Sleep is an essential part of life. You can't just stop sleeping, even if you try. Eventually, your body will require sleep. It's not something you can simply give up, like going on a "sleep fast" or quitting sleep "cold-turkey." Sleep is necessary, and that's a fact!
Not too long ago, there was a video going around Facebook about the different stages of sleep deprivation. If I remember correctly, after 5 days of not sleeping, you start hallucinating, you start having heart issues and respiratory problems, and then by day 6, you die. YOU DIE! Too long without sleep equals death! That's how seriously we need sleep!
This summer has been particularly hard for me when it comes to sleep. Because it's hot, we sleep with the windows open. But over the last month, there has been activity in the courtyard of our apartment complex almost nightly, and the sounds of whatever people are saying or doing outside creeps through our window and into my mind as I sleep. After about a year of no night terrors, I've had two this summer, and a few different nightmares too. The fear of having another night terror, or the lasting effects of just coming out of one usually keeps me from sleeping the rest of the night.
And lately, I don't even need dreams to steal my sleep. If I fall asleep with the window open, strange sounds from outside will simply wake me up, preventing me from resting at all.
Sleep has always been hard for me. Let me be clear - I love sleep, and I need about 8-9 hours a night or else I just don't feel good. But throughout my life, I've struggled with nightmares, night terrors, and weeks at a time when sleep eludes me.
My first night terror, that I can remember, happened when I was 15 years old. I had gone to see The Passion of the Christ at a movie theater with a group from my church, and I had a night terror every night for a week after seeing the movie. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I was terrified to go to sleep, but my body was desperate for rest. By the 6th night of having night terrors, I remember bringing my pillow and comforter into my parents room and sleeping on the floor next to their bed, desperately hoping for safe sleep. Even though I knew my parents couldn't protect my mind while I was asleep, I still felt safe simply being near them.
After that week, I had nightmares, but didn't have another night terror for a few years.
What's the difference between a nightmare and a night terror? Maybe it's different for each person, but for me, nightmares are just really scary, vivid, bad dreams, and I don't know I'm dreaming while I'm having them. And when I wake up, I understand they were just bad dreams and I can fall back to sleep afterwards.
But night terrors are exactly that - terrors. Whenever I start having one, I can feel it coming on, and once it begins, my whole body feels paralyzed. They're almost always real memories, or take place where ever I'm living (IE: my night terror takes place in my apartment), and they always have demons in them. Usually, I consciously know I'm having a night terror while it's happening, and I beg my body to wake up, but my mind stays trapped in the terror, and I can't wake myself up.
After I was 15, the next night terror came when we first moved to Ukraine. We were living in Ternopil and I had a night terror about my grandparents. I was back in their house and everything was so vivid. I was walking around their home, watching them live their lives, and remember special moments between us. But the special memories passed quickly, they got old, and died. It was just like it happened in real life - like I was reliving every detail of them getting sick and dying. And the grief I felt in my night terror was overwhelming, as I had to experience them dying over and over again. All night long, I kept reliving their death and the emotional pain that followed. The grief that I felt in my night terror was so strong, I started weeping.
I was crying so hard in my night terror, it passed from my mind to my reality, and I started weeping in my sleep. It woke Byron up, and he understood something was wrong. He started shaking me, trying to wake me up, but I couldn't pull myself out of the terror. I could feel him shaking me, I knew he was trying to wake me, but I was stuck, paralyzed in this world of grief and fear. Finally, I was able to will myself to open my eyes. It was a dream, but it was also very real, so much so, that I continued to cry for a few minutes after waking up.
Over the last few years of living on the mission field, I've been able to start making connections between night terrors and spiritual things happening around me. And since I've been able to make that connection, I've been able to learn how to pray during my night terrors (Because I'm aware that I'm having a night terror while I'm having one).
Last year, I had a night terror where demons were clawing at the unlocked front door of my apartment, trying to get in. This was the first time I was in the middle of a night terror and realized I could pray. In my night terror, I cried out to Jesus to help me keep the door closed. Suddenly, a bright light illuminated the corridor of my apartment and locked the front door (still all during the night terror). I was safe, the door was sealed, and I immediately woke up. I don't always remember to pray when I'm having a night terror, but when I can remember, I'm able to get out of the night terror faster.
When we're sleeping, we're in our most vulnerable state. We can't control what we hear. We can't really control what we think. We're pretty helpless. And when you have a bad dream, or something wakes you up, you feel like you've been robbed of your sleep, you feel violated, and you suffer the effects of that for days afterward.
As I write this, I'm already at 3 days with little sleep. My eyes seem unrecognizable to me, with dull colors and dark rings hang under my eyelids. My body feels weak and my mind feels foggy. I feel emotionally unstable and just generally exhausted.
But through it all, the Lord's lovingkindness has reached out to me. Yes, I feel frustration and exhaustion, but because of this hardship, I've been blessed to experience love and comfort from Jesus. Just yesterday, I was reading in the Psalms and Proverbs, and every chapter I read had Bible verses about sleep! What a sweet gift to know that the Lord sees and understands my need for sleep, and that He cares enough to speak to me through His Word.
Proverbs 3:24-26 says, "Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught" (NKJV).
Psalm 3:3-6 reads, "But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around" (NKJV).
And finally, Psalm 4:5b-8 states, "Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD. There are many who say, 'who will show us any good?' LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (NKJV).
I am certainly not the first person to have sleep problems. And judging by what we know about David, he probably had more sleep issues than I do. People actually sought to kill him, whereas I am just having bad dreams. But the main idea stands for David, for me, and maybe even for you... we all need sleep, and there's only One Person that never sleeps and can stand guard over us - Jesus Christ. And I can't think of a better Shepherd to watch over me while I sleep.
I'm hopeful that tonight will be full of sweet rest for me, and I pray this post finds you sleeping well, committing your steps to the Lord, and encouraged.