A high school English teacher once gave my class a prompt to write about what super-power we would want to have and why. My answer? The power to be able to go without sleep . . . and still function just fine.
Don’t get me wrong, I love sleep, like any normal person, but since there are so many things to do in life, the need for sleep just seems to get in the way. In my first year of college, I prided myself on my ability to get all my homework and other projects done on time, no matter how late that meant I needed to stay up. I probably averaged 5 hours of sleep per night that year.
This year, however, two realizations have changed everything.
First of all, I started doing more research into health and nutrition, and it hit me one day that sleep is when the body heals itself. You’d think that fact would be obvious, right? But somehow most of us forget about it or don’t think about what that really means.
It’s one thing to ask myself, “Should I deprive myself of sleep?” and another thing to ask myself, “Should I deprive myself of healing?” When I ask the second question, it sends a jolt through my spine that makes me realize how foolish, ironic, and counterproductive such a choice would be. Ever since I started getting 7-8 hours of sleep on a regular basis, I’ve noticed I hardly ever get sick. And when I do get sick, it doesn’t last for very long, and my level of energy is barely affected.
Secondly, in my recent studies on faith, I’ve realized that there are different levels of faith when it comes to sleep. I used to think it took faith to NOT get sleep. When I had a ridiculous list of things to get done (all good things, I might add), I thought that if I had enough faith then I could pray and God would help me stay awake.
Resisting sleep does take a lot of faith. But it takes more faith to get enough sleep. It takes more faith to re-prioritize and let certain things go so that I have time for sleep. It takes more faith to trust that God will help me work faster and more effectively during the remaining hours that I’m awake. It takes more faith to trust that God designed my body to need sleep for a good reason.
Are there exceptions? I mean, are there emergencies when we really do need to use faith to stay awake? Yes. But I believe God is more likely to bless us to make exceptions when they’re exactly that: exceptions. Otherwise, there is a strange irony in praying for the strength to be sleep-deprived on a regular basis. It would be like saying to a computer-science master, “Hey, you know that perfect computer that you designed specifically for me? Could you help me go against the programming you put into it and not let it get any updates or do any virus scans? Oh, and after that, could you make sure it keeps getting updates and doesn’t get any viruses?”
If you can’t decide what circumstances qualify as an exception, simply have the faith to ask, “Is this worth losing sleep over?” and then accept the answer, whatever it may be.
D&C 88:124 says, “ . . . cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.”
As I tried to start going to bed between 9:00 and 10:00, one of the obstacles I faced initially is that when 9:00 came around I would think to myself, “But . . . I’m still so full of energy! I should get more things done while I still have energy, and then I’ll go to bed in a couple hours when I’m actually tired.” Then one day I finally noticed that when I fall asleep tired then I wake up tired. But when I fall asleep full of energy then I wake up full of energy. Why?
“Retire to thy bed early that ye may not be weary.” Notice it doesn’t say, “Retire to thy bed when ye are weary,” or “retire to thy bed because ye are weary.”
Again, this comes from the understanding that sleep is when the body heals itself. Guess what? It takes energy to heal! This explains why sometimes I’m “too tired” to sleep. My body needs energy to enter the deepest initial sleep cycle. So if I go to sleep with some energy left in me then that energy can be used to enable my body to complete its to-do list of healing and maintenance chores more quickly and more thoroughly. Thus, the beauty of going to sleep before I’m tired is that . . . I never get tired!
If I never get tired, that means that every single minute of every day I can give it my all, no matter what I’m doing. Basically, we can either sleep by design and feel amazing 24/7 or we can sleep by default and feel awful 24/7. When you don’t have regular sleep habits, you may not think you feel “awful,” but once you’ve changed your habits and start getting enough sleep then you can tell the difference.
Power to say “Peace, Be Still”
Even Jesus Christ, with all His divine powers, was not excluded from the need for sleep, and He understood the importance of it. Mark 4:36-31 tells us how after Christ spent all day teaching and feeding a great multitude, he and his disciples took off in a ship to take a break. A great storm came, and all the disciples began to panic because they thought they were going to capsize and drown. What was Christ doing in the mean time? He was asleep! His disciples thought Christ was either crazy or just didn’t care about the situation. But when they woke him up, all Christ had to do was stand up and say, “Peace, be still,” and the storm ceased. Then He asked the disciples why had they chosen fear instead of faith? That scripture story helped me realize that back when I was sleep deprived I was letting fear control my life— the fear of drowning in a sea of unfinished to-do lists.
When I focus on Christ, I realize I have been given enough time to do what is most important. Having 8 hours of sleep may reduce the number of hours I can use to get things done, but that reduction forces me to focus on what matters most, and that focus brings miracles.
If we follow Christ’s example and have the faith to give sleep it’s proper value, I know our fears will decrease and we will have the power, inspiration, and presence of mind to resolve our “storms” within seconds.