Sleep is a blessing

One of the most common reasons for people to see their doctor is that they feel ‘tired all the time’ – ‘TATT’ as the condition is known. As a result there are a number of National Health Service sites giving advice to people who cannot sleep.

But how much sleep do we actually need. According to the director of a university sleep research centre, the only rule is to sleep long enough to feel refreshed when you wake up. The truth is that some people need more sleep than others. When Napoleon was once asked how many hours people need, he replied: “Six for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool”. However, not all women need seven hours: Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, is said to have slept for only four hours a night. During the war years Winston Churchill seems to have survived also on four hours a night, although in fact he had regular afternoon naps in his pyjamas.

For some people work is a fairly un-stressful occupation – it is what they do between 9 and 5 with decent coffee, tea and lunch breaks all thrown in. However, for those having to commute to the City of London work can be incredibly demanding. Living as I do in a commuter town like Chelmsford, many people are on the London-bound train by 7 a.m. (indeed you can’t be guaranteed a seat after 6.30 a.m.) and don’t return home before 7 p.m. Sometimes these long hours are caused by lack of discipline. One seasoned analyst and stockbroker commented:

There was a real macho competition in the City about sleep. One of the ways of getting respect was bragging about how little you got. The hours were long – from 6.30 in the morning to seven at night. Socialising might mean staying out till three in the morning. And this was just the analysts. The corporate financiers were the real hard workers. They would work into the early hours, get a couple of hours’ kip at the office and start again. To admit needing sleep was a sign of weakness.

As for the retired, they tend to need about the same amount of sleep as all adults, but they tend to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier than they did when they were younger. That certainly is my experience. Strange as it may seem, insomnia can be a particular problem among older adults, with some waking up many times in the night while others wake up early and are unable to get back to sleep.

As I was reflecting on issues relating to sleep my mind went to Psalm 127.2: “He gives to his beloved sleep” (NRSV) or in the words of the GNB “The Lord provides for those he loves, while they are asleep”. Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases the verse: “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves” (The Message).

After consulting some of the English version, I then turned to my commentaries. James May, an American OT professor, wrote:

The anxious toil of those who believe that it all depends on them is in vain. Work should be an endeavour of trust, not anxiety or arrogance. One of the proverbs says, ‘The blessing of the Lord enriches, and toil adds nothing to it’ (Prov 10.22 NRSV alternate reading).

The American Biblical scholar Tremper Longman III wrote:

It is doubtful that the psalmist encourages people to sit at home and expect God to provide (such a view runs counter to the strong wisdom tradition that calls for hard work and the avoidance of laziness (Prob 6.6-11; 10.4-5 etc) but he does make the point that, no matter how intense our efforts, success comes from God and nowhere else.

Similarly John Goldingay, the British OT scholar, commented that this verse:

… reminds us that we do not have as much control of our destinies and our futures as we would like to think. The paradoxical implication is ‘Relax. God loves you’.

While Derek Kidner, the former warden of Tyndale House, the Biblical research centre in Cambridge, in his classic commentary asked: “Is there a parallel to this seemingly escapist outlook, in the incident of the sleeping Christ in the storm?”

So in conclusion: yes, at every stage in life God makes all the difference. God gives to his beloved rest. Sleep is indeed a blessing.


  1. As one who has suffered from recurrent insomnia all my life, I would heartily agree that sleep is a blessing !In fact I am just off the phone from a doctor’s appointment to see if any help can be found (this time ) to help me get to sleep -sometimes it takes me 4-5 hours and occasionally (when I try not to take a pill) I will lie awake practically all night – and that is without the stress and strain of a city job!! However I can sometimes sleep (the last 2/3 nights have been much better, thankfully!) – So yes, you can imagine what a blessing I consider sleep to be!

  2. Thank you, Paul. I wish that I had more of this balanced, scripture-based, outlook in my younger days, but I was very much brought up on the mantra that ‘There is no such think as can’t’! What you have written links in very much with some other scripture that I have received in the last week or so. What was it that William Temple said about prayer & coincidences?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *