6 things that lead to insomnia
The ability to fall asleep naturally so as to give our body the rest it needs; physical, emotional and mental; is something most of us take for granted – until we find ourselves wide awake at odd hours of the night. Ironically, the more anxious we become about getting a good night’s sleep, the less likely we are to readily fall to sleep. Anyone can experience a season of insomnia. Thankfully, sleeplessness does not have to last forever when we know what to look out for and seek God for healing from insomnia.
We don’t often link “sound wisdom and discretion” with sweet sleep but the Bible does. This is because we need to have sound wisdom to know how to be at peace with God, at peace with others, and at peace with ourselves, so as to feel safe and peaceful enough to fall asleep soundly.
Proverbs 3:21-26 ESV My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Psalm 4:8 ESV In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
God designed sleep to be a time of replenishment
Adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to maintain good physical and mental health. (Adolescents require slightly more.) When the sun goes down, the body secretes more melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our bodies’ sleep cycles. It helps our body wind down and prepare it to go into slumber.
We may not be fully conscious as we sleep but many important bodily functions then kick-start while we snooze. During sleep, the body works to restore our immune system, defend against disease, consolidate our memory, flush toxins out of our brains, replenish DNA, and release helpful proteins and hormones. God created sleep to be a time to replenish and restore our bodies and souls. (For more detailed information on the functions of sleep, please refer to this article from Healthline called What is the purpose of sleep?)
Psalm 23:1-3 ESV The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…
If we don’t get enough sleep, however, we will begin the next day feeling tired, unrested, and easily agitated. We find it hard to stay alert and remember things. This affects our day-to-day activities, work, and relationships.
Six circumstances that lead to insomnia
All of us experience a bad night’s sleep on the rare occasion but if we cannot get enough sleep over a prolonged period of time, we may need to examine why we now suffer from insomnia.
Firstly, there may be biological reasons.
Our normal sleep cycles can be adversely affected by:
- Age: Our sleep patterns change with age. We sleep fewer hours as we grow older.
- Irregular hours: Our natural sleeping rhythms can be disrupted by irregular shift work and travelling across time zones. This can create problems when we want to fall asleep during normal bedtime hours.
- Overstimulation: Drinking caffeine, playing video games, checking social media, or watching television before bedtime can overstimulate our brains so it becomes harder to switch off and sleep. Some electronics emit a blue light that suppresses melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
- Medication: Some prescription drugs are strong and may interfere with our sleep. It is best to have a doctor advise and adjust the right dosage for us.
- Addictions: We can “train” the body to rely on certain addictions before we can sleep. Some examples include sleeping pills, watching pornography, masturbation, the scent of essential oils etc. When we don’t use these, we can’t sleep. We have become slaves to our addictions.
- Physical pain: Pain can prevent us from sleeping.
- Sleep apnea: Some people suffer from a condition where their upper airways are obstructed. They usually stop breathing at intervals and wake up in the middle of their sleep as a result. Sufferers of sleep apnea tend to wake up with dry mouths and headaches.
Therefore, the first thing we can do to address insomnia is to check:
- Have we given ourselves enough time to wind down in a cool, quiet, dark, and safe place, so that our bodies’ natural sleep cycles are triggered?
- Are there addictions in our lives that we need to address and give up? Anything that enslaves us is not from God.
- Are our bodies receiving proper nourishment so we are not going to bed hungry and listless?
- Do we have any chronic pain or physical disability, such as sleep apnea, that prevents us from sleeping well?
2. Emotional and mental distress
It is hard to fall asleep when our hearts and minds are unsettled.
Jesus, for example, could not sleep the night He was betrayed. His emotional agony over His upcoming crucifixion was so intense that He stayed wide awake and even shed blood together with His sweat, while His disciples slept. This is in sharp contrast to the time when Jesus slept on a boat being tossed around in a violent storm.
Luke 22:44-46 ESV And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Mark 4:37-38 ESV And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
The prophet Samuel was so upset and angry that king Saul had turned away from following God that he did not sleep all night.
