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Do Atheists Really Sleep Better?

Do Atheists Really Sleep Better?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults should get “seven or more hours of nightly sleep” for good health. Now, a new study, the Baylor Religion Survey, suggests atheists and agnostics—people who either reject the notion of God or are unsure of His existence—are better sleepers than Baptists or Roman Catholics.

“Preliminary results show that 73% of atheists and agnostics reported getting seven or more hours of nightly sleep,” a news article describing the results noted. “In contrast, 63% of Catholics and only 55% of Baptists reported sleeping at least seven hours per night. Atheists and agnostics also reported experiencing less difficulty falling asleep.”

Interestingly, those who get a good night’s sleep, the study indicated, have “significantly higher” beliefs that they individually will be “getting into Heaven” after this life. No breakdown by religion or non-religion was given for that statistic, however.

What this seems to indicate is that there are not, as of yet, any conclusive results regarding the sleeping habits of religious and non-religious people. As a summary abstract of the study noted, “In contrast to predictions, religious affiliation was associated with significantly poorer sleep health. Poor sleep health has implications for physical and mental health, and seemingly also religious perceptions/beliefs. Future experimental work is required to disentangle the causal direction of sleep-religiosity associations.” 

Translation: We need to study this more to find a positive religion/sleep link. (P.S. Send money.)

That’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but what is not is the fact that more research is needed. Despite predictions and despite a study noted for its thoroughness, the 10- to 18-point gap in good sleep between believers and non-believers has no logical explanation. And if any significant portion of the good sleepers who say they’ll make heaven their forever home are atheists, that would be a head-scratcher indeed.

Rest, Sleep, and the Bible Sabbath

Perhaps the atheist or agnostic is as snug as a bug in a rug now, but what about in the long run?

The atheist will ultimately have to confront those age-old questions of life: “Why am I here?”, “Where am I going?” The agnostic cannot keep that piece of electrical tape over his car’s check engine light forever; eventually, he will have to make a decision.

And the decision is staring us in the face. Writing to the early band of Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul declared that the world around us proclaims the existence of God: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). There is a God. The entire creation—nature, people, life—declares it.

What’s more, the Bible is also clear on the rest given to us, both literally and figuratively: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). It is God Himself who gives us much-needed rest; it is God who gifts us with the breath of life each morning when we rise.

Person in nature with arms outstretched

God longs to give us rest from mental and emotional fatigue as well. He doesn’t want us up half the night, gnawing over worries and deadlines and troubles. There should be no difficulty in falling asleep when we make God our trust.

In the midst of “a great windstorm,” though “the waves beat into the boat” (Mark 4:37) and washed over the sides and were so fierce that the disciples all thought they were done for, Jesus, our example, was fast “asleep on a pillow” (v. 38). After he calmed the storm, He answered His disciples in this way, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (v. 40).

God’s people are not called to rely on themselves; we are simply to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Depend upon God; ask Him for guidance, counsel, and strength. That is all we are called to do. And God will be there “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

The epitome of this full and entire rest in God is demonstrated in the observance of the fourth commandment, the Sabbath: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8–10).

The Sabbath is a day for physical rest. Man is not a machine; we cannot work indefinitely or else we’ll suffer physical harm—and God, of course, knew that when He instituted the Sabbath. But Sabbath is also a day to rest in our Creator, to remember that He—not we—is in control of the universe and that He will supply all our needs: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Why else does Jesus invite all His followers, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28)? The true rest that Jesus offers is not only physical sleep but an eternity of peace gained only through faith in Him.

We offer two resources that can help with the question of sleep—and the Sabbath. One is a blog article, “Rest Before Work?”, which details the ins-and-outs of rest, and “The RESToration of Life,” which offers information about the importance of Sabbath rest—and what it really means.

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