SLEEP! Question #7 on the EPDS

As we continue applying scripture to each question on The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), I’d like to go a little out of order. This goes completely against my perfectionist tendencies (things must be done in order!), but due to its importance and having taken a bit of a hiatus for a few months, I’d like to jump right to it. The question is about sleep, which is a major issue for everyone, but especially for a mother that has/may have Postpartum depression. Question #7 asks how one would continue the statement “I have been so unhappy that I have had trouble sleeping…”

Let’s just lay aside the fact that with a baby, you’ll lose tons of sleep. Meme after meme tries to make light of losing sleep during the baby season. Yet, you laugh because of its truthfulness and because if you don’t laugh, you’ll just cry. Question #7 on the EPDS asks if unhappiness makes it hard to fall or stay asleep. What sort of unhappiness are we talking about here? I think it looks different for every single person. However, I can share my general experience as to what kept me awake and a few Psalms that I connected with during my PPD season.

A typical evening would involve a battle to fall asleep and/or to fall back to sleep. While I laid in bed, my mind would race with the typical worries of being a mother, but I also couldn’t seem to help but dwell on the injustices, corruption, and despair of the world. I would feel helplessly crushed under the burden of it all. On top of that, all sorts of imaginary hardships, “what if’s,” and possible calamities kept me awake. What if I lost my child? How would I cope? Could I even cope? There were times when every single one of my family members (including the cat) were peacefully slumbering and I just could not. This would frustrate me even more and make it even harder for me to control my thoughts! As I grew more and more frustrated with my inability to sleep, one of the things I did was to turn to the Bible. Two examples of people who were acquainted with grief and pain proved to be extremely helpful to me: King David, who wrote all of the Psalms from this post and Jesus Christ, whom all of the Psalms are about.

Psalm 3 was written by King David when he was fleeing from Absalom. Can you imagine the rightful and anointed king running for his life from his very own son?! He would have had apt reason to be anxiously and fretfully looking over his shoulder every second and afraid to fall asleep. (You can read the account in 2 Samuel 15.)  What did he do when he was laying awake at night, unable to sleep out of fear? He turned to God! I love what he wrote in Psalm 3: 3-4: “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.” I could cry out to God, who heard me and would eventually answer me. Verse 5 shows us that David sought to remember the Lord and His character during his trial because he knew that God alone could bring satisfaction, help, and joy. “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” Though he was being pursued, he trusted the Lord to watch over him and to be his protection while in his most vulnerable state. Therefore, I was assured that I could go to sleep and trust that God would watch over me and my family and be our protection.

The safety of my newborn had me constantly on high alert. I worried that he might die from SIDS and I compulsively checked on him throughout the night. This, of course, made me lose tons more sleep! Then I came across Psalm 4 and verse 8 says “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” I wanted to experience this! Among doing practical things to get better sleep, I would often quote this scripture to myself and now, I quote it to my son. Both of us have vivid dreams and the emotions are so real, that we can wake up crying. As I tell my little boy that he is safe and that God watches over him as he sleeps, I am reminded of the same truth. We mommies need to hear these things, too! No amount of dead bolts or night-time rituals will equate with peaceful slumber, but a heart that is trusting and content in the Lord can.

I considered my thoughts to be my enemies by how worn down they made me feel. It was like they had more power over me instead of the reverse. I had trouble turning off the thoughts about how much the world was suffering. Psalm 6 struck me because of how this ancient song of David described my experience of unhappiness and angst that kept me awake many nights. The verses 6 – 7 specifically stood out to me. “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.” I identified with David in his feelings of languishing, being so greatly troubled that moaning and weeping made my eyes feel wasted away. But I was encouraged by what David did in the midst of this trouble. He held out hope that the Lord would deliver him from his angst and prayed for deliverance. Bolstered by David’s example of prayer, I felt like I could cry out to God with a “How long, O Lord?!” and also trust that He would answer me.

All three of these three psalms can be related to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39 – 46). As all scripture points to Jesus, we can ascertain from this passage that Jesus experientially knows what the three psalms describe as evidenced by his prayers in Gethsemane. I can say with complete confidence that Jesus knows exactly how I feel.

Jesus cried out to God the Father when he was in the Garden because he was burdened by the fact that He was about to experience all the wrath of God for our sins and the problems of the world though he deserved none of it. He KNOWS experientially of the angst I felt but He carried it all the way through to the cross, suffering the full weight of all the consequences of evil so that I never would have to. I may have felt like foes were closing in on me, his murderers were literally surrounding him. Where I was just imagining what it would be like to suffer so much pain, He actually experienced every single horror possible. In my own experience of languishing during the night, I can see a minuscule glimpse into the agony He went through on my behalf. This glorious truth reminds me of how much He loves me as His child to endure the cross. Letting that beautiful truth take over in my mind, I can begin to worship Him in my heart and go to sleep in peace!

One word of caution: loss of sleep for a mom suffering from PPD is a major issue. For me, it got to the point that I needed the intervention of a doctor and no amount of reading the Bible could help. It is vital for a mother to know that scripture is good, but God created us to need sleep. Even Jesus slept! One friend reminded me to not over-spiritualize this basic necessity. I had to do many other practical things to adjust my sleeping habits and I will talk about them in another post. Yet, I did appreciate that my trouble with lack of sleep was nothing new and God even put it in the Bible to show me that He cares for me.

I would love to hear any thoughts you have after reading this. Do you identify with any words from these Psalms or from any other passage of scripture? If so, would you be willing to share?

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