Since God created everything, He also built into us the need for sleep. The first biblical mention of sleep is found in Genesis 2:21 when God placed Adam into a deep sleep and formed Eve from one of his ribs. God built the concept of rest into His creation (Genesis 2:2). He established the pattern of regular rest when He set aside the Sabbath day for the Jewish people (Exodus 31:16; Leviticus 23:3).
The Bible speaks of sleep both positively and negatively. Sleep is sometimes portrayed as a gift from God in passages such as Proverbs 3:24 and Psalm 4:8. We know that sleeping is part of being a healthy person because Jesus had to sleep just like we do (Luke 8:23; Mark 1:35). Some times, God spoke to people while they slept through dreams and visions (Genesis 20:3; 31:24; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 7:1). However, sleep, like all of God’s gifts, can be abused. Verses such as Proverbs 6:9, 19:15, 20:13, and 24:33 symbolize laziness as sleep.
Theories abound, both scientific and fantastical, about why we sleep. Research demonstrates the behavioral changes that occur when we are deprived of sleep, but science cannot answer the question “Why?” One possible explanation for our need for sleep is that sleep reminds us that we are creatures, not the Creator. Our physical bodies must be constantly replenished with food, water, oxygen, and sleep in order to continue functioning. Meeting these needs takes up much of our time and energy. We need to be continually reminded of our limitations and that we are completely dependent upon God for our very existence. Physical need is such a reminder.
Sleep also allows our minds to rest so that we can focus more clearly during our waking hours. Our minds are similar to computers, with storage capacity, memory, and untapped potential. But they also malfunction if not cared for properly. Just as a computer needs to be rebooted regularly when it becomes overloaded, our brains need to be restarted by a good night’s sleep. Scripture refers often to meeting God in the morning (Isaiah 50:4; Exodus 34:2; Psalm 5:3). God also promises us that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), implying that after a good night’s rest we need to call upon Him for strength for that day.
A good night’s sleep is often described as a gift from God (Leviticus 26:6; Psalm 4:8), while tossing on one’s bed is equated with a guilty conscience or fear (Psalm 6:6; 77:4). Whatever God’s reasons for creating in us the need for sleep, we can thank Him that He supplies every need we have (Philippians 4:19). He created us with needs and limitations so that we are continually reminded of how much we need Him. Those reminders keep us thankful and humble, two qualities that are required before we can live in the presence of God (James 4:6; Psalm 95:2).