The Spiritual Practice of Sleeping

Sleep and I have a love-hate relationship.

I battled insomnia for most of my childhood and adolescence.  In grad school I slowly began to settle into a routine of sleeping 5-6 hours each night.  When I graduated and found myself sleeping 6-7 hours on a regular basis, I thought I had arrived at a normal sleeping pattern.

Then I discovered I actually need more like 10 hours of sleep per night, which means every night I sleep 7 hours, I wake up sleep-deprived.  So over the course of the Lenten season, I put real effort into sleeping 10 hours every night.

Here’s what I learned about the spiritual practice of sleeping over the past 40 days:

  1. New habits do not form overnight.
  2. I am allowed to be imperfect, fail, and fall short of my goals.
  3. Sleep is good for my body.
  4. I’ve never actually slept enough in my whole life.
  5. Listening to my body is hard work, and I often miss the first two or three messages.
  6. When I listen to my body and do what it says, I actually feel better, healthier, and more awake.
  7. When I don’t listen to my body, we both suffer.
  8. I’m not as young as I used to be.  Wow. That makes me feel old.
  9. Getting enough sleep improves my mental and physical energy, my digestion, my attitude, and my motivation to enjoy daily activities.
  10. Not getting enough sleep makes me grouchy and lethargic.
  11. I am allowed to prioritize my need for a good night’s sleep above being available for work opportunities or hanging out with my hubby.
  12. I am still way more likely to prioritize being available for work or hanging out with my hubby above getting a full 10 hours of sleep every night.
  13. How I treat my body, and what I do with it, affects my spiritual life.
  14. This spiritual practice of listening to my body is hard work.

Now that Lent is over, I’m tempted to fall back into my old habits of forcing my body to live and do as I say without regard for what is healthy.  Learning to listen is an ongoing lesson.  I’m slowly realizing that when I disregard what my body says, I suffer. But when I do listen, I am able to achieve more health, wholeness, and balance in my life.

I can’t expect to find healthy balance in work or relationships if I am unwilling to first achieve balance within myself–body, mind, and spirit.  It is up to me to choose my priorities, to choose self-care, to choose to listen to my body and follow through on what is necessary to be a healthy, whole person.

In this season of life, how is God calling you to find health, wholeness, and balance?

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on April 17, 2012, in Physicality, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In my renewed devotion to purity, I’ve found a similar challenge: Not listening to my body. Because sometimes it wants things that are bad for it.

    • Laura Cavanaugh

      That’s a great point, William. I’m actually going to touch on that in tomorrow’s post on the spiritual discipline of eating. Stay tuned!

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