A Meditation on the Beautiful Gift of Sleep

By Eugene0126jp (Own work)  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0   or  GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
By Eugene0126jp (Own work) Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

One of God’s great gifts is the gift of sleep, especially sleep which is peaceful and deep. Alas, like many hyperactive and overstimulated moderns, I sometimes struggle to find deep sleep. My mother often said she was a light sleeper, and maybe I also got it from her. But when deep sleep does come, what a wonderful gift! A deep night’s sleep can be so refreshing, one of life’s great pleasures.

Some of the Psalms speak of sleep. One of the Psalms speaks with gratitude of the gift of God to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply:

I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Ps 4:9)

Another Psalm speaks to us of how God blesses us while we sleep:

In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. (Ps 127:2)

What a magnificent thing to think of God bestowing blessings on us while we slumber. The image I have in mind is of a parent coming to the bedside of a sleeping child and kissing them on the forehead while they are sleeping,  making sure they are tucked in well for the night.

Yet another Psalm speaks of the blessings of not having to get up in the middle of the night to take care of you know what:

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; even in the night he admonishes my kidneys. (Psalm 16:7)

Yes, an unusual blessing that God would keep watch over my kidneys. Many of the translators, finding this peculiar, translate it that God keeps watch over our hearts at night. Now that’s a nice thing too, but the first meaning of the Hebrew word is kilyah, is “kidney.” There’s something earthy and practical about God keeping watch over our kidneys. Thank you Lord! Not having to arise several times at night allows me to sleep more deeply. Thank you Lord for watching over my kidneys!

So yes, restful and peaceful sleep such a great gift, itself a blessing, and also a source of blessings. Grant us, good Lord, a restful night and peaceful slumber!

Dr. Ralph Martin, commenting of a teaching of St. Therese of Liseaux, has this amusing and consoling reflection on the relation of sleep and prayer:

Therese shares about her own long struggle not to fall asleep during prayer times, and offers some interesting advice in the process:

I should be desolate for having slept (for seven years) during my hours of prayer and my thanksgivings after Holy Communion; well I am not desolate. I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake; I remember, too, that when they perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep. Finally, I remember that: “the Lord knows our weakness, that he is mindful that we are but dust and ashes.

[Dr. Martin observes]: Those of us who are parents know that we sometimes love our children even more when they finally go to sleep! Therese’s message is one of great confidence in God’s love for us. He knows our weaknesses and loves us anyway. If we just do the little bit we can, he’ll be able to continue the process of transformation even if prayer is sleepy and dry….little by little, even imperfect prayer will change us. (Dr. Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, pp. 283-284).

Of course it is also clear that one of the more unpleasant experiences in life is to have a restless or sleepless night, especially if it is accompanied by anxieties or fears. In the worst years of my struggle with anxiety in my mid thirties, I actually feared to go to sleep. For I would often fall asleep, and then within an hour be startled awake, racked with fear, and wrestling with demonic presence in my room. Somehow, in falling asleep, all my psychological and spiritual defenses seemed to have been shut down and I would awaken to terrors and fearsome assaults. Those were the difficult years when I feared, as late night drew on, and it was time to try and sleep.

The Book of Job well describes the nights I once experienced, as do many others who are troubled either by fears or anxieties of one sort or another:

When I say, “My bed shall comfort me,
My couch shall ease my complaint.”
Then you [O Lord] affright me with dreams,
and with visions terrify me.
In bed I say, “When shall I arise!?”
But the night drags on;
And I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. (Job 7:13-14; 4)

I used to keep printed version of this at my nightstand. And in those dark nights at three in the morning I read it out loud as a kind of complaint to God.

Thanks be to God, I am delivered from those awful times; thank you Lord! But I am sympathetic, to those whose bed provides no comfort and whose couch permits no sleep. It is an awful thing and a difficult cycle to break. I can only, with sympathy, encourage them to make the journey I’ve had to make growing in trust, finding greater serenity, and taking back with the devil stole from me, the gift of a restful night, and the peace and serenity the Lord wants to give.

Ah yes, the gift of restful sleep and quiet nights. It is a beautiful gift to be sought from the Lord each night. In the night prayer of the Church, there are these beautiful lines:

Protect us Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in his peace.

The office ends with the beautiful wish: May the Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. The Salve Regina having been sung, the lights are switched off, and we rest in the arms of God.

