The topic of sleep is one that is very real to every mother. Pregnancies, babies, busy schedules, homeschooling, outside activities, ministry, relationships—almost every area of life has the potential of robbing us of sleep. If I feel tired throughout the day, is it because I am not getting enough sleep? Does it seem that I don’t have the available time to sleep the hours my body requires? Do I envy others who seem to have much more time in their day because they function nicely on fewer hours of sleep than I do?
Recently, a mom asked me:
I used to sleep up to twelve hours a night and still could sleep ten if I had the time. I find that as I have more tasks to care for, I am cutting down on my sleep. I know the rule that we need eight hours of sleep, but I have seen some women live on seven hours consistently. I also know back in previous days most women (families actually) went to bed at 9 and rose at 3:30 or 4 a.m. I would like to hear from you since you had seven hours sleep time scheduled but still nursed during the night, even if for only the first few weeks. That is the toughest time to get through! Any advice?
Scripture warns several times about the dangers of loving sleep, “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9-11). “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread” (Proverbs 20:13).
These verses show us that in general we have to guard against wanting to have too much sleep. We should exercise caution as we evaluate how much time to allocate for sleep. Our tendency is to choose the easy path, the one that includes more sleep. Because of this warning, I believe we have to carefully observe our “need” for sleep and make sure we are meeting true needs and not fulfilling wants in this area. With this warning against too much sleep, I believe we can move on to evaluate how busy moms can get an adequate amount of sleep to function normally.
I don’t know about you, but when I don’t get enough sleep my whole personality changes. I am more easily discouraged. I become angry at small things. I can’t think well. I cry, and nothing seems right. This doesn’t appear to be uncommon among women. I have also seen in Scripture several extremely godly men who, at one point in each of their lives, ask God to let them die. To me it seems to be related to them becoming very weary. These men are Jonah (Jonah 4:7-8), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Moses (Numbers 11:15).
I would encourage us to make sure our schedules are such that they allow us to sleep the amount of time we need to each night so that we can function well each day. Our family’s schedule helps Steve and me in this area. We have a set time to go to bed each night, Sunday through Thursday, and a set time to get up. There is very little that we allow to interfere with these bed times and wake up times. The consistency of our sleep schedule has enabled us to determine sleep amounts that allow us the greatest amount of productive daytime while still adequately meeting our sleep needs.
It may take some trial and error to determine whether one should have seven, eight, or nine hours of sleep each night. Obviously the number of hours of sleep we need may not be the same as the number we could sleep. In the case of the mom who wrote the note, she said she could sleep ten hours each night, but she may only need eight hours of sleep. That means she must determine how little sleep she can get by with so that she isn’t experiencing the sleep-deprived symptoms I listed earlier.
For most of my adult life, I thought I needed eight hours of sleep each night. However, I often couldn’t get to sleep when I went to bed. At some point in our married life, Steve and I decided to see if we could get more time in our day by sleeping fewer hours at night. We dropped down to seven hours a night. It was amazing for me. I functioned well on seven hours per night and no longer struggled with having trouble falling asleep. My body didn’t need eight hours of sleep.
If you have planned a schedule that allows for eight hours of sleep each night, or whatever your personal amount happens to be, but there isn’t time in the day to accomplish what should be done, then what? There are several possibilities. As you evaluate them, it may be that one will be helpful, or you may need to use all of them.
First, make sure you are using a daily schedule for your time and your children’s time. This will make you as productive as possible throughout the day. It will help you to discern your priorities and put your time where it is most needed and beneficial. The Managers of Their Homes book addresses this topic in detail.
Next, I would encourage the elimination of activities, based on their priority and urgency. Mom’s sleep must come before any outside-the-home activity, no matter how important that activity may seem. When we deprive ourselves of sleep for an outside activity, we aren’t trading off our personal preferences for our child’s best interest. Rather, we are giving away the possibility for our child to have a sweet, godly, loving mother, which has eternal value in that child’s life. Generally, we are making this exchange for an activity of temporal value.
Another suggestion may be a difficult one for some—a home business. If Mom isn’t able to get enough sleep and she has a home business, then I believe her priorities again are wrong. Anyone who has a home business will have a justification for having it. However, if the home business robs her of necessary sleep (or the ability to homeschool, train the children, be a keeper at home—any of her biblical roles), then the reasons for it have to be reevaluated.
The next area to look at would be time trade-offs. For example, it may be that your preference is to make your own bread and sew your own clothing. At some seasons of life, these may be reasonable tasks. Again, though, if Mom can’t find time for the sleep she needs, then these time-consuming choices may have to be eliminated. The priorities should be kept in line, and sleep is higher than homemade bread or home-sewn clothes.
Scheduling an afternoon nap can be another way to allow one to get by with less nighttime sleep. For the years I was pregnant or nursing, I always had a half-hour nap scheduled sometime during the afternoon when the children were taking their naps. This short rest gave me the added boost necessary to keep me going during those months that were taking a higher toll on my body.
Finally, as we look for ways to free up time for needed sleep, consider the type of homeschool curriculum you are using. Here again, we may decide to make different curriculum choices so that school and school planning aren’t requiring so much time. Hours that are deterred from a time-intensive curriculum can be given to sleep. Again, this change will likely only be for a season. Then, with another set of circumstances and available sleep time coming from another area, a return to the preferred curriculum can be made.
The Bible warns us first not to love sleep. We must be cautious to discern if our desire for sleep is a want or a need. Throughout our lives, there will be periods of time when we will be living sleep-deprived lives for one reason or another. However, because of what a lack of sleep does to us spiritually, emotionally, and physically, I don’t believe it is wise to continue to try, on an ongoing basis, to get by without adequate rest. We shouldn’t feel guilty for getting the sleep we need. We aren’t being selfish to do so. Rather, we are loving our husbands and loving our children as Titus 2:4 tells us because we are giving them a mom who is sweet, loving, and kind rather than angry, depressed, and sluggish. May we be women who value our families enough to make the necessary choices to allow us each the right amount of sleep.