When Good Things Become Bad: Sleep

Is it possible to get too much sleep? At this stage in life, with all its busyness and stress, my body tells me that this is a ludicrous question. Yet, sleep, like all things, can be abused. It is possible to utilize sleep in ways that are contrary to its purpose. Too much sleep is unhealthy for our bodies and dangerous to our spirituality. In particular, sleep becomes bad when it is consistently used to escape life’s troubles.

Hypersomnia, the technical term for excessive sleep, is as dangerous as a lack of sleep. In fact, too much sleep is associated with many similar health problems: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, headaches, and other complications. It’s not entirely clear what the relationship between cause and effect is, but excessive sleep at least exacerbates and possibly originates some of these problems. Generally, we recognize that the body needs to sleep for 7 to 9 hours every night. Few people actually get that much sleep with consistency, but that’s the goal. Sleeping more than that with regularity may indicate that something else is going on, and there are medical conditions that may contribute to excessive sleep, such as: Narcolepsy, delayed sleep syndrome, and Idiopathic hypersomnia. Some individuals may use excessive sleep, however, apart from a medical condition, as a means to escape their world.

Sleep is designed to give us a break. It is designed to help our bodies and brains recover after a long day. It is designed to give us a reboot from the day, both physiologically and mentally. It can even be a means by which we manage our stress levels. Some individuals, however, may use sleep as the primary coping tool for life’s troubles. Excessive sleep in these instances, becomes a maladaptive means of coping with anxiety, stress, or discouragement. It is an unhealthy avenue of escape. We sleep in order to avoid the demands of life, the feelings of guilt and self-condemnation, or the stress of our situation. We sleep so that we don’t have to make changes, confront realities, and live through pain. The problem with this approach is evident: we don’t actually change our circumstances or equip ourselves to fight through them. The effort to escape is an illusion, because we aren’t really escaping our troubles but only attempting to avoid them or ignore them.

Avoidance is a terrible coping mechanism. It essentially reinforces our belief that we can do nothing about this situation, that we are victims to our world and life troubles. Avoidance fails to consider the ways in which God equips us for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It fails to believe in the sovereignty of a God who cares for us and wants to help us navigate life’s troubles. When we abuse sleep it is because we fail to consider the God who cares for us.

The Bible urges us to view sleep in light of this compassionate and powerful God. So, the psalmist writes:

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Ps. 4:8)

The psalmist views sleep as means of rest, not escape. He sleeps well because he knows that God is in control. In the preceding chapter, the psalmist describes his ability to lie down at night and wake up in the morning owing to God’s sustenance. He says:

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. (Ps. 3:5)

Sleep is a wonderful gift from God, but if we forget God then sleep itself becomes our salvation. Sleep itself becomes the means by which we “dwell in safety.” It becomes our escape from troubles, demands, anxious ruminations, and painful circumstances. Instead of going to God for help in our time of need, we will turn to sleep to avoid our troubles. Sleep, however, fails to care for us. It does not change our circumstances or equip us to face them. But we can trust God because He never sleeps (Ps. 121:3-4). He is always actively working for us and watching over us. Sleep cannot replace God, but we can sleep and wake when we know and trust this God.

Evaluate yourself. Do you use sleep as a means of escape and avoidance?

  • How often do I sleep more than 9 hours in a day?
  • Do I usually feel rested after I sleep?
  • When I sleep more than 9 hours in a day what is going on in my life (social circumstances, stress, anxieties, etc.)? Is there anything that I am intentionally trying to avoid?
  • Is excessive sleep negatively impacting my social life, professional life, or religious life?
  • Is excessive sleep negatively impacting my mood and demeanor?
  • Is excessive sleep negatively impacting my view of self, others, or the world around me? Do I view things differently before or after I sleep?
  • Do I sleep at inappropriate times, like: during the workday, while driving, during conversations (this question assumes that I do not have an inverted work schedule)? Do I have trouble sleeping at night because I sleep so much during the day?
  • How do I respond to stress? Do I feel adequately equipped to manage stressful problems in my life? Do I find that I often sleep immediately following a stressful situation?
  • Have others expressed concern about the amount of time I spend sleeping?
  • Do I consider going to God when I am stressed and anxious about life’s troubles?
  • Do I believe that I use sleep inappropriately to avoid problems and demands upon my life?

Comments

  1. shepherdatheart says:

    Interesting to see this at a time I am involved with a U/M sleep study on how quality of sleep can affect pain levels and mental function during the day.

  2. Rita Francesco says:

    Thank you for this advice and biblical wisdom. I think if we deeply trust God he’s going to help us to develop a moderate view of all our needs in our lives and that can only come from knowing that God loves us and cares for us. Thank you again. Love & blessings.

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