1 Samuel 15:10-11 ESV The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.
Separately, we see that King Nebuchadnezzar had seen some things in his dreams that he could not understand. He was so troubled that he could not sleep.
Daniel 2:1 ESV In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him.
Sleep does not come easily when we are troubled by;
- Anxiety: The stress of worrying about various things keeps us awake. Our minds go on over-drive.| Psalm 127:1-3 ESV 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. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
- Anger: Anger makes it hard for us to calm down to sleep. This can be a vicious cycle because we can wake up feeling easily agitated from the lack of sleep the night before. | Ephesians 4:26 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
- Broken hearts and trauma: Unresolved emotional pains and heartache makes it hard for us to sleep peacefully. Our sleep may be interrupted by bad, disturbing dreams. | Psalm 6:3,6 ESV My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
Our minds run wild with questions, accusations, and justifications. We replay our memories and let our imaginations run wild. Our chests grow heavy with fear, sorrow, grief, and bitterness.
Therefore, the second thing we can do to address our insomnia is to check:
- Are there any painful or traumatic events in our lives that still “haunt” us that we need God’s healing for? | Psalm 147:3 ESV He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
- Are there people we feel resentful or bitter towards, whom we need to forgive and cut ungodly soul ties with so that we receive the peace of God into our hearts? | Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
- Have we judged others and need to repent to God? | Romans 14:10 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
- Have we cursed someone else’ health and well-being, and now reap what we have sowed? | Galatians 6:7 ESV Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
- Are there things we regret and allow Satan to still accuse ourselves for, even though we have already repented before God and received His forgiveness? | Isaiah 43:25 ESV “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Most of us can acknowledge our distressing thoughts and emotions, while others may have subconsciously endured them for so long that we are unable to pinpoint what started it all. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit will reveal what they are when we humbly seek Him for healing, as long as we are also willing to repent of our own wrongdoings and forgive those who hurt us.
Jeremiah 31:25 ESV For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
See a testimony: Jesus frees architect from insomnia of healing from insomnia after emotional healing.
3. Sinful thoughts and desires
The Bible points out that we can have difficulty sleeping as a result of following “the path of evildoers” or just thinking about it. We may not realise that by doing so, we give in to Satan’s temptation to sin against God and open a foothold for the devil to rob us of sleep.
Proverbs 4:14-17 ESV Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving. For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble. They eat the food of wickedness and drink the wine of violence!
Then there is the added danger of reaping what evildoers sow. Just as they can’t rest until they executed their sinful plans, neither will we.
Psalm 1:1-3 ESV Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night… In all that he does, he prospers.
A compromised conscience elicits feelings of anxiety, guilt, or remorse. This leads to a battle inside us as we try to push back. This affects our well-being and prevents us from experiencing a good night’s sleep.
Romans 2:15 NLT They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.
Proverbs 3 gives just a few examples of wickedness:
- Withholding good from those who deserve it when it’s in our power to help them (Proverbs 3:27-28)
- Plotting harm against others (Proverbs 3:29)
- Picking fights (Proverbs 3:30)
- Envying violent people and following their ways (Proverbs 3:31)
Proverbs 3:21,23-33 ESV My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion… Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence. The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
Therefore, the third thing we can do to address insomnia is to check:
- Do we have a guilty conscience that we need to be cleansed from through confession and repentance before God? | Hebrews 10:22 ESV Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
- Have we been baptised in Jesus’ name? | 1 Peter 3:21 ESV Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
- Is there something we ought to do and get right before God? | James 4:17 NLT Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
- Have we treated others how we would like to be treated, with dignity, respect, reason, kindness, and patience? Do we need to repent and change our attitudes and behaviour? | Matthew 7:12 ESV “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
See testimony on healing from insomnia after baptism: Jesus heals journalist of insomnia and anxiety
Thankfully, God will protect us from facing the same predicament as the wicked, as long as we keep walking on the “good way”. When we ask God for forgiveness for our sins and keep our thoughts and desires focused on God’s ways and law, we will prosper in whatever we do and find rest for our souls – whether awake or asleep.
