The Wonder of Sleep

Sleep is in short supply and the cause of costly losses these days. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 40.6 million American workers average fewer than six hours of sleep per night. According to the Wall Street Journal, workplace insomnia has cost U.S. companies collectively over an estimated $63 billion.

Successful businesses need workers who are awake enough to function. The faith of a family also profits from refreshing rest. Just as smart business leaders encourage employees to get the rest and vacation needed to perform at their best, so family leaders – parents – should secure the rewards of sleep for themselves and their children so they can be better disposed to love. Sleep, in fact, has a prominent place in biblical events that have advanced human happiness and salvation history.

Adam and Jacob

The Book of Genesis makes the first references to sleep. God “cast a deep sleep” on Adam and removed a single rib from him to create Eve (cf. Gen 2:18-22). Waking from his slumber allowed man to proclaim with joy that “this one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Marriage and the human family find their divine origins in the joining of suitable partners before God – man and woman – during and immediately following sleep (cf. CCC, 1603-1605). Later in Genesis, Jacob saw in a dream angels on a stairway between heaven and earth. God stood beside him in sleep and promised not just descendants “as plentiful as the dust of the earth,” but the knowledge that “I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you” (Gen 28:14-15). Securities of sleep in this instance produced the nourishment of words and images, even in an hour of exhaustion.


Likewise, sleep has a very important part in the New Testament infancy narrative. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream as he slept. While he sleeps, an angel calms his suspicion and fear, assuring him that the Holy Spirit and no mere man had conceived the child in Mary’s womb, and tells Joseph how he must take Mary into his home (cf. Matt 1:20-25).

Sleep also fortified Joseph to lead his family with caution. Shortly after the Magi departed the Nativity, an angel warned the new father in a dream that the Holy Family must flee at once to Egypt. Their physical safety depended on it. King Herod would order the massacre of all infant boys in the region of Bethlehem to protect his reign (cf. Matt 2:16). Joseph awoke, fled with Mary and Jesus without delay, and remained in Egypt until instructed by an angel – once again in a dream – to return back to Israel and dwell in Nazareth (cf. Matthew 2:13-15).


Lastly, Paul speaks of the need to wake up from sleep in his Letter to the Romans. Salvation “is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11). The saintly convert rallies the rested faithful to “throw off the works of darkness” and “put on the armor of light.” Christian piety at its most urgent, he continues, must gleam with conduct “properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy” but by putting on Christ himself and making “no provisions for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:11-14).

Many families today see sleep as an obstacle. Husbands and wives find it takes time away from discussing family finances. Parents of young children give it up to spend very early hours calming nightmare fears. Ironically, the healthy family which “stays together, shares together” is usually the one that finds every member suffering from an illness that doesn’t discriminate by age or time of day. But the need for sleep is ceaseless in our lives and a constant in our faith for a reason. Adam and Eve, Jacob, Joseph, and Paul all illustrated in their own ways how God works slumberous wonders. For, in the end, it is only when we rest in the peace of Christ that we can begin to see darkness give way to a radiant dawn.


This article originally appeared on Fathers for Good and is used with permission.

Married with two children, Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.
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