Do you find yourself waking up feeling exhausted with your brain lost in a mental fog? Do your dreams leave you feeling like you have been running or fighting (fight or flight) all night long? If you do, you are in good company. A recent report from the CDC said that 1 in 3 Americans get insufficient sleep. I have had my own struggles with sleep through the years and have noticed that when I am worried, stressed and anxious, I sleep horribly. When I would go to bed, I would awaken feeling as if my mind never stopped running all night.
Sleep is a complex issue that can be impacted by many different factors like diet, exercise, and screen use in the evening. I have found success in promoting quality sleep by addressing these factors in my own life. However, perhaps the largest factor that can impact sleep quality is fear, anxiety, worry and stress.
According to Luc Staner, M.D., in the medical journal “Dialogues In Clinical Neuroscience”,
Sleep disturbances-particularly insomnia – are highly prevalent in anxiety disorders and complaints such as insomnia or nightmares have even been incorporated in some anxiety disorder definitions, such as generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
With anxiety disorders being the most common mental disorder in the U.S., it is easy to see why so many people also suffer from sleep disorders. As much as 40% of the U.S. population reports having struggles with insomnia each year (American Journal of Managed Care, 2020).
Is it possible that the solution to our search for a restful night’s sleep can be found in faith?
Jesus appears to suggest as much.
Suddenly a furious storm cam up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re gong to drown!’Matthew 8:24-26, NIV
He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
Jesus scolds his disciples because of their reaction to the storm. It was a nasty storm—a squall that brings a sudden, violent wind and it threatened to sink their boat. From their perspective, there was every reason in the world to be fearful and anxious. But Jesus’ perspective was different—his was a perspective of peaceful rest as they had to awaken him while the storm raged around them.
Judging by his stinging words when they woke him up, he expected them to have the same peaceful rest during the storm. He expected them to have the one thing that enables this peace—faith.
The whole scene plays out in a mere five verses, if you close your eyes you can picture the chaos on the boat. The disciples are bumping into one another almost knocking each other out of the boat as they scramble around in an attempt to keep the vessel afloat.
The disciples’ “little faith” leads to fear and fear debilitates. It sends them into a panic. Fear and anxiety causes us to envision the worst possible future.
It blinds us so that we are unable to see the future that is promised by the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20), the one who has plans “to prosper (us) and not to harm (us), plans to give (us) hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Do not fear is the most often repeated command in scripture because God knows fear is the primary enemy of faith. When we allow fear to overtake us, we can’t act in faith, but we can conquer fear through faith. We will nurture our faith (thereby overcoming our fears) through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture reading and study, worship, and being involved in Christian community where we can be nurtured and held accountable.
I have discovered that I sleep better when I am on rhythm with these spiritual disciplines as a part of my daily life and I am enabled to Live Unleashed. But when I get busy and stressed and relegate these practices to the backseat while I care for “more important things”, I will always experience the quality of my sleep deteriorating as I take my eyes off Jesus.