It's 3 AM. You can't sleep again. You glance at the clock, hoping you've somehow drowsed off, but nope. It's only been three minutes. You're tempted to browse your phone, but know how quickly the minutes turn into hours of wasted scrolling. You want to rest. You're tired, but sleep cunningly evades you. Sound familiar?
Sleeplessness is a common struggle. Stats report that roughly 30% of adults suffer from insomnia, either struggling to fall asleep or waking earlier than desired, not able to go back to sleep. Maybe you identify with this percentage. For you, sleep is hard. Desirable but elusive. Or maybe, you're among the 37% of people who admit to unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once a month. You're constantly tired and can't seem to reset your energy to a normal level.
In the middle of the night, our minds often run untamed. What begins as a moment of fidgeting easily turns into an active imagination of every worst-case scenario. We think through our greatest fears, pondering questions like, "What if I lose my job? What if I don't get the promotion? What if that relationship is forever damaged? What if something happens to my loved one? What if _____." The "what-ifs" of life grow wildly in our minds, as the safety of tomorrow seems distant. Thankfully, Scripture speaks to these concerns and even to sleeplessness itself. We can find hope and confidence in the promises of the Bible, even at 3 AM.
As a preface, there can be a myriad of reasons you may be unable to sleep, including medical conditions, anxiety, stress, and grief. If you are consistently having trouble sleeping, consider talking with your local doctor to rule out any medical causes. This post is not to determine the reason for your sleeplessness but rather to make a plan for how to protect your mind from anxious thoughts when you can't sleep.
If you struggle with late-night anxiety, you're in good company. The psalmists regularly talk about being anxious in the middle of the night and crying out to God on their beds (Psalm 6:6, Psalm 77:3-5, Psalm 88:1). As they pray to God, they remind themselves of God's unchanging character, pour out their worries to God, and ask for His help. In the same way, when we are anxious, whether in the middle of the afternoon or the middle of the night, we can pray. We can release our burdens, fears, and concerns to the Lord, knowing that He is reigning competently on His throne, and He cares for us. Though we need sleep, God never does. He is always protecting, watching, caring, providing, and loving. If anxieties plague your sleepless soul, pray about every worry and surrender them to the King who created the world and holds it together.
- Make a plan
If you consistently struggle with sleeplessness, make a plan ahead of time. Sometimes, for example, lingering plans and to-do lists can keep us awake. We dwell anxiously on tomorrow's busy schedule or work presentation. Or perhaps, we relive yesterday's conversation, methodically playing out what we could have said differently. To help ease your mind, have a pad of paper by your bed and when thoughts like these attack you, jot them down as notes. This can help give you the peace of mind that you will not forget any important thoughts, and you can think about them in the morning when you are rested.
At times, we can also push off sleep, trying to be extra productive. But Scripture reminds us that we are finite creatures who need to rest. We don't need to anxiously continue working at all hours of the day, as Psalm 127:2 affirms, "In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, he gives sleep to the one he loves." We can sleep securely at night and plan for our sleep, knowing that God holds the universe together.
- Listen to or read Scripture
God's Word is our comfort and help. When we think about it, it's remarkable that we have the very words of God at our fingertips, given to us in the Scriptures. If you can't sleep, use it as an opportunity to read more about your Creator. Read the words of the Psalms, who rawly pour out their hearts to God. Read about the works of Jesus, who entered into the brokenness of this world and had victory over death itself. Read (or listen) to God's Word to reorient your reality and remember the character and love of God. Recite Scripture to memory, and meditate on it from your bed.
- Create a good bedtime routine
If you can't sleep, take an inventory of your day. Are you consuming caffeine in the afternoon? Are you getting proper exercise? Are you watching TV right before bed? Be mindful of what you consume right before bed. Studies show that TV usage can not only hinder sleep, it can also affect the kinds of dreams we experience. Be mindful about your nighttime routine, as well as what you're viewing before bed. Evaluate what you're watching, whether on social media apps or TV. Consider turning off your phone or other electronics as nighttime approaches.
- Think about what is true
All of life is a battle, and our enemy is not content to let us off the hook because it's 3 AM. We must put on the whole armor of God even then, resting in the promises of God. Though it is tempting to play out every "what if" scenario, focus your mind on what is true. Maybe this will look like thanking God for the current blessings in your life. Maybe it looks like praying over current concerns. Maybe it includes memorizing Scripture, meditating on verses like Psalm 46 or Psalm 23. By God's grace, we can think about what is true, as Philippians 4:8 commands: "Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy–dwell on these things." By His grace, we can sleep and not be afraid, resting in God's unchanging peace (Proverbs 3:24).
Our God never sleeps. God is our very present help at all times of the day, even at 3 AM. Our anxiety reminds us that we're not in control. But thankfully, we have a Good Father who lovingly cares for and protects His children. God is always awake, always loving, always protecting. He gives His beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2).