In wisdom literature, loving sleep is a metaphor for laziness, carelessness, or inactivity, while staying awake represents hard work and diligence. According to Solomon, the lazy person fast-tracks his way to poverty, but the wise one works diligently and receives his payoff in abundance and prosperity: “Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare” (Proverbs 20:13).
Sleep is a natural human process and a gift from God that daily allows the mind and body to rest, recharge, and restore to wholeness (Psalm 4:8; 127:2; Proverbs 3:21–24). However, like every good gift, sleep can be abused by people. The Bible tells us not to love sleep in excess.
The phrase to love sleep in Proverbs 20:13 means “to sleep more than the body requires, to overindulge in sleep, or ‘to sleep all the time.’” The person who “loves to sleep” is a habitual loafer who prefers lying around in bed instead of getting up, going to work, and providing for his family’s needs. Eventually, he will grow poor and hungry because he lacks the discipline and ambition to work hard, make a living, and produce food for himself and his household. “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich,” affirms the Teacher in Proverbs 10:4 (NLT). Farmers who are “too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest” (Proverbs 20:4, NLT).
The indolent sluggard who prefers sleep over work reappears throughout the Proverbs: “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9–11, NIV). He sleeps too much and goes hungry (Proverbs 19:15). His laziness “will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work” (Proverbs 21:25). He finds any excuse to stay in bed and escape work (Proverbs 26:13–14).
The idea Solomon seems to be driving home is that, for the most part, we are responsible for our financial outlook. If we aren’t prospering and thriving in life, it is generally because of our own bad choices. If we love the pleasure of sleeping too much, idly indulging ourselves, we’re not likely to ever enjoy much wealth. But, generally speaking, if we devote ourselves to hard work, our diligence will eventually reward us with prosperity.
God expressly charges spiritual leaders with the job of watchman or spiritual guardian. They are not to love sleep but stay alert; they must be wide awake as shepherds over God’s people (Ezekiel 3:17–21; 33:1–11). In Isaiah’s day, Israel’s prophets, priests, and leaders were all “blind; . . . they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. . . . They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain” (Isaiah 56:10–11). These leaders of the nation had fallen asleep on the job.
In the New Testament, sleep is used symbolically of spiritual apathy. Jesus tells His disciples to remain alert and watchful, always ready for their Master’s return. Jesus warns, “Do not let him find you sleeping” (see Mark 13:35–37; Matthew 25:1–13; 26:40–46). The apostle Paul challenges believers to remain spiritually on guard and not “be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). Christians are to “awake out of sleep” and live every day with an understanding and awareness of their salvation in Jesus Christ (Romans 13:11–13).
There is nothing sinful about wanting a good night’s sleep. Believers can enjoy their sleep and thank God for the blessing of peaceful, restorative slumber. Yet Scripture does counsel us not to love sleep so much that it leads to idleness, laziness, or spiritual indifference.