“In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
At 20 weeks many of baby's taste buds can now transmit taste signals to his brain, and he's swallowing molecules of the food eaten by Mom that have passed through her blood into the amniotic fluid. Researchers aren't sure if he can taste these molecules, but some research indicates that what a mother eats during pregnancy can influence the foods baby will prefer later. His skeleton is hardening and making bone marrow; and he has a wake-sleep cycle from which he can be awakened by loud noises. Why would a developing baby need sleep in the womb? What could he be doing in there that requires rest?
What happens during sleep Regular and sufficient sleep is critical to our mental and physical wellbeing. Ideally, humans spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. During sleep cycles, our blood pressure drops, our breathing slows and our muscles relax. Essential hormones are released for growth and development and tissue growth and repair occurs. Sleep contributes to a healthy immune system and regulates our appetites (sleep deprivation leads to weight gain!)
We can learn in our sleep: Our brains reorganize information and make new associations while we sleep. Scientists have studied how people can learn new languages while sleeping and any student who pulls an all-nighter before an examination knows that there is a point where sleep is necessary to anchor the information taken in, for later retrieval.
In sleep we encounter God: God makes use of our sleeping hours: God put Adam into a deep sleep when he created Eve (Gen. 2:21-22); Abram was in a deep sleep when God, as a smoking firepot, passed over his sacrifice and sealed their covenant (Gen. 15:9-21); and Peter, James and John were struck with sleep immediately before awakening to the sight of the transfigured Christ (Luke 9:32). Job wrote, “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it. In a dream, a vision of the night, when sound sleep falls on men, while they slumber in their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction…” (Job 33:14-18). Job, Jacob, Jacob’s son Joseph, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Zechariah, Mary’s husband Joseph, Paul, Peter and John (as well as a host of God’s enemies such as Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and other villains), all heard from God as they slept.
There is such a thing as too much sleep and the Bible warns against it: Too much sleep is a characteristic of the sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-9; 10:5; 19:15) and leads to poverty (Proverbs 24:33-34). Jesus lamented over Simon Peter and the other disciples who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of keeping watch while he prayed (Matthew 26:40). Believers and churches are urged to awaken from their sleepy inactivity, heretical doctrines and immoral behaviors and be about Kingdom business (Isaiah 60:1; Romans 13:11-14; I Thessalonians 5:5-6; Rev. 3:2-3).
Sleep as death/death as sleep/waking as resurrection: Since the resurrection of Christ, Christians have believed death to be only an interlude between life in our mortal bodies and our own resurrections to eternal bodies, “sleep” became a Christian euphemism for death throughout the New Testament. This sometimes led to confusion – the Disciples didn’t understand that Lazarus was truly dead and not just asleep, and the sisters Mary and Martha, didn’t understand that his death was only a temporary sleep! (John 11:11-14). Jairus, his servants and the mourners didn’t believe Jesus when he told them Jairus’ daughter was only asleep and not finally dead (Mark 5:39). Paul had to set the Thessalonian saints straight that death was only an interlude of sleep, so they would focus on the hope of resurrection for those who had died (I Thessalonians 4:14). Because of our helpless, unconscious state during sleep, Christians sometimes compare sleep to a “little death” and our reliable waking as “little resurrections,” that serve as daily reminders of our eternal future.
Sleep witnesses the faithfulness of God in our unguarded and helpless state: “If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap. 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?” (Psalm 127:2 The Message). "You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor," (Job 11:19). "When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:24). When the anxieties of the day and the troubles of tomorrow threaten to keep us awake, the child of God can look up to the Lord to sleep peacefully and without fear.
On the seventh day of Creation, we are told that God rested. Rest is a foundational piece of the imprint of imago dei on humanity: so much so, that being trained to rest is part of our development in the womb. Learning to rest – and practicing it throughout life – teaches us that God does not intend for us to work ourselves into an early grave, because it is God who provides. Sleep is an opportunity to surrender completely to God’s watchful care each day. And sleeping and waking reminds us that God’s people will not sleep forever in death. Sleep is a witness to hope!