Jeremiah 6:16 ESV Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
4. Idol worship and witchcraft
Some people describe waking up regularly around 3am to 4am for no apparent reason. A few say that they sense a heaviness or an invisible presence in their room, as if they are being watched. Others feel physical sensations on their body. Typically, the first reaction is fear and dread. Such occurrences are usually the work of evil spirits. The Bible gives us an explicit example in Job 4. In this case, Eliphaz, Job’s friend, sensed and felt a spirit visit him in the middle of the night and heard it say something accusatory and condemning.
Job 4:12-17 NLT “This truth was given to me in secret, as though whispered in my ear. It came to me in a disturbing vision at night, when people are in a deep sleep. Fear gripped me, and my bones trembled. A spirit swept past my face, and my hair stood on end. The spirit stopped, but I couldn’t see its shape. There was a form before my eyes. In the silence I heard a voice say, ‘Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?’
How can evil spirits visit and disturb believers at night? The answer is found in Leviticus, which states that one outcome of idol worship (and other related spiritually dark practices) is that someone will make us afraid when we lie down to sleep. We know the Spirit of God does not give us a spirit of fear.
Leviticus 26:1-3,6 ESV “You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them…I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid…‘
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Rather it is the work of evil spirits that we had invited into our lives by worshipping or showing reverence to man-made idols and false gods. The deeper we are or had been into such practices, the greater the oppression we will come under. It is only when we repent in the name of Jesus Christ and ask God for His forgiveness that we can be set free from such darkness.
Deuteronomy 32:16-17 ESV They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.
1 Corinthians 10:19-21 NLT What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons. You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.
Even if we have not participated in idol worship and witchcraft directly, it is also possible that a family member or friend performed witchcraft or magic spells on us. For examples of modern-day witchcraft, see Witchcraft is mainstream and dangerous
Another entry point the enemy to slip into our peace of mind uses is by filing us with His lies and dark messages. For instance, we all know what it is like to stay awake in fear because we have just watched some horror movie. Satan constantly tempts us to fill our minds with ungodly images and thoughts that glorify horror, death, blood and gore, murder, sexual immorality, and so forth. These are often (mis)labelled as “entertainment”. As believers, we are meant to crucify or “put to death” all our earthly passions, rather than fill our bodies with darkness. When our minds are filled with dark thoughts, our peace of mind and sleep will also be affected. Also, see Lies we believe from horror stories.
Galatians 5:24 ESV And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Colossians 3:5 ESV Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Unfortunately, too many people are deceived into passively or actively taking part in idol worship and other forms of the occult because we have been told that they are “good,” “helpful,” and “healthy” for us. The Bible warns us that Satan can even come disguised as “an angel of light” to offer false promises and signs in order to deceive us. We need to stay alert and test all things so that we do not become yoked with Satan. Otherwise, the devil will gain a foothold to “steal and kill and destroy” the rest our bodies badly need.
2 Corinthians 11:14-15 ESV And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
See testimony: Jesus frees counsellor from shamanic curses
Therefore, the fourth thing we can do to address insomnia is to check:
- Have we taken part in any form of idol worship or witchcraft, whether knowingly or unknowingly? Let us repent to God in Jesus’ name and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from such spiritual defilement and darkness, cut ungodly soul ties with the mediums, fortune tellers, spiritual leaders etc. and the places of idol worship we have visited. | Galatians 5:20-21 ESV Idolatry, sorcery … and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- Have we subjected our eyes and our bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit, to ungodly images and forms of entertainment? Let us repent to God in Jesus’ name and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from such spiritual defilement and darkness. | Matthew 6:22 NLT “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
- Have we ever called up spirits, whether knowingly or unknowingly? Let us repent to God and now command those spirits to leave in Jesus’ name. Also, see Ways we unknowingly call up unclean spirits | Leviticus 20:6-8 NLT “I will also turn against those who commit spiritual prostitution by putting their trust in mediums or in those who consult the spirits of the dead. I will cut them off from the community. So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy.
