SLEEP (Heb. shēnâh, yāshēn, shākhav, Gr. hypnos). A word used in a number of ways in the Bible. Its most natural use is to refer to physical rest (1Sam.26.7; Jonah.1.5-Jonah.1.6). Most cases of physical sleep were natural ones, but some were supernaturally imposed to accomplish a divine purpose (Gen.2.21; Gen.15.12). Believers’ rest in sleep is considered a gift from God (Ps.127.2).
Methods of sleep varied usually with the social status of the people. The most common bed was simply a mat (Matt.9.6). No special bed clothes were provided in this case, but those worn during the day were used (Exod.22.26-Exod.22.27). Wealthy people had more elaborate beds variously constructed (Deut.3.11; 1Sam.19.13).
In the NT, KJV translates hypnos “sleep” all six times it occurs, NIV only in John.11.13 and Acts.20.9. Sometimes “sleep” indicates the spiritually indolent (e.g., Rom.13.11, the only figurative use of hypnos) or believers who have died (e.g., 1Cor.11.30; 1Cor.15.51; 1Thess.4.13).
There is nothing unusual about most uses of the word in its physical sense. After Jacob dreamed about the ladder he simply woke from his sleep (Gen 28:16); when Eutychus fell down during Paul’s long sermon it was due to a typical human loss of concentration in weariness (Acts 20:9). In one or two cases natural sleep was, for supernatural reasons, deepened. This is recorded in the account of the creation of Eve (Gen 2:21, 22). The men around Saul were in such a deepened sleep while David and Abishai took the spear and jar of water from his head (1 Sam 26:12).
Solomon was very scathing when talking about those who were lazy. He promised poverty as the fruit of those who “fold their hands in rest” (see Prov 6:9; 24:33, 34).
Christ, in talking to His followers about the Second Coming, exhorted them to be faithful and watchful “lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:36). Paul in exhorting Christians in everyday living and in warning them of the enormity of their task, stressed that “it is full time now for you to wake from sleep” (Rom 13:11). The same writer, in speaking of the light coming into the lives of believers, likened this process to an arousing from deep sleep (Eph 5:14).
Where sleep is used to indicate physical death, the picture is of a temporary state pending a final consummation. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 15. It is clear that this reference to death as sleep is fig., and does not refer to sleep of the soul because of such passages as Luke 16:24; 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 6:9, 10.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
slep: Represents many words in Hebrew and Greek. For the noun the most common are shenah, and hupnos; for the verb, yashen, shakhabh, and katheudo. The figurative uses for death (De 31:16, etc.) and sluggishness (Eph 5:14, etc.) are very obvious.