It’s past midnight, and you wake up. You find yourself staring at the ceiling with no hope of falling back asleep. You toss and turn, count sheep, and maybe even meditate, but the sleeplessness persists. We’ve all been there in this middle-of-the-night wakefulness, and it can be a frustrating and exhausting experience.
Sabra Ciancanelli can relate. Here’s her story of one such night.
I watch the red numbers on the clock turn to two o’clock. My husband sleeps beside me. His breathing is calm and even. I get up and check on the boys and find them asleep and fine. I go back to bed and look out the sheer curtain into the darkness. Our cat, Frank, settles at my feet.
My eyes fall on the streetlight down the road, but my mind is on my worries. Nothing big, just the usual everyday struggles: My son has a problem on the school bus; our tax bill will be due in a week or two. I went over a work e-mail I wish I’d written differently. Little problems have a way of snowballing in the night.
The wind howls, and the window shutters rattle. The pine tree down the road bends to and fro, and as the gusts change direction, the light of the streetlight pulses bright to dark. I watch the blinking light and say the Lord’s Prayer. The wind settles and the bright stream of the streetlight does too, almost on cue.
My eyes are tired, and just as I’m feeling relaxed, the gusts begin again, the windows shudder, and the boughs shift just enough to block the light. I focus on the words of the prayer, imagining the light in my mind’s eye until I find rest.
Dear Lord, help me silence the chatter of my worries and focus on You.
Fortunately, like Sabra, we can turn to the Word of God for guidance and peace during these restless nights. In this blog post, we’ll explore the five-step process to overcome middle-of-the-night wakefulness with biblical wisdom and practical tips.
First Step: Surrender to God
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.”
(Isaiah 26:3 ESV)
The first step to overcoming middle-of-the-night wakefulness is to surrender your thoughts and worries to God. Use this time to pray, read the Bible, and meditate on His promises. Focus your thoughts on His goodness and faithfulness, knowing that He is in control, and He will provide for your needs. Trusting God with your worries can bring peace to your mind and heart, which can enhance your chances of falling back asleep.
Second Step: Get Out of Bed
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28 ESV)
If you’ve been laying in bed for over 20 minutes and have not fallen back asleep, it’s time to get up and move around. Engage in low-key activities like reading a book, writing in a journal, or listening to calming music. Avoid the temptation to watch TV or use your phone, as the blue light can suppress melatonin production. By getting out of bed, you’re signaling to your brain that it’s time to be awake, and you can work on relaxing and calming your body.
Third Step: Practice Relaxation Techniques
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication,
with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
(Philippians 4:6 NKJV)
One effective way to calm your mind and body is to practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and imagining something relaxing. Try taking deep breaths through your nose for four counts, holding for seven, and exhaling slowly through your mouth for eight counts. As you exhale, imagine yourself exhaling your stress and worries. You can also practice tensing and relaxing each muscle group, starting with your toes and working your way up to your forehead. Try imagining a calming scene or a favorite memory to distract your mind from racing thoughts.
Fourth Step: Establish a Sleep-Conducive Environment
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
(Psalm 127:1 ESV)
Your sleep environment plays a significant role in your sleep quality. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet, and the bed is comfortable and supportive. Try using blackout curtains, earplugs, or white noise machines to block out any distractions. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed, as they can interfere with sleep. Establish a pre-sleep routine that is calming and relaxing, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or practicing relaxation techniques. And stay off your phone or computer at least an hour before bedtime.
Now listen to a short snippet from an Abide sleep story based on Psalm 127.
Fifth Step: Practice Consistency and Patience
“And let us not grow weary while doing good,
for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
(Galatians 6:9 NKJV)
Overcoming middle-of-the-night wakefulness requires patience and consistency. Implementing the above steps may not bring immediate results, but they can create a foundation for lasting change. Try not to stress about falling asleep or obsess over the hours that you’ve been awake. Remember that sleep is a natural process, and trying too hard to control it can interfere with it. Be kind and patient with yourself, and practice self-compassion.
Another practical step you can take is to download the Abide app. With more than 300 Bible-based sleep stories, Abide can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Download the app with this link to receive 25% off a premium subscription. There are also guided meditations and daily devotionals to help you walk more closely with God all day long.