Health, Relationships

Sleepless for 20 years, how did this music teacher find a cure for his insomnia?

By Janice Tai , 2 September 2022

As a child growing up in Indonesia, Daniel Purnomo always felt like he was walking on eggshells.

The elders in his household would react with disproportionate anger to small mistakes and minor misdemeanours.

He had recurring bad dreams about unfinished tasks, such as graduating, only to find out that he did not take one subject.

For example, if Daniel refused to take a nap, he was caned. If he couldn’t do his maths homework, he wouldn’t get dinner till he finished it.

Frequent scolding, guilt-tripping and manipulation led Daniel to feel insecure, guilty and condemned.

He had recurring bad dreams about unfinished tasks, such as graduating from school, only to find out that he did not take one subject.

Daniel is now 46 and lives in Singapore.

Walking zombie

In 1996, when Daniel was 20, two major life events brought great stress.

He broke up with his girlfriend of seven years and ended up with a lot of guilt. He also struggled to cope with many projects as a final-year university student.

Bearing these burdens while living in an environment where he felt no peace, Daniel crumbled under the intense mental pressure.

That’s when insomnia crept in.

“The more I couldn’t sleep, the more I worried about feeling tired the next day … it became a vicious cycle.”

“Night after night, I couldn’t sleep. My mind raced all the way till morning,” said Daniel. “In the rare event that I was able to get a quick shut eye, I would be plagued by restless dreams.”  

Getting barely an hour’s sleep each night, he felt like a walking zombie. Due to the lack of rest, his heart rate was elevated and he felt perpetually feverish. His breathing was shallow and he had bad bouts of gastric.

Desperate, Daniel took all sorts of medicine – but all they did was make him drowsy. He tried exercising to tire himself out; it didn’t help either.

“The more I couldn’t sleep, the more I worried about feeling tired the next day. That made me even more alert and it became a vicious cycle,” said Daniel.

Daniel hanging out with his friends in Surabaya in the 1990s.

He soon fell into depression.

“I no longer found joy in the things I used to like, such as watching movies or going for meals with friends,” said Daniel. “I was always too tired and lethargic.”  

A wriggling hand

Though Daniel became a shadow of his former self, he managed to graduate from university. He also pushed through in his daytime job as a guitar teacher and performed music gigs at night.

Questions arose in his heart about his faith and health.

“My hand was behaving like an empty hose wriggling about when the water supply is suddenly turned on.”

“I didn’t see the connection between Jesus and my health,” said Daniel. “I didn’t think God would want to get involved in the small problems of my daily life.”  

It was during this time that Daniel started to notice issues with his right hand. Whenever he relaxed it, it would start to move involuntarily.   

“My hand was behaving like an empty hose wriggling about when the water supply is suddenly turned on,” he said. 

This affected his guitar gigs, where good hand coordination and timing are crucial.

cure for insomnia

Daniel performing during the mooncake festival at Carlton Hotel in Singapore.

One night, Daniel lay in bed complaining to God: “Lord, You made me a musician, so why is my hand like this?” 

He didn’t expect an answer as he felt God was a distant authority figure. 

But suddenly, Daniel felt God speak straight to his heart: “You belong to Me. Why do you complain so much?”

Miraculously, the involuntary movements in his hand stopped. He was thankful and excited.

Daniel said: “It was the first time I heard God speak to me. I just knew it was Him as I was healed at that moment.”

However, the insomnia and depression remained.

“So despite the miracle, much of my life remained the same,” he said. “But I had one less problem.”

Tense, stressed and tired

Thanks to a tuition grant, Daniel was able to come to Singapore, leaving behind the household where he had no rest. 

Daniel (left) with his LASALLE friends in the school’s auditorium in 2007.

He arrived in 2003 to get a degree in music at LASALLE College of the Arts. To support himself, he worked as a performer at night.

“I was operating at a minimum level. I was still unable to sleep and very depressed.”

On the outside, Daniel seemed to be able to navigate his packed days. But inside, he was tensed, stressed and tired.

“I was operating at a minimum level. I was still unable to sleep and very depressed. I withdrew from social life,” recalled Daniel of one of the lowest points in his life. 

“I was thinking there was no point for me to be alive. My future looked so bleak that I couldn’t even envision getting married or having a career in the future.”

A life-changing gig

However, Daniel was thrown a lifeline during one of his regular nighttime gigs.

