Life is short. Stay awake for it.
So goes the tagline for the second-largest coffee franchise in America. It’s catchy and practical. Drink our coffee, it suggests, not merely for its taste, but for its benefits, that is, to be awake to life. And the reason being — here comes the resonating connection — life is short. The clock is ticking. Our days are numbered. And we Christians agree (Psalm 90:10; 103:15–16; James 4:14).
Life is too short to sleep all the time.
But life is also too short not to sleep a large part of the time.
The fact is, humans need sleep, between 7–8 hours a day. But most of us aren’t getting it. According to studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation is epidemic. In the last week, articles and infographs have been circulating the web with convincing evidence that this is the real deal.
In addition to that content, here are three reasons why you should get some sleep.
In a sense, this highlights the most intuitive reason why we need sleep: to survive. Most of us (not all of us) know from experience that going without ample sleep has drastic effects on us physically and emotionally. The latest study claims that going just one night with less than six hours of sleep may alter our genes and cause several side effects — from a higher chance of catching a cold to the loss of brain tissue.
But perhaps the most shared result is that without enough sleep we’re “more likely to get emotional.” Now we know how to fill in that generic term. Without enough sleep, we are more easily stressed and frustrated. Our capacity for patience dissipates. Lack of sleep is a sucker punch to our ability to listen and think creatively, and therefore be productive.
“Life is too short to sleep all the time, but life is also too short not to sleep more than a lot of us do.
Personally, one of the toughest things during my time in seminary was sleeplessness (and I think I got more than most guys). David Mathis and I don’t mention sleep in our little book How to Stay Christian in Seminary, but it could easily merit its own chapter. Days that followed only a few hours of shut-eye often meant the Hebrew was harder and our home was unhappy. But a good night of sleep was like its own mini-vacation, and it still is.
God created us this way. Just like oxygen and food, we need sleep to work right. It won’t look the same for everyone, and some are in situations where their care for others inhibits a solid snooze, but know for sure that we need sleep. It was God’s idea.
Humility is a heart-virtue that gestates. It matures over time, born by truth and practice. We believe facts about reality (we’re needy creatures, not autonomous beings), and we act in step with those facts.
Next to prayer, sleep may be the most central practice that lines up with the truth of who we are. Sleep is that necessary moment that comes every single day when our bodies go slow and our minds start dragging. They witness to our fragility. And eventually, we will surrender. Our problem, as the studies suggest, is that we don’t surrender soon enough. Oftentimes we push back. The invitation gets handed to us with generous terms, but we resist until we’re wrestled down.
To be sure, some people have trouble falling asleep. One report says 40 million Americans suffer from 70 different sleep disorders. It’s serious, and deserves treatment, which could be simply adopting new habits. But the concern here is the heart of the matter. Whether we fall asleep quickly or not, we can welcome sleep for what it is. We can choose to bow out of the action, to know that the world will be fine without us for a while.
“Every time we go to bed, we humbly admit again that the world will be fine without us for a while.”
We can welcome that segment of the day when we make ourselves most vulnerable, when we exit consciousness and are forced to, in the right sense, “let go, and let God.” Whether we actually say it or not, going to bed prays, at least in practice: “Now I lay me down to sleep. Lord, I pray my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, Lord, I pray my soul to take.”
Sleep is intrinsically a humble thing to do.
Really, there is something remarkably Christian about sleep. We see this first in the Psalms and then fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
We read in Psalm 3:5–6, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Then we read in Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Two things are happening here. First, David is making sleep an act of faith in the Lord’s protection. Enemies surround him, and they want to destroy him. But he sleeps. He knows the Lord sustains him and guards him. But why? How does he know this? Here’s the second thing to see: David trusts in God’s protection because of what God says in Psalm 2.
In Psalm 2 we see that the Lord’s King — who is also a Son — will reign. He will have the nations as his heritage and the ends of the earth as his possession (Psalm 2:7–8). The Lord exalts him and issues the warning of his supremacy: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way. . . . Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). This is an endorsement that carries throughout the entire Psalter. The Lord is committed to his King, his Son, his Anointed — and David knows it.
David is God’s anointed king, but he mirrors the true and better Anointed King that will descend from his lineage (2 Samuel 7:16). David’s faith in God’s protection, displayed by his sleep, points us to the Son of David who also knew how to sleep — which we see in Mark 4.
This scene of Mark 4 shows us Jesus and his disciples out at sea when a windstorm arises. The waves are so intense that they’re breaking into the boat, filling it with water (Mark 4:37). The disciples are terrified. This is a shipwreck in the works. But where is Jesus? He is in the stern of the boat asleep on a cushion (verse 38). He wakes up to stop the storm by his word, and the disciples are awed. But we as readers — disciples with a canonical conscience — see him sleeping, and we’re awed.
“Christian, life is short. You should get some sleep.”
Jesus slept for the same reason David did. He knew that his Father would protect him. Based upon what God had promised to his King, to David, to Moses, to Abraham, to Adam — Jesus knew God would keep his Anointed. Sleep was the symbol of faith in that promise. It was for Jesus and for David and for us.
When we sleep, we are saying — in that same spirit of faith — that God will protect his Anointed and all those anointed in him (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are saying that, no matter how many thousand enemies surround our soul, because of the Father’s commitment to his Son, we will not be destroyed. We will not be condemned. Nothing will ever be able to snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). Nothing will ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:38–39). When we go to bed, we are saying that.
Christian, life is short. You should get some sleep.