The Soul Care Series: Rest and Sleep

Cat sleeping

Joy always goes in two directions.
We never give joy to anyone else without giving joy to ourselves, any more than we behave in an untoward way toward others without wizening ourselves.
Mother Mary Francis, PCC
From Cause of Our Joy: Walking Day by Day with Our Lady (courtesy of Daily Catholic Wisdom)


As I was praying over what to talk about this week, this quote came through in my inbox, and it seemed really fitting in a way, because no cranky and sleep-deprived person is ever able to truly give joy to someone else. And still, rest is such a contentious issue in our society. There are people who seem to boast in not needing much sleep, and people who don’t get enough sleep not because they have such a twisted view, but because of the mountain of demands on their time. If sleep goes out of the window, you can imagine what the attitude towards other forms of rest really is.
As Catholics, we really should be at the forefront of the movement for slowing down our lives: after all, the God that clearly does not need to rest because He is, well, God, rested on the 7th day. This was so that we would be given an example of what His vision for us was (CCC 2172). The Sabbath, however, is only one day of our week and while it’s truly right and just that we should rest from work and give precedence to the spiritual life even now that we don’t have an obligation to attend Mass, we also rest every night. Or, at least, that’s the theory.

It’s not news that I am a night owl and therefore struggle with insomnia, it was only a month ago to the day that I was talking about changing my sleeping habits.The reason I’m bringing the subject back now is that Stylist’s innocent suggestions are not the only things that go around as advice of what you can do to rest better. What is now all the rage in the wellness industry is hypnotherapy. It seems to be more of a comeback than a new discovery, as EWTN’s Women of Grace dealt with the subject back in a 2010 Q&A titled“Can Catholics use hypnotherapy?”. Long story short, unless you can trust the source, it can be any degree of dangerous because someone is effectively rewriting pathways in your mind.

I have done some research and, unless you have a clinician doing a session as part of a treatment for anxiety of PTSD, most stuff that is out there in terms of sleep apps is not very different from other mediation apps, although some of them look really dodgy. Furthermore, a lot of mainstream meditation is really not that different from meditative prayer, I don’t know why there seems to be an assumption that all meditation is Buddhist in nature…our minds are created to ponder things (like, we know from Scriptures that Our Lady pondered everything in her heart…), it’s bound to appear in different traditions. Anyway, unless you are using something you can trust to be orthodox, it might be worth listening to it when you are wide awake so you know what you will be listening to as your consciousness drifts away, and put it away as soon as anything seems off. If you are unsure about this, it’s best to just forget about it altogether, unless your spiritual director is advising you on ways to face your scruples. I’m only some woman on the internet, I don’t know your situation.

Another thing that is often recommended for better sleep is aromatherapy, which once again is a field that should be mainstream but has been infiltrated by all sorts of New Age beliefs and practices. I wouldn’t say I practice aromatherapy, but I have a rollerball of lavender essential oil I use before bed more as a ritual that signals to my brain that it’s bedtime than anything else because I am a sceptic. Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas has a blog post where she addresses the issue, and really if we think about it for a lot of our history herbal medicine was the bulk of medicine in Christendom and not really an idea imported from the East in the 1970s. Perhaps I am not giving essential oils enough credit for what they can actually do just because of the baseless claims that some people make to sell stuff. As Melody of The Essential Mother rightly said, the natural belonged to God first.

There is likely an element of placebo in a lot of these practices anyway, and we know from scientific research that one of the areas in which placebos are most effective is stress-related insomnia. I’m not one of those people who think a placebo is either a second-class method or a sign that whatever it’s tested against isn’t working, but one of the many ways in which our beautifully complex God-given brain works, so embrace the rituals and small gestures that send a positive signal to your mind, whether it’s having a cup of tea in your quiet time or lavander before bed. 

My favourites
Pietra Fitness’ Night Prayers class. I have talked about my love of Pietra Fitness before, but this specific class is great to stretch away the many hours sitting down at a computer while also doing night prayers.

I also love to listen to other people praying so that I don’t have to engage my mind by vocalising them myself and can meditate freely. The two staples of my sleepless nights are the Rosary by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (which has a beautiful sung version of St Teresa of Avila’s prayer “Let nothing disturb you” and is also on Spotify) and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy sung by Matt Maher for those 3am hypos.

If you can’t bring yourself to fall asleep while praying (which is often the case for me, because no amount of telling me my guardian angel finishes them for me is enough to quiet my anxious mind) and are looking for something distracting while not stimulating, I have been a fan of the Sleep with Me Podcast for years (ever since a friend suggested it to me after a desperate nighttime tweet). Some of the content may be controversial for some, but I don’t mind it. 

I have already mentioned my lavander oil roll ball, but I have also another bedtime habit that is very Lady Grantham (as it feels like 90% of her scenes in Downton Abbey are her at her vanity massaging hand cream) and it’s, you guessed, to massage hand cream. To be honest, I have a billion packages open at any one time dotted all over the place, but the one on my bedside table is this one by Clean Kinn Beauty. The concentration of oils can be a bit much if you have sensitive skin, though, but any cream will do as it’s the gesture that matters. 

Lastly, I mentioned meditation apps. I use Live from Rest because it was developed by a friend of a friend of mine, but there are a number of Christian meditation apps out there nowadays (including one that is advertised by the Archbishop of Canterbury). For non-Christian content, I’ve always liked Calm and their natural sounds, but I haven’t used it in years, and of course there are some meditations on the Pathways app that I still use when relevant. I will get into more depth on this subject in its dedicated article anyway.

Rooted in the Word
My child, do not let these escape from your sight: keep sound wisdom and prudence, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely and your foot will not stumble. If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the storm that strikes the wicked; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.

Proverbs 3:21-26 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition  (NRSVCE)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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