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Catholic Culture Solidarity

The Mystery of Sleep

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 30, 2023

Among the Beatitudes is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt. 5:9) God often reveals His peace through the mystery of human sleep.

We spend much of our lives in bed. A good night’s rest is a joy. We see countless commercials for new and improved beds, drugs that induce sleep, and pillows that swallow up drowsy heads.

We read of sleep throughout the Bible.

Sleep foreshadows our death.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to sleep with your fathers.” (Dt. 31:16) “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan. 12:2)

Dreams, peculiar or pleasant, come to us with sleep.

“When I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground.” (Dan. 10:8-9) “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” (Mt. 1:24)

Children in their simplicity are particularly susceptible to religious and mystical experiences as they sleep. Here are three reliable personal accounts from believing Catholics of my acquaintance:

  • When I was four years old, my Godmother was ill. One night, she came to me in a vivid dream. My window opened, and my aunt came in and sat on my bed. She sweetly told me she was leaving and then went out the window. My Father came into my room and asked with whom I was talking. I told him that Aunt Jane had visited me to say goodbye. He told me to go back to sleep. It was 4 am. At 6 am, the phone rang, and my parents received the news: Jane had died at 4 am.
  • When my nephew was four or five, he had a vivid dream in the summer. He told his mother that Jesus and “Hail Mary” visited him that night (in his dream). He insisted that his mother (my sister) go into the basement closet and pull down the Nativity scene. The kid excitedly pointed to the characters in his dream. Then he said that Jesus had to leave him and said goodbye but said He would come back someday to take him with Him.
  • Our daughter had a dream when she was that same age. She dreamt that the Light of the World was in the yard by the gazebo.

The deep sleep of a child is pleasant to behold. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt. 5:8)

Sickness and emotional distress can cause sleeplessness.

Pope Benedict reportedly suffered severe insomnia after being elevated to the papacy. According to a letter Benedict wrote to a journalist, insomnia plagued the Holy Father “constantly” after his election in 2005.

The Bible acknowledges sleepless anxiety and what we now might call PTSD. “Wakeful anxiety prevents slumber, and a severe illness carries off sleep.” (Sir. 31:2) “He gets little or no rest, and afterward in his sleep…he is troubled by the visions of his mind like one who has escaped from the battlefront.” (Sir. 40:6)

For some sleep maladies we need medication, a change of jobs, therapy, or a good vacation.

Some sins keep us awake—others excessive sleep.

“There is anger and envy and trouble and unrest, and fear of death, and fury and strife. And when one rests upon his bed, his sleep at night confuses his mind.” (Sir. 40:5) The distress of sleeplessness and of nausea and colic are with the glutton.” (Sir. 31:20) “The surfeit [excess] of the rich will not let him sleep.” (Eccl. 5:12)

And on the other hand:

“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Prov. 6:9) “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.” (Prov. 19:15)

A good Confession may heal some sleep disorders.

Love for God and life keeps us alert.

“I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord.” (Ps. 132:4) “So then let us not sleep…but let us keep awake and be sober.” (1 Thess. 5:6)

Sleep can be a sign of Divine protection and a peaceful conscience.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety.” (Ps. 4:8) “Healthy sleep depends on moderate eating; he rises early, and feels fit.” (Sir. 31:20) “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much.” (Eccl. 5:12) “They rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.” (Is. 57:2)

Sleep foreshadows our death and resurrection in Jesus.

“You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Rom. 13:11) “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” (Eph. 5:14)

Here is a summary of Biblical lessons and derivative resolutions related to sleep:

  • Death comes to us all.
  • We sometimes encounter God in our dreams during sleep: In the power of His glory. In the dread and darkness of sleep.
  • Anxiety and illness, and post-traumatic stress syndrome affect our sleep.
  • Anger, envy, unrest, fear of death [so prominent in our day!], fury, strife, gluttony, idleness, and excess of riches disrupt sleep.
  • Do not seek sleep until you finish your daily duties and resolve to rest in the Lord.
  • Sleep in God’s peace through courage, temperance, honest labor, and faith.
  • Patiently endure sleep afflictions. Obtain the help of a wise counselor or a doctor. Work hard, exercise and maintain a good diet. Take a vacation, change jobs, or consider medication. Make a good Confession.

Sleep—purified of suffering and evil—foreshadows the beatitude of heaven.

“Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace.” (Divine Office, Night Prayer)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jmbrehany2848 - Jan. 31, 2023 2:46 PM ET USA

    O my companion, O my sister Sleep,.. Above the surf-line, into the night-breeze; Eastward above the ever-whispering seas; Through the warm airs with no more watch to keep. My day's run out and all its dooms are graven. O dear forerunner of Death and promise of Haven. O my companion, O my sister Sleep. - Hilaire Belloc