Thanksgiving can help you sleep better. We’re not talking about the holiday, although you might think so because many take a nap on Thanksgiving afternoon. Yes, their stomachs are full from a huge feast or because they just downloaded a huge dose of L-tryptophan in the turkey. But, there may be another reason. They paused in their busy lives to stop and reflect on all the good things in their lives and were even peripherally grateful to God for their blessings. No, not only is giving thanks with a grateful heart a sound spiritual practice but it has a number of life and health benefits too, among which can be sleep.
You need rest in order to sleep. It is a precondition for sleep. Rest is a mental, emotional and spiritual state of not working, such as God rested after his work of creation. If your mind is working overtime at bedtime worrying about work, family, finances, health or relationships, the emotions of anxiety or anger place your body in an aroused state of the fight-flight response so you will not be able to mentally rest. Even if you are physically tired but your thoughts are racing like the Indy 500, your mind will keep you up and keep you from sleeping.
Instead, consider this biblical advice. “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee” (Psalm 116:7, KJV). Notice it is addressing for the soul to be at rest. When our soul (mind, emotions, and will) is at peace, then our bodies can go to sleep. Returning to rest means going back to a state from which we have departed. We could apply this to going back to sleep or regaining a restful state we have lost in life, which could be due to worry, anxiety, fear, or anger. Those are all arousing emotions which counter and oppose being in a restful repose.
The key to returning to rest is reminding ourselves the Lord has dealt bountifully with us. This is thanksgiving! When we remember all the good things that the Lord has done for us and the areas of life that are going well, thinking those positive thoughts automatically naturally replaces the negative thoughts. By focusing with gratitude on the blessings the Lord has provided, we can trust He knows what He is doing and we can release the reins of worry.
A very simple yet effective technique to apply this verse transforming thanksgiving into sleep is to list ten things you are grateful for when you are trying to go to sleep. It is particularly helpful to pair each item with a deep abdominal breath. When I do this, before I know it I am usually asleep. This approach has worked well for family, friends and clients. Try it as an experiment the next time you are having difficulty going to sleep. Tell God ten things you are grateful for that day or that are current in your life or from the past. Notice how the worry, anger or whatever adverse feeling is keeping you awake will fade into slumber. End your day glorifying God with gratitude and the next morning you can give thanks for a good night’s sleep.