Do you struggle to sleep at night? Maybe you have difficulty falling asleep or even full-blown insomnia. My issue is that I often wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back to sleep. There could be a million reasons why relaxing rest eludes us and an equal number of suggestions for resolution. Today, I want to share 5 habits I have been working to hone, which seem to be making a difference for me.
I am going to add the caveat right here that I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and that when I accepted Him as my Savior, He gave me His Holy Spirit to dwell inside me. Read more on that here. I genuinely do not believe satisfying sleep is a reasonable expectation outside of the peace that comes from knowing God.
But even with the assurance that He has the chaos under control and cradles me in the palm of His hand, I sometimes find myself awake when I want to be asleep. As I’ve prayed for the wisdom to address it, I’ve adopted five habits which have been highly effective for me. I’m sharing them in hopes they might resonate with you as well.
5 Habits to Hone for Relaxing Rest and Satisfying Sleep
Life is hectic! My brain doesn’t have time to take a break. Or so it likes to think. (Pun intended.) After all, if I stopped controlling things, it would all come crashing down, right? Not even close to right! In fact, if I don’t stop trying to control things, and let my mind rest, I’m much more likely to make mistakes and missteps that will cause everything to come crashing down.
So, I need to tune out. Shut down. Let go. I do this nightly by watching a Hallmark movie or something equivalent. There is science to show that the brain slows significantly when we watch TV, and I am pretty sure a Hallmark movie requires the least mindfulness of anything out there. It is completely predictable with idyllic settings and… I’m getting sleepy just talking about it.
Some people tell me to pray before bed – to give it all to Jesus and walk away. I would never tell anyone not to pray. I know this is a tried-and-true method for many. It does not work for me because praying engages my mind and my emotions. I have to say my ‘bedtime prayers’ before I tune out. My goal is to not be thinking about anything important when my head hits the pillow.
I toyed with the order in which I wanted to present these 5 habits to you. I obviously did not choose to put them in chronological order. But stay with me as I work a bit backwards here.
My biggest hurdle is getting my mind to rest. When I have tuned out and my head has hit the pillow, it needs to have a few things neatly wrapped and tucked away. One of those things is the knowledge that my body is tired.
I sit quite a bit at work and writing does not get me moving either. I need to be intentional about exercise. This is a habit I must commit to accomplish early in the day. I’ve mentioned that I’m a distance walker and that I’ve curiously started running again.
If I am physically tired, my mind will be at ease about my body’s cooperation to sleep. It is always worth it – not just for sleep but for overall health as well.
This one has taken some experimentation. I have discovered that carbohydrates at night do not agree with me. They make me feel bloated and uncomfortable and are not conducive to a good night’s sleep. I have basically cut out all carbs, even healthy ones, after 4pm. I have also lightened up on my protein in the evening. Don’t worry – I eat plenty of both, earlier in the day.
Dinner for me is comprised of mostly vegetables and healthy fats. I eat early so I can go to bed early because I get up early. Eating foods which agree with my digestive system, and timing it so those processes have time to work before I lay down, has been game-changing for me.
This may seem obvious, but I stopped consuming caffeine late in the day. I used to feel immune to the caffeine because I could drink a cup and still fall asleep. But I do think it hampered my ability to fall back to sleep if I awoke in the middle of the night. And any beverage consumed late increases the chances of needing to get up in the middle of the night. I’m better off without it.
Ah this! When I have tuned out, worked out, and cut out, but still wake up at 2am unable to go back to sleep, it can be due to a guilty conscience. Sometimes it is legit and other times it is not. I have tried to just ignore it and go back to sleep but it doesn’t work. My only way around the obstacle of my conscience is to engage.
It seems counterintuitive to purposely start my mind thinking, but remember, the one most important ingredient for relaxing rest and satisfying sleep. There is no peace in a guilty conscience. If the conviction I feel is legitimate, I need to confess it to God and repent. I need to receive His forgiveness and resolve to make it right with anyone to whom I may owe restitution. Then, my peace returns. When I feel that harmony with God, I can sleep again.
If the shame I feel is not legit, I need to preach truth to myself and let it go. A good dose of truth brings a rush of peace.
“Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.”2 John 2:3
I know some of you are wondering why a Christian would leave prayer for the last bullet point. Is prayer a last resort for me? NOT AT ALL! I rely on constant communication with God to guide my steps and steer my decisions.
Prayer gets its own section because there are still times, when I’ve done everything I’ve learned to do for relaxing rest and satisfying sleep, but I still wake up.
In these instances, I know God has purposed that I should be awake to pray. I have a list of people who get prayed for every time I am awake in the middle of the night. Maybe one of them is in trouble and I have been awakened specifically because I will pray for them. Prayer releases the power of Heaven and if sacrificing a few minutes of sleep will send that assistance to a loved one who needs it, I’m in!
If I go through my usual list of people and I’m still awake, I start praying for anyone else whose name or face pops into my head. Eventually, I figure I’ve covered everyone for whom I was tasked to pray, because I fall back to sleep.
Even if I’m wrong – if nobody needed my prayers at 2am, my efforts have covered them with God’s presence and that can never be a bad thing. But I honestly believe it is a ministry. The Holy Spirit knows I am available and willing to serve in this capacity in the middle of the night.
Ironically, my habit of intentionally clearing my mind so I can fall asleep and stay asleep makes me a ripe prayer warrior to call upon in the wee hours. And there is a reward. The sleep that comes after being awoken for this purpose and fulfilling it, is the most satisfying of all sleeps!
Well, there they are. Those are the 5 habits to hone for relaxing rest and satisfying sleep. At least, they are the tricks that have been the most beneficial for me lately. There are others, and if you’d like me to post about them, let me know.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Do you have trouble sleeping? Is it a struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep or both? Have you found any helpful hints that you’d be willing to share? Do any of mine ring true for you?