Self-Care: The Gift of Sleep

Rest from Work, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Consider God’s gift of sleep. How do you view sleep? How much sleep do you typically receive every night? How often do you take naps? How do you view naps? What problems do you have with sleep at this time?

Answers to these questions reveal plenty about our understanding of sleep. Perhaps you see sleep as boring. Maybe sleep for you is necessary but unproductive time, or you may see sleep as a waste of time. Maybe sleep for you is elusive, and you have trouble getting good sleep. Plenty of people have trouble sleeping. Or, perhaps you avoid sleep, and do not sleep as much as your body requires, causing you to feel tired most of the time, requiring you to pump up your body with other forces such as caffeine to stay awake and alert.

Most people spend one third of their lives sleeping. Sleep is one of the essential daily activities for every human on the planet. If sleep is so basic, so necessary for our lives, why do so many people struggle with sleep?

Below, I want to explore the gift of sleep, and offer a simple approach to sleep. Give yourself the gift of sufficient sleep. Health care and medical experts recommend 7-9 hours of daily sleep as normal for healthy living. Consider aiming for sufficient hours of sleep each night to allow you fullness of health during the day. Consider taking more naps.

30 Ways to Practice Self-Care

This post continues my series of blog posts on 30 Ways to Practice Self-Care. In January 2021, I began this series, focusing upon 10 ways of physical self-care, 10 ways of mental/emotional self-care, and 10 ways of spiritual self-care.

I wrote out this list of 30 Ways of Self-Care back in Fall 2020 during a global pandemic. Our Covid-19 Taskforce of Cannon Beach Community Church approved this list and sent it to our Leadership Team of Cannon Beach Community Church, who also approved it and posted on our church website Covid-19 webpage (here). You can find this document on our website here. We offer this list to help nurture the people of Community Church, especially during a global pandemic, with such wise patterns of Self-Care as Sleep.

God’s Good Gift of Sleep

One of the 10 physical ways to practice Self-Care is receiving the gift of sleep. The word sleep appears 111 times in the Bible, including 16 times in the Book of Genesis, more than anywhere else in Scripture. The first reference to sleep in the Bible is found in Genesis 2:21, in the Garden of Eden.

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.

~Genesis 2:21

God loves to give good gifts. James tells us “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Sleep is one of God’s good and perfect gifts.

I love that the first example of sleep in the Bible is God causing Adam to fall into a deep sleep. Most of us know that there are levels of sleep, from light sleep to deep kinds of sleep. If you never get deep sleep, your life will never be able to find depth of rest sufficient to do deep work. Most of your life will be spent in the shallows if all you get is shallow or light sleep.

Stages of Sleep

All people experience several stages of sleep. I found the following list of four stages of sleep at Healthline, an online medical research website, offering, as they state, “an extensive medical network of over 150 medical professionals providing medical review, expert Points of View, and clinical guidance.” The following stages of sleep are quoted from an online article at Healthline titled, “How Much Deep, Light, and REM Sleep Do You Need?”

Stage 1

“During stage 1, you drift from being awake to being asleep. This is a light, NREM sleep that doesn’t last very long. You may start to relax and dream, but may also twitch as you transition into stage 2.”

Stage 2

“Stage 2 of the sleep cycle is still a light sleep, but you are drifting into a steadier sleep. Your breathing and heartbeat slow down, and your muscles relax. Your body temperature decreases, and your brain waves are less active.”

Stages 3 and 4

“In stage 3, you enter deep sleep, and stage 4 is the deepest sleep stage. During deep sleep, your breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, and brain waves reach their lowest levels. Your muscles are extremely relaxed, and you are most difficult to rouse.

Stage 4 is known as the healing stage, when tissue growth and repair take place, important hormones are released to do their jobs, and cellular energy is restored.”

Stage 5: REM sleep

“Your first REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of the night begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and recurs every 90 minutes. Your eyes move around quickly behind your eyelids and your brainwaves look similar to those of someone who is awake. Your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure rise to near-waking levels. REM sleep, often referred to as stage 5, is when you are most likely to dream.” (end quote of this article)

The Gift of Sleep and the Gift of Work

In the beginning, in the Bible, the “Day” began at sundown, as found in the repeated refrain in Genesis, chapter 1: And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. This refrain is repeated after each of the days of Creation. The Day begins with evening, exactly backwards of how we tend to think. We usually consider the beginning of the Day when we wake up.

The Bible tends to think of the “Day” beginning in the evening. In the Biblical view of daily time, sleep occurs at the beginning of the Day. We go to sleep at the beginning of the Day, wake up in midway through the Day and finish our work at the end of the Day. In God’s wisdom, both Sleep and Work are viewed as gifts to be received; but sleep proceeds work.

Imagine how this change of point of view could change your outlook on life. Instead of beginning your day in the morning as you head off to Work, you get to begin your day in the evening, sitting at a Table, eating and resting. Then, the next thing you get to do in your Day is to head to bed to receive God’s gift of Sleep. Midway through your Day, you arise from your night’s sleep, and head off to invest your life in God’s gift of Work. After your work, the Day begins anew with rest and sleep.

