The Hard Work of Sleep | Abigail Cavanaugh

Can you sense it? Life is getting busier. We feel it acutely in the transition from high school to college, and it just gets worse with each successive phase of life. Professors are exhorting you to academic excellence, everyone is talking about the importance of local church involvement, you are surrounded by opportunities for evangelism and new relationships, and you’re probably also working a job in the midst of all this. These are worthy pursuits, and faithfulness in this season of life means pursuing all of them with godliness and zeal. Add in the fact that we are living in a culture where success reigns supreme, and success is measured in productivity (money earned, books written, homework assignments submitted, godly children raised, to-do lists checked off) and it becomes so easy to forget one very important thing: sleep. Sleep is usually the first thing to get neglected or cut short when the schedule gets full, but it is crucial for both fruitfulness and faithfulness. Here are three brief reasons to make sure you get adequate sleep this semester.

  1. Practical

Valuing sleep is countercultural, but it benefits those around you as much as it does yourself. The most difficult roommates (from personal experience and observation) are the ones who are constantly irritable and on edge from being tired and stressed. Anger and impatience are caused by a sinful heart that desires comfort above the good of your neighbor – or roommate – but a good night’s sleep and a clear mind go a long way in the fight against sin.

Sleeping doesn’t just improve your mood, it fosters creativity and problem solving. Multi-tasking as we usually think of it is actually impossible; we are only able to consciously focus on one thing at a time. But your brain is constantly processing information and problems in the background, and according to Jeffrey Kluger’s article Shhh! Genius at Work, your brain doubles up on this action while you sleep, allowing you to make connections and solve problems that baffled you while you were awake (or, like Paul McCartney, write the melody to one of the most recorded songs in the history of pop music).

  1. Physical

Let’s be honest, though. Most of us skip sleep because the practical benefits seem to outweigh the practical expense. Snapping at your roommate and falling asleep in class don’t seem that important at 1 AM when you have a Greek quiz the next morning. But getting enough sleep every night is not just advice from your mom. Scientific research shows that productivity and health are crippled by sleep-deprivation. According to a Carnegie Mellon University study, people who sleep fewer than 7 hours a night are almost three times more likely to catch a cold than those who average 8 or more hours a night; research from Harvard Medical School indicates that sleep deprivation limits our ability to focus and access previously learned information. Essentially, it makes those late night study sessions less effective, and will make it difficult to remember all that information the next day when you’re actually taking the exam.

  1. Spiritual

Not only is sleep important for practical and physical purposes; sleep also cultivates humility and requires faith. God could have created us as vampires instead of men and women – never sleeping, and able to maintain constant, unceasing productivity and labor for the sake of his kingdom. But God created us as we are. Like food and water, we cannot survive without sleep. More than eating and drinking, though, sleeping requires the conscious humility of relinquishing control and admitting that we are not self-sufficient or independent. There is a limit to what we can accomplish, not only in life, but in a single 24 hour period. The Psalmist says “it is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for he gives to his beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2).

We fight against sleep when we fear what will happen when we allow ourselves to rest, and when we think our own work is too important to cease for a few hours; Psalm 127 calls this vanity. Sleep is our daily reminder that we are finite and that God is the only being in the universe who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Accepting the gift of sleep from the hand of God is a practical act of faith in the face of anxiety.

Worship God by working hard, with diligence and zeal. And then sleep, knowing that “he will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4).



Abigail Cavanaugh is a senior at Boyce College and plans to graduate this winter with a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies.  She currently works as the Administrative Assistant of the Boyce College Faculty, and is a member at 3rd Avenue Baptist Church.