacrifice sleep so that I have more time to do what I want. However, I’ve come to realise that the resulting lethargy and irritability are not worth the trade-off. I am reminded that I am a finite creature, confined to the limitations of what my body can handle—which I need to acknowledge humbly.

There is only so much we can consume and complete in our lives. We need to learn to give priority to what is more important, and be wise in choosing what to do—and what not to do.

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