If we prioritized Sleep as primary, as always more important than Work, always coming before Work, always leading into Work, we would have the necessary energy and strength to do our work well. As Paul wrote to the Church in Colossae, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23). Too often, people misuse work, focusing all their lives and energies on their work and end up suffering from workaholism, work burn-out, and work exhaustion. Too often, people show up at work tired, pump up their bodies with caffeine or other stimulants to get through the day, and arrive home wiped out. Then, their sleep is too short and often broken up, causing them to arise in the morning exhausted before they even head off to work.

Imagine beginning your Day by receiving God’s gift of Sleep. In this approach to measuring our Day, God’s gift of Sleep helps us practice wise Self-Care, provides for us the needed energy and renewing grace to reenter into our Work, and not get burned out. Work place burnout has been at alarming high rates over the past two years during the global pandemic. All the studies I researched for this post describe up to half of the work-force in America as burned out in 2021. More people are dropping out of work, burning out from work than ever before. Oddly, Pastors also have always been prone to workaholism and burnout.

Pastor Burn-Out Statistics

I did a study on Pastor Burn-Out back in 2015, and was shocked by what I found. I present the multiple sources of these statistics below, with your understanding that these stats are from 2015.

  • Pastors have their greatest ministry impact at a church in years 5 through 14 of their pastorate; unfortunately, the average pastor lasts only 4-5 years at a church.
  • Psychologist Dr. Richard Blackmon has found pastors to be “the single most occupationally frustrated group in America” and that “30-40% of religious leaders eventually drop out of ministry.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.
  • 4 years is average length of a pastorate today in USA.
  • The average pastoral career lasts 14 years.
  • 1500 clergy leave their ministries each month due to burnout or moral failure.
  • 6% said they’d been fired from a ministry position
  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 19% of pastors indicate that they’d been forced out of ministry at least once during their ministry.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 40% of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and family is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual burnout.
  • 48% of pastors think being in ministry is hazardous to family well-being.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 58% of pastors indicate that their spouse works either part-time or fulltime outside the home because the family need the income.
  • 66 percent of pastors and their families feel pressure to model the ideal family to their congregations and communities.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 75% report they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry
  • 76% of the clergy surveyed were either overweight (46%) or obese (30%), a significantly higher percentage than the population as whole (61%).
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.


The Gift of Sleep

One of the basic ways to avoid burn-out in any profession is to practice healthy and wise patterns of Self-Care, including receiving the daily gift of sleep. Here are a few possible ways to do this very thing:

Keep a Sleep Log for a week or two. Write in this log every morning when you went to sleep and when you woke up. Keep track of naps you take, when you take them, how long you napped. It is very hard to change our behavior is we are unaware of patterns we have ini our lives, especially when those patterns are unhealthy.

Start heading to bed an hour before you intend to go to sleep. Take time to taper down, like getting off a high speed freeway onto an exit ramp. Slow down. Don’t engage in high, intense activities just before you sleep. Avoid watching movies or other digital media just before you sleep.

Try creating a Sleep Schedule. Try getting to sleep around the same time every night. Set a pattern, and aim for this same pattern daily. Yes, life is uneven and some nights will not fit the pattern. But our bodies can be trained over several weeks to enter into healthier patterns, including sleep patterns.

Get to Sleep earlier rather than later. I am an Owl. Many people I know are Larks. Owls love to stay up late, and tend to be nocturnal creatures who go to bed late, and sleep in late. Larks go to bed early and arise early. If you are an Owl, simply consider getting to sleep an hour earlier than normal. If you normally get to sleep by 1AM, aim for Midnight. Ever since we received the gift of a Black Lab Puppy two years ago, I’ve been getting up earlier than ever in my life, arising around 5:30 or 6AM to let the puppy outside. This has required me getting to bed earlier, and I find myself heading to bed around 8PM, and to sleep by 9PM. This has offered me many good gifts, including uninterrupted time in the early morning before dawn for prayer and meditation.

Pray a simple Scripture Prayer at night. Almost everyone wakes up during the middle of the night. What do you tend to do when awake in the middle of the night? I tend to pray, to unite with my breathing a simple prayer from the Bible, Abide in me, and I in you. (John 15:4). One of the most common and ancient Bible prayers is known as The Jesus Prayer. That link is a previous post in this blog on praying The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Pray this prayer, or some other simple Bible prayer during the middle of the night when you are lying awake, allowing your body and soul to rest in God’s presence as you pray, refocusing your attention away from your anxieties, over onto the presence of God. I have found my soul reentering into the gift of sleep more easily in the middle of the night as I pray such a simple prayer in rhythm with my breathing.

Nap. Enjoy the gift of a nap. I love the gift of a nap. This can be a short 10-15 minute nap in the mid-afternoon during work; or a longer nap of an hour on a Sabbath Day. Whenever I get away on a spiritual retreat, one of the main activities I enjoy is taking naps.

Our God is not only a Creator, but also a Re-Creator. God is in the re-creation business, especially through the gift of sleep. As the hymn Morning Has Broken reminds us,

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning

Born of the one light, Eden saw play

Praise with elation, praise every morning

God’s recreation of the new day.

~Eleanor Farjeon