- Have we ever cursed ourselves by saying something like, “I can’t rest until … happens,” “I hate my body,” “my family suffers from insomnia so I will too,” or “I prefer to die than to ….”? Let us renounce such curses that we have spoken over ourselves in Jesus’ name and repent to God for using our tongues to speak death instead of life. | Proverbs 18:21 ESV Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
- Do we know anyone who may have performed witchcraft or magic spells on us? Let us forgive them and command spirits of witchcraft to leave us in Jesus’ name. | Deuteronomy 18:11-13 ERV Don’t let anyone try to put magic spells on other people. Don’t let any of your people become a medium or a wizard. And no one should try to talk with someone who has died. The Lord hates anyone who does these things… You must be faithful to the Lord your God, never doing anything he considers wrong.
One other factor to consider when it comes to not being able to fall to sleep easily is the place we are lying down in. For example, we may notice that we sleep better in certain places than others. Is the place we are sleeping poorly in spiritually defiled by sin, idol worship, or magic charms? For more on this, please see Spiritual pollution of homes, districts and territories.
We are called to be separate from places of idol worship and not “touch their filthy things”. Hence, it is worth checking if there are talisman, dreamcatchers, or other objects of sorcery. Has the place been used for immoral purposes and idol worship? Are there spiritual chants being played? Have previous residents invited spirits into the place? Our spirits will not feel at ease in such places. We cannot yoke the temple of the Holy Spirit with temples of idols, disrespect God, and assume we will continue to experience the peace of God.
2 Corinthians 6:16-17 NLT And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Therefore, the fifth thing we can do to address insomnia is to check:
- Do we need to remove idolatrous images and objects that glorify Satan, instead of God, from our sleeping area?
- Is the room designed according to fengshui principles to guide the spiritual “energy flow” in the place? Do we need to ask God for forgiveness and protection?
- Do we need to turn off any spiritual chanting “music” and invite the Holy Spirit to please clean our minds?
- Do we need to pray to cleanse the place we are sleeping in? Here is A cleansing prayer over a property
6. God wants our attention
Last but not least, we may not be able to sleep when God is trying to get our attention. We see a few examples of this in the Bible.
King Ahasuerus had agreed to kill and get rid of all the Jews in his kingdom on the suggestion of his top official, Haman. Haman was a vicious man who held a grudge against a Jewish man called Mordecai. One night, the king could not sleep and was somehow inspired to read some records that showed how Mordecai had once saved his life. This turned the tables around for Mordecai and eventually led to the salvation of all the Jews and the execution of the evil Haman. God had led the king to the truth and prevented him from making a grave mistake.
Esther 6:1-3 ESV On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.”
In another example, the wife of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor overseeing Jesus’ trial before His crucifixion, was convinced that Jesus was innocent as a result of a terrible nightmare she had about Him the night before.
Matthew 27:19 NLT Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
One other example comes from the prophet Samuel, who as a young boy, heard God calling him while he settled down to sleep in the temple. At first, Samuel was unaware that it was God who was speaking. It was only after Eli, the priest, taught the boy, Samuel, how to respond that he heard what God had to say.
1 Samuel 3:3-4,9-11 ESV The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” … Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle…
The sixth and final thing we can do to address insomnia is to check:
- Have we asked God if He is trying to get our attention about something?
There are various reasons why we suffer from insomnia but as seen from the three testimonies included here, there is hope, healing, and deliverance when we humbly turn to God and seek to obey Him. God promises to keep us in perfect peace and give us rest, when we turn away from the influences of this world and choose to love Him with all our minds, hearts, and souls. The journey to sweet sleep may take a while but the promise is there if we persevere.
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Isaiah 26:3 ESV You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Psalm 4:8 NLT In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Mark 12:30 NIV Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
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