In a bout of insomnia, Natasha Moore reflects on what the biblical Psalms reveal about the mystery of sleep.

I’m not sleeping very well. This happens, periodically. Currently, I wake up around 4am, then lapse into a bout of feverish dreams around 6:30 – this week I’ve interviewed Matthew McConaughey, visited Tokyo, had a super-weird Christmas.

For something so utterly routine – it takes up around a third of our entire lives – sleep is riddled with strangeness. It’s so necessary, and yet so elusive. Writer and insomniac Bill Hayes said sleep was “more like an emotion than a bodily function. As with desire, it resists pursuit. Sleep must come find you.”

Dreams are so strange, so resistant to sharing. (“It wasn’t like that, though!”) Sleep itself is resistant to sharing; even those who share a bed say goodnight and then voyage, solo, off on their respective seas.

The Psalms offer a few windows onto this mystery block of our lives. Psalm 3: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” Waking is not a given; apparently most hospital deaths occur between 3 and 4am.

Psalm 4: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Few things highlight our vulnerability so much as sleep.

And Psalm 127: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.” That one I find a bit rough, when I’m not sleeping. But I take the point: I am not the master of my fate. I don’t provide for myself; I must surrender control, each night at the very least.

Shakespeare wrote that sleep “knits up the ravelled sleeve of care”. How much in this world is solved by a good night’s sleep; how much is solved by accepting that we are not, and are not meant to be, God.

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