The Upside of Not Sleeping

Despite my best efforts to sleep more this year, I have struggled. Some of you reached out after I posted about sleep in February, so I want to encourage you: If you are struggling to sleep this year, know that you are not alone. 

I am struggling, too. 

The next time you are lying awake at 3 a.m. I encourage you to ask what not sleeping makes possible. While there are many answers, I will propose three areas to check in on as a leader. This list is not exhaustive. These three things have challenged me lately, and I am including them in this blog. 

Start With Your Focus on Self 

One night, when I could not sleep, I realized that I can sometimes be self-centered. Like tartar finding its way to my teeth, this can sneak up on me. And despite my best efforts to brush it off, I can’t fix it by myself — if I even try, it only makes me more self-focused. So, I enlist the help of my dentist to help me get rid of the plaque and bacteria trying to make their home in my mouth.

Similarly, I sometimes notice little sins, slights, and indiscretions sneak up on my soul. And when I notice this, I use those sleepless nights to build my trust in Jesus. I know this may not be where you turn, but turning toward Jesus allows me to remember who I belong to and whose care I am in. 

Continue to Examine Your Self-Worth 

On another occasion, I was lying in bed, questioning my self-worth. I’m no good at anything, I thought. To be fair, the day before, I’d played in a semi-competitive golf tournament and had failed miserably, shooting my worst score in three years.

Isn’t it amazing how failures can keep you up at 3 a.m.? 

The next day, I was reading Dallas Willard’s A Life Without Lack and something he said really resonated with me. To paraphrase it here, Willard claimed he never met someone who thought too highly of themselves because, if Jesus really died for us, how could we possibly think as highly about ourselves as Jesus did? 

This blew my mind. After all, I was (just the night before) thinking about how much of a loser I was at golf. I was frustrated, discouraged, and on the brink of giving up. 

I wish I could say I never think about myself this way in other areas of my life, but that isn’t true. And leaders need to remember that negative self-worth beliefs are like weeds: Give them an inch, and they’ll take over your entire yard! 

In my mind, a life without lack is one where my first thoughts aren’t about my ability but about God and what He thinks of me. It is necessary work — and it is work filling my mind with what He says about me. These aren’t made up sayings. They are truths scribed into the Bible that have stood the test of time. 

The Bible never promised me I’d be a scratch golfer. But it contains promises so profound and true that they can help me avoid scratching myself in the process of that, or any, pursuit. 

These promises apply to you as well. 

No amount of self-flogging will turn you into a better leader or person. 

So, like me, knock it off. 

Finish With Prayer and Thanksgiving 

The final thing I have come to do in the middle of the night is the most profound. Instead of sulking about yesterday’s failures, I turn my thoughts to everything I am thankful for. 

Admittedly, this is the last thing you will probably feel like doing in the middle of the night. But your resistance to it might be a good indicator that it is precisely what you should pursue. 

When I don’t feel like giving thanks, I play a corny game in my head that I call “Thank you therapy.” All this entails is listing the first ten things that come to mind that I’m thankful for. After I reach ten, I stop, breathe, and check in to see if I feel different. And if I don’t, I do ten more. 

Whether you realize it or not, thank you therapy helps you stop obsessing about yourself, the things that happened yesterday, and whatever tomorrow brings. It reorients your focus from victimhood to gratitude. 

Finally, I also pray for people in the middle of the night. This is especially true when I have friends (and readers of this blog!) traveling to places like Dubai. I pray the prayer requests these people sent me while I cannot sleep because the time difference means they are up and moving wherever they are! 

A Concluding Thought 

Not sleeping is frustrating and never ideal. But you can get real with yourself in the middle of the night. It’s a time to remember who you are and what you’re grateful for.