Like marriage, work, and food, sleep existed before the fall of mankind into sin. Sin has affected sleep, of course, as it has done with every other aspect of our being. But there is nevertheless something that is foundationally good here, and an important part of our sanctification lies in learning to lie down and go to sleep.
21My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: 22So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck. 23Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. 24When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. 25Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. 26For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken (Prov. 3:21-26)..
A BRIEF THEOLOGY OF SLEEP
Throughout the Scriptures, sleep is an important type for death. This includes creative death (that is, death followed by resurrection), and it includes death without hope. For the former, consider Adam at the formation of Eve (Gen. 2:21), or Abraham when God ratified the covenant with him (Gen. 15:12). For an example of the latter, consider sleep as a spiritual stupor and judgment (Is. 29:10). And throughout the Scriptures, sleep is used as a metaphor for physical death (Dt. 31:16; 2 Sam. 7:12; 1 Thess. 4:14)
Sleep is a covenant blessing, one which the Scriptures describe as sweet (Pr. 3:24). Sleep is described as a fruit of wisdom. Sleep is also a snare for the lazy (Prov. 6:9-11). It is the state prior to conversion (Eph. 5:14). Elsewhere we see that sleep is a type for lethargy in the Church, calling for reformation (Rom. 13:11).
Now we have to be careful in how we apply the Scriptures. Hear the word with caution and willingness to learn, which is not the same thing as anxiety or panic. The last thing we want is someone with a sleep disorder concluding that they are in deep sin, and are about to get a visit from the elders. That should help them doze off! We have to take care not to fall into the fallacy that is called “affirming the consequent.” Sin problems often do result in sleep problems, but this does not mean that all sleep problems are sin problems. Dogs have four legs, but this does not make a cow a dog.
A DOOR ON ITS HINGES
One common sin related to sleep is called getting too much of it, or getting it at inappropriate times. The Scriptures teach us plainly that there is a high correlation between this kind of behavior and poverty. “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger” (Prov. 19:15). Notice that sloth brings deep sleep, which can be thought of as a deep curse.
We are to seek first the kingdom, and sleep is added to us, just like other kingdom blessings. We are not to love sleep apart from the Giver. “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread” (Prov. 20:13).
At the end of the day, we are invited to consider the results (Prov. 24:30-34). The real world is a hard place, and is happy to give a certain kind of individual a drubbing. He may think he is wise—does he not watch art films until three in the morning?—but poverty awaits him, armed with clubs.
The flip side is that hard work brings a blessing of sleep. “The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep” (Ecc. 5:12). Important lessons can be learned in work that makes you sweat, but the ethic transfers. Work, and eat your own bread (2 Thess. 3:12).
One of the things that robs Christians of sleep is worry. But take care! Don’t start worrying about worrying. “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD . . . I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps.4:4-5,8).
We have to learn some basic lessons here about trust and anxiety. The first lesson concerns a basic assumption about God. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
But secondly, we must learn the difference between a helmet and a head. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). The peace of God protects us, not the other way around.
BLESSING THE CHILDREN
Like every other aspect of our lives, our sanctification in sleep is part of our spiritual discipline. We work for it, we work with it, we work toward it. But godly work is always in the surrounding context of grace. We work out what God works in (Phil. 2:12-13). God saved us by His grace so that we could walk in good works, which He prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).
With this in mind, a few points of application. Remember, grace is the context. Work so that your body is ready for sleep, and you can honestly ask for God’s blessing. Work so that your mind is ready for sleep, and your anxieties have been cast upon Him. Work so that your bedroom and bed are ready for sleep—can you ask for God’s blessing here? Your bedroom is a good metaphor for the state of your soul.
Given this, and the fact that you are teaching your children these important lessons, learn to say grace before sleep. Learn to bestow a blessing on your children when you put them to bed.