One of the most beautiful Night Prayer Hymns is

God, that madest earth and Heaven, darkness and light;
Who the day for toil hast given, for rest the night;
May Thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet Thy mercy send us;
Holy dreams and hopes attend us, all through the night.

When the constant sun returning unseals our eyes,
May we, born anew like morning, to labour rise;
Gird us for the task that calls us,
Let not ease and self enthrall us,
Strong through Thee whate’er befall us, O God most wise!

Guard us waking, guard us sleeping, and when we die,
May we in Thy mighty keeping all peaceful lie;
When the last dread call shall wake us,
Do not Thou, our God, forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us


20 Replies to “A Meditation on the Beautiful Gift of Sleep”

  1. Ah, sleep. Someday I might get a restful night of sleep again, but right now, my little ones generally don’t allow it.

  2. Of all the things I’m grateful for, sleep is usually near the top. Until now, I had always felt a little funny or guilty for the last prayer I usually find myself saying after I turn out the light, but no longer:

    Bless us, O Lord, for these your gifts, which we are about to receive from your bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

  3. Dear Msgr.
    Your blog from yesterday and today both have resounded with me, so I thought I would write. I have a degenerative neuromuscular disease that causes me extreme fatigue. So out of necessity, I sleep a lot. But I also need exercise and to ‘move’. When I am so tired that I just want to sleep, sometimes the best thing for me to do is to take a walk. Of course my walks are more like a shuffle because my range of motion is reduced. But I need more balance in my life (literally and figuratively).
    I really appreciate what you wrote from St. Therese. This evening, I wanted to go to mass because it is not offered in the evenings much here. But I fell asleep and could not force myself to get up to go. I started getting ‘down’ on myself for this. Boy, I can sure whip myself up into a frenzy telling myself that although this is not a sin of course, it is a ‘good’ omitted. But now I am learning to pretty quickly how to recognize that this type of frustration is a ploy of the devil. He wants me to be anxious and it is also a form of pride.
    When I truly have sinned, I am beginning to differentiate the way I feel. It is more like a slow, deep burning rather than a raging fire that causes anxiety. In the mass the priest prays that we be “freed from all undue anxiety”. I understand this now.
    Last year I had 2 panic attacks that forced me to realize that I need to rest more and TRUST more. I had a real “crash course” in trust! Along with this goes distrust of self and prayer. Of course, this will be a lifetime struggle because pride is mixed into the recipe.
    Now I really enjoy sleeping. I can only sleep in blocks of 3-4 hours at a time because my muscles cramp up or spasm, but at other times, I am semi-awake. This is when the Holy Spirit has a perfect opportunity to ‘speak’ to me (without any words). When I wake up, I am totally calm and refreshed and enlightened – although I cannot really articulate what was communicated to me.
    I seem to be drawn to the 3:00 hour – the Hour of Mercy – twice per day. And most of the time, between 3-6:00AM is when I am in that state of half awake and half asleep. I am really beginning to cherish this time. I work from home and so I have guilt trips when I need to rest during the day. But my manager understands and I am able to break up the hours and finish things in the evening. I am very blessed by this and yet still find myself with occasional nagging guilt, which I rebuke as pride.
    I will just share one short dream that caused great meditation and inspiration. The song by Bruce Springsteen came to my dream where the refrain goes: “I’m a doctor, I’m a lawyer, I’m a movie star, I’m an astronaut, and I own this bar. And I’d lie to you for your love. I’d lie to you for your love. I’d lie to you for your love – and that’s the truth.”
    This turned into Jesus singing to me, “I’d die for you for your love. I’d die for you for your love. I’d die for you for your love – and that’s the TRUTH.” You can imagine this caused me great peace and nonverbal meditation that followed…
    Sometimes the devil sneaks into my dreams and tries to disrupt my peace. But I am learning to differentiate and can actually pull my higher will or intellect out of the dream and cry out to Our Lord and Lady to help me. Then I can feel myself being lifted out of the dream. If it ever comes back to my consciousness, I reject it and tell him, “Satan, be gone in the Name of Jesus Christ!” and he must obey. Deo Gratias!

  4. Sleep is my favorite part of the 24 hour day because miraculous things take place in mind and body while sleeping, most of which we are unaware of or forget by the time we awaken. The uninhibited soul awakens in slumber to express it’s state of being.

