A period of rest marked by the cessation of conscious activity. It is vital for the maintenance of human life and health. Being fully aware of the importance of rest, Jesus Christ was concerned about his disciples’ having time to rest up a bit. (Mr 6:31) Jesus’ example shows that, even in human perfection, rest and sleep are necessary.
Hard work (Ec 5:12), a clear conscience (compare Ps 32:3-5), and freedom from undue anxiety as well as trust in Jehovah (Ps 3:5; 4:8; Pr 3:24-26) contribute much toward making an individual’s sleep pleasurable and refreshing. Content with life’s necessities (compare 1Ti 6:8), the servant of God does not have to spend long hours in arduous toil to the point of sacrificing necessary sleep and still derive no real benefit from his work.
Of course, there are times when God’s servants experience sleepless nights. If not due to sickness or other adverse or trialsome circumstances, their sleeplessness may stem from concern for fellow believers and the advancement of true worship. (2Co 6:3-5; 11:23, 27; compare Ps 132:3-5, where the reference is, not to actual sleep, but to rest, cessation from activity.) However, they do not need to worry needlessly about material possessions and lose sleep as a result. (Ec 5:12; compare Mt 6:25-34.) On the other hand, wrongdoing serves to make wicked persons content. “They do not sleep unless they do badness, and their sleep has been snatched away unless they cause someone to stumble.”
While sleep is important, a person should not become a lover of sleep. (Pr 20:13) “Laziness causes a deep sleep to fall,” making an individual inactive when he should be accomplishing something. (Pr 19:15) For a person to prefer to sleep or to be inactive when he should be working is to choose a course that eventually leads to poverty.
Unlike men, Jehovah God does not become drowsy and require sleep. His servants, therefore, can rest assured that he can at all times supply needed help. (Ps 121:3, 4) Only when, for his own good reasons, he delays or refrains from taking action, as in relation to those professing to be his people but proving to be unfaithful, is Jehovah likened to one who is asleep.
Spiritual Wakefulness. When encouraging Christians at Rome not to be asleep or inactive and insensible to their responsibilities, the apostle Paul wrote: “It is already the hour for you to awake from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than at the time when we became believers. The night is well along; the day has drawn near. Let us therefore put off the works belonging to darkness and let us put on the weapons of the light. As in the daytime let us walk decently, not in revelries and drunken bouts, not in illicit intercourse and loose conduct, not in strife and jealousy.” (Ro 13:11-13; compare Eph 5:6-14; 1Th 5:6-8; Re 16:15.) Those who engage in wrong practices or advance false teachings are asleep as to righteousness and need to wake up if they are to gain God’s approval.
Death Compared With Sleep. There is evidence that people sleep in cycles. Each cycle is made up of a deep sleep followed by a lighter sleep. During periods of deep sleep it is very difficult to awaken a person. He is completely unaware of his surroundings and the things that may be occurring about him. There is no conscious activity. Similarly, the dead are “conscious of nothing at all.” (Ec 9:5, 10; Ps 146:4) Therefore death, whether that of a man or of an animal, is like sleep. (Ps 13:3; Joh 11:11-14; Ac 7:60; 1Co 7:39; 15:51; 1Th 4:13) The psalmist wrote: “From your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the charioteer and the horse have fallen fast asleep.” (Ps 76:6; compare Isa 43:17.) Were it not for God’s purpose to awaken persons from the sleep of death, they would never wake up.
However, “death” and “sleep” may also be contrasted. Concerning a dead girl, Christ Jesus said: “The little girl did not die, but she is sleeping.” (Mt 9:24; Mr 5:39; Lu 8:52) As he was going to resurrect her from death, Jesus may have meant that the girl had not ceased forever to exist but would be as one awakened from her sleep. Also, this girl had not been buried, nor had her body had time to begin decaying, as had the body of Lazarus. (Joh 11:39, 43, 44) On the basis of the authority granted to him by his Father, Jesus could say this just as does his Father, “who makes the dead alive and calls the things that are not as though they were.”
It should be noted that the term “asleep” is applied in the Scriptures to those dying because of the death passed on from Adam. Those suffering the “second death” are not spoken of as asleep. Rather, they are shown to be completely annihilated, out of existence, burned up as by an unquenchable fire.