Insomnia: When You Can’t Sleep, What Works?

Can't Sleep: God Works the Night Shift

Who doesn’t experience insomnia from time to time?

Jobs create stress. Relationships create stress. Tomorrow morning promises stress.

And as a result, tonight you and I can’t sleep.

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep?

Serta Counting Sheep

Traditional cures for insomnia start with counting sheep … counting blessings … counting backwards from a large number … Then, if you still can’t sleep, combine warm milk with a carbohydrate. That could come in the form of the sugar in hot cocoa or a graham cracker on the side of hot vanilla milk. Science says combining protein and carbohydrate can help increase insulin production that helps cure insomnia.

Grandmother’s Cures for Insomnia

All of those sound like how your grandmother might have tried to cure a bout with insomnia. My grandmother certainly had access to some patent medicines. Some were laced with alcohol and maybe even opiates. But she didn’t live at a time like ours when new pharmaceuticals to treat insomnia were constantly being created.

My grandmother penciled, in a large, quavering hand in the front of her little King James Bible, “Read Psalm 91 every nite [sic].” That psalm includes these lines:

“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust … Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness … Because thou hast made the Lord, which my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation, There shall be no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” 

She settled into bed during the last years of her life by reminding herself that God was protecting her sleep and keeping her safe. That gave her peace.

“Slow Down and Lose Ground”

More of us seem to live in the expectation that if we slow down at all, we will lose ground against anyone who is still awake. We take God’s word to the lazy person who sleeps when he or she should be at work as applying to us when we take the rest God designed us to require:

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:10-11, repeated in Proverbs 24: 33-34)

But this describes a person who takes excess rest. God designed us to require sleep — about one-third of every day for most adults. Science has identified many functions sleep accomplishes, including integrating memory, improving judgment, maintaining the immune system, regulating insulin and preventing hormonal imbalances. What does sleep accomplish in our relationship with God?

“God, You Take Over. I’m Going to Bed.”

I remember hearing, once upon a time, that one of the popes had a particular bedtime routine. He would pray, “God, I’m tired. You take care of the world now. I’m going to bed.”

That’s what we all have to say. Whatever part of the world God has given us responsibility for, we have to return it to God at bedtime, trusting that for the next seven to eight hours, God alone will care for it. God promises to give rest to any of us who bring our heavy burdens of responsibility to him:

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

That’s what I try to do when I can’t sleep. Hand it over to God.

And drink my hot milk and turn on my white noise and if I really have a hard time, cuddle up under a comforter as if I’m just taking a nap instead of struggling with insomnia.

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at, and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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