  5. When I have a restless night, I am very thankful for the gift of napping. Champion napper here. lol

  6. Insomnia is a suffering. It affects the quality of your life and robs you of joy. I had it for over 12 years. Only God can bring good out of it.

    1. I was born with cronic Insomnia.

      Thus I have had more than my fair share of sleepless nights and I know all there is to know about not being able to sleep.

      So, I decided that I am not going to be bothered by sleeplessness, ever again.
      So for the past 18 years I have used a prescription drug called Zopiclone.

      And it works like a dream.
      Now, when I get bored of being awake, i take 15 milligrams of Zopiclone and off to dreamland I go.

      Simple as that.

      1. I know the side effects of insomnia are terrible, but so are the drug. I recommend trying to find natural remedies in order to avoid the side effects of both.

  7. ‘Sleep!’ cried Father Brown. ‘Sleep. We have come to the end of the ways. Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a natural one. Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them.’ – “The Honour of Israel Gow” by G.K. Chesterton

  8. This is nice, Monsignor. My 12-years-old is having an awful time at night and comes in to my room repeatedly, waking me up. Like you, he falls asleep, only to wake up a few hours later, genuinely frightened by his thoughts of demons, etc. We will start praying for God’s gift of peaceful sleep.

  9. Monsignor, I’m not being facetious but the best sleep I can remember getting was at Mass. This has happened only three of four times but out of the blue I couldn’t keep my eyes open. From right after the opening prayer until the Agnus Dei. I felt really bad about it until a friend suggested that I was sleeping in Christ’s Peace.

    I pray that was the case.


  10. Here is a not so well known non-biblical quote about sleep, from Don Quixote:

    “I don’t know what that is,” said Sancho; “all I know is that so long as I am asleep I have neither fear nor hope, trouble nor glory; and good luck betide him that invented sleep, the cloak that covers over all a man’s thoughts, the food that removes hunger, the drink that drives away thirst, the fire that warms the cold, the cold that tempers the heat, and, to wind up with, the universal coin wherewith everything is bought, the weight and balance that makes the shepherd equal with the king and the fool with the wise man. Sleep, I have heard say, has only one fault, that it is like death; for between a sleeping man and a dead man there is very little difference.”

  11. As a new Widower it couldn’t be more true these word today. GOD gave me wonderful nap today so I may go to Mass tonight. I thank God that I have him and he has me in his arms

  12. Thank you for this post, Monsignor. It is very reassuring. I have only one kidney. I’m glad to know that God is watching out for it as I sleep! lol

  13. Sleep can be disturbed by memories of TV shows watched in the evening before bed. I made the mistake of watching part of an episode of a weekly series that included an African-American being falsely accused of rape by a white girl when in high school, and an attack and maiming by a half-dozen Ku Klux Klan members. The episode is a reminder of guilt for many members of our culture for mistreatment of people of other skin colors.
    My major problem is that when witnessing torture of one sort or another, I tend to identify with the victim.
    (What do YOU meditate on when praying the Sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary?)
    So when I can’t sleep, I try to pray for those who are in situations of the kind that troubled me; either the perpetrators to repent, or for the victims to be receiving God’s grace in order to forgive.
    But I resolve NOT to watch violent stuff in the evening.

  14. Great post. These psalms are very comforting. Really too bad some translators replaced the word kidney and replaced by something “they thought more convenient”. I read it was strictly forbiden in the Old Testament to chance one single word of the Bible.

  15. Dear Monsignor,

    Here are the lyrics to “God that Made the Earth and Heavens” that matches what the congregation is singing in the video you attached:

    God, who made the earth and heaven,
    Darkness and light:
    You the day for work have given,
    For rest the night.
    May your angel guards defend us,
    Slumber sweet your mercy send us,
    Holy dreams and hopes attend us
    All through the night.

    And when morn again shall call us
    To run life’s way,
    May we still, whatever befall us,
    Your will obey.
    From the power of evil hide us,
    In the narrow pathway guide us,
    Never be your smile denied us
    All through the day.

    Guard us waking, guard us sleeping,
    And when we die,
    May we in your mighty keeping
    All peaceful lie.
    When the last dread call shall wake us,
    Then, O Lord, do not forsake us,
    But to reign in glory take us
    With you on high.

    Holy Father, throned in heaven,
    All holy Son,
    Holy Spirit, freely given,
    Blest Three in One:
    Grant us grace, we now implore you,
    Till we lay our crowns before you
    And in worthier strains adore you
    While ages run.


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