Insomnia is the habitual inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Insomnia affects most people from time to time, but for others it is a way of life. Biological, psychological, and situational factors can all play a part in whether or not we have trouble falling asleep. The Bible often equates insomnia with worry (Daniel 2:1), anxiety, or sin (Proverbs 4:14–16). The insomnia itself is not the sin, but the reasons for it may be.
The Bible says that having an overabundance of things can lead to a lack of sleep: “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The more we have, the more we worry about keeping it. What we obsess over all day tends to follow us to bed. It can be hard to let go of the day’s stresses and questions long enough to get to sleep. When that becomes our normal routine, we say that we suffer from insomnia.
The Bible does not address insomnia directly but gives answers for some of the factors that can cause it. When we identify what is causing insomnia, we can then apply God’s solutions.
1. Worry is one major cause of insomnia. How can I pay those bills? Where are we gonna go? What are we gonna do? What will happen . . . ? We lie in bed trying to sleep, but worry pelts our brains and refuses to let it relax. The later it gets, the more we think we have to solve every problem by morning.
Applying Scripture to our worried souls can help alleviate the worry that is preventing sleep. Matthew 6:25–34 is Jesus’ instruction to us about worry. He reminds us that our heavenly Father already knows what we need and will provide it for us (verse 32). Luke 12:4–7 puts worry into perspective when Jesus reminds us that we should not worry about temporary earthly things but instead focus our concern on eternity.
2. Anxiety is another factor that causes insomnia. Anxiety is a generalized feeling of nervousness about whatever lies ahead. It is usually accompanied by a sense of dread and helplessness but differs from worry in that it is not necessarily focused on a specific issue. Anxiety is like an uneasy fog that settles upon anything at hand, whereas worry is an intense focus upon a seemingly insurmountable problem. Both can prevent sleep and create a perpetual state of insomnia.
Philippians 4:6 is the usual go-to verse for those struggling with anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” The Greek word translated “anxious” in this verse actually means “to be distracted.” Anxiety is a mental distraction that makes it difficult to focus for any length of time upon anything, including sleep. Philippians 4:7 then tells us the result of obeying verse 6: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we lay our anxiety at the feet of Jesus and let go, He promises peace beyond that which we could manufacture ourselves.
3. Sin in its various forms can also prevent sleep. Psalm 36:4 describes those with wickedness in their hearts: “Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.” Malicious planning and its eventual counterpart, guilt, can make the heart so heavy that sleep flees from us. Even what we consider “lesser sins” can take on more realistic dimensions when our minds are quiet and still. We can become more aware of how God sees our sin when there are no external stimuli to distract us. When we have a guilty conscience, it is hard to relax enough to enjoy the feeling of falling asleep. Fear joins the guilt until nighttime becomes a dreaded torture.
Proverbs 6:1–5 tells us what to do about one kind of wrong decision. If we have co-signed a bad loan for someone or made a hasty pledge, we should go immediately to try to free ourselves. We are not even to sleep until we have undone the foolish contract we entered. Righting the wrongs we have committed is the best way to cure insomnia caused by our own sin. God promises to forgive and cleanse those who belong to Him and confess their sin (1 John 1:9). A clear conscience is the best sleep formula.
Insomnia, like many other physical or mental impairments, is part of living in imperfect bodies within a fallen world. One way we can redeem nights of insomnia is to follow the counsel of David in Psalm 119:148: “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” Praying, worshiping, and meditating on Scripture are good ways to make the most of those nights when we can’t sleep. If it is Satan preventing restful sleep, he won’t appreciate that method of handling the insomnia and may withdraw his attack. When our conscience is clear and we’ve entrusted our cares to the Lord, then by faith we can trust that whatever sleep we get will be sufficient for the day ahead.