Everyone has them. Nobody likes them. Those nights when for some reason, inexplicable or otherwise, one simply wakes up at 2-ish or 3-ish or 4-ish and can’t go back to sleep. Maybe it’s leg cramps, or back pain, or something stirring, or the spouse snoring, or for no discernible reason. Sometimes having a reason only makes the situation more absurd and less tolerable. 

The Bible refers to sleep sleeplessness many times.

  • Paul spoke of suffering many sleeplessness as a “side effect” of being an apostle (2 Corinthians 6.5). Most likely the burden of his ministry had this effect.
  • Solomon described insomnia as an effect of old age: “One will arise at the sound of the bird” (Ecclesiastes 12.4).
  • Sometimes illness keeps us awake. Job’s illness, the result of Satan’s affliction, caused him much sleeplessness – “But the night continues, and I am continually tossing until dawn” (Job 7.4; cf. 30.17; Ps. 102.5-7).
  • Jacob complained of being too cold to sleep – “Thus I was: by the day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes” (Genesis 31.40).
  • And, of course, stress and anxiety are big eye openers (pun intended): 
    • “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; My soul refused to be comforted… you have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77.2, 4).
    • “Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2.23).

All of this isn’t to say that sleeplessness is always bad. If you’re awake at night, spiritual songs can help. “I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and My spirit ponders” (Psalm 77.6).

If you’re awake at night, think about God. “At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently” (Isaiah 26.9).

Finally, if you’re awake at night, find something constructive to do. In the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep one night, so he arose and read from the royal archives (Esther 6). In doing this, he discovered an unrewarded act of heroism by Esther’s kinsman Mordecai. This becomes a turning point in the book. Here, insomnia created an opportunity for good.

So, the next time you can’t sleep, remember that you’re in pretty good company, biblically. And while you’re up, make it worthwhile. Pray a prayer. Sing a song. Do something constructive.