Sleep has been a “designated issue” of mine for quite some time now. However, for the first time in about 3 years, I’m finding some relief. One thing I know to be true about sleep is that there is no A+B=C formula to getting to sleep (without drugs, of course, and sometimes even then…oye), but there are some things that will surely help…and some things that will surely harm. Recently lots of my friends have been asking me for tips since I’ve spent significant time on this. So here it is, everyone!
Doctors call the quick fix “sleep hygiene.” Here are some of my tips.
1. Get a good pillow, and sleep with something under your knees or back.
2. Do something relaxing for the hour before bed. A hot shower or even cleaning up my room gets me ready.
Don’t talk on the phone with your mom about how she doesn’t really like your hair long, for example. (just kidding, mom)
Don’t watch TV
Don’t look at Facebook on your phone.
3. Sleep with a noise machine. (the iphone has a free white noise app)
4. Stretch. I do several sun salutations before bed each night. I especially work on places that hold a lot of tension, such as my neck, shoulders, back, and legs (wait, that’s pretty much my whole body).
5. Is your jaw sore when you wake up? Consider whether you might clench your teeth at night. Invest in a nightguard if so.
6. Stay on a schedule, even on the weekends. Waking up at lots of different times confuses your body and keeps it from knowing when to sleep and when to wake.
7. Reserve your bed for bed activities. Do your work, phone calls, laundry folding, deep conversations with your partner, even journaling somewhere else. If you read before bed, it’s ok only if it’s something light. (Don’t read anything you might be tempted to underline)
8. Spend intentional time being honest about your fears and worries. What are you holding onto at night? What is waking you up or keeping you up? Write it down or say it/pray it outloud to release it.
But although action steps and tips and things to avoid are nice and can bring relief, for me, sleep is something much deeper, much harder to remedy, there is no quick fix…
Several years back I read Answering God by Eugene Peterson (he translated The Message).Using Psalms 4 (evening) and 5 (morning), Peterson discusses the spiritual elements of sleep.
He says, “even though it is decreed in our bodies that we return to sleep, it’s not easy. We want to stay in control and over see the whole operation. Evening prayer is a deliberate act of the spirit of what our bodies force on us finally.” Bottom line, sleeping comes down to control issues.
“Daily we give up consciousness in order to grow and be healed, created and saved.”
“The rhythm of breathing, sleeping, and waking is theological as well as biological. It is symbolic of our spiritual and bodily connection. We start in the dark, go to light. We are in the dark in the womb and go to daylight, we also go from death to life with salvation.”
Here’s the kicker: He says that although we need less sleep over time as we grow, we never arrive at a condition where we are beyond our need for sleep, we can never be sufficient in 24 hour control. Going to sleep is a biological necessity, but it’s also an act of faith. In the act of offering up our sinful life (Psalm 4), we give up ownership and control, and we watch to see what God will do with it.
We watch to see what God will do with the assemblage of hopes and fears we set before him.