He happened to share about his long-time struggle with insomnia and depression with a singer. The following week, she gave him a CD of teachings by Pastor Joseph Prince from New Creation Church.

“I believe the answer to your problems lies in this CD,” she told him.

Daniel doing a live gig with his vocalist friend who passed him the CD.

“I politely received the CD but didn’t really bother about it,” admitted Daniel.

Daniel left the CD untouched for weeks. But after yet another sleepless night, he decided to listen to it.

The recorded sermon piqued his interest.  

He started to realise that God was not distant and faraway like he thought.

“He cares for us and is still in the business of healing people.

“Knowing this somehow gave me hope,” Daniel said.

“I also learnt that it is by God’s goodness and faithfulness, not our own deeds, that we are saved. So I could finally be free from the constant guilt, condemnation and shame that I experienced growing up.”  

Daniel decided to visit New Creation Church in 2005, and joined the church community thereafter.

Daniel (second from right) at church camp in Bintan in 2019.

Though Daniel still struggled to sleep, how he thought about his condition and his faith began to change.

He started looking to Jesus for rest and strength.

By 2006, he was able to sleep restfully for at least four hours a week.

“Whenever I couldn’t sleep, I reminded myself that I am defined by God and His love – not by what I’m going through.”

As weeks passed, Daniel’s insomnia gradually faded. This, in turn, lessened his depression.

By 2006, he was able to sleep restfully for at least four hours a week – even though by normal standards, he still wasn’t getting sufficient rest.

A supernatural visit

That same year, something else surprising happened.

Daniel woke up one morning feeling unwell. As he took a Panadol, he noticed that his flatmates had already left for work. Having no class that morning, Daniel decided to go back to bed.

A few minutes later, he woke up to the sound of footsteps coming into his room. He felt the spring of his mattress bounce as someone sat down on the bed next to his head.

“Don’t be afraid. Papa loves you,” the visitor told Daniel.

Daniel opened his eyes and saw the forehead of a fatherly figure leaning down towards him. He was unable to see his face.

“Don’t be afraid. Papa loves you,” the visitor told Daniel, who was frantically trying to figure out who he was.  

Again the man repeated: “Don’t be afraid. Papa loves you.”

Suddenly, Daniel was hit with a realisation: “Oh, it’s my heavenly Father!”

He tried to turn his head to get a better view but was unable to move his body. Again, Daniel felt the physical bounce of the mattress’ spring as the person got up.

It was only after he heard footsteps leaving the room that Daniel was able to move.

cure for insomnia

Daniel phoned his earthly father, who was in Indonesia, to tell him about the heavenly encounter right after it happened. They are pictured in Singapore in 2009.

“I had never experienced anything like this before,” said Daniel. “It happened physically, not only in the spirit.

“I was so shocked. Just as I was learning about God’s love, He gave me a special encounter to show me He is good and that He is truly my Father.”

Sleeping through alarms

Despite this divine visitation, Daniel still grappled with fully receiving God’s love.

Yet day by day, he chose to trust in Jesus – even if he was not able to sleep at night. 


Daniel and his wife, with their family members, in Central Java in July this year. The couple got married a year after his recovery.

“I grew in my faith and identity of whom I am in Christ – and I started to be unafraid of insomnia. I clung to His word in the Bible and felt my mind slowly transform.”

Finally, by 2014 – after almost 20 years – Daniel was set free at last from chronic insomnia and depression.

Daniel sometimes slept through his morning alarms, and was even able to doze off on moving buses and trains – sometimes missing his stops. This was a far cry from his years of sleeplessness.

“After struggling for so long, it’s a luxury and a blessing for me to be able to oversleep from time to time!” he said.

Blessing others in return

As Daniel grew in his love for God, he also started to see miracles happen when he prayed for other people.

“I sometimes go up to strangers to pray for them,” said Daniel. “In some cases, people with arthritis pain, a frozen shoulder or a bad limp are completely healed.

“That gives me a chance to point them to Jesus.”

Today, Daniel teaches guitar and ukulele in schools and community centres. 

Daniel with his wife in Hawaii in 2018. He was there as one of the six finalists selected to compete in the International Ukulele Contest.

Daniel makes it a point to encourage his students in a way that mirrors his own faith journey.

“I always tell my students that growth in musical skills is a gradual process, not defined by just a single moment.

“There is no condemnation. Often, students are so scared of making mistakes that they don’t go through the process that is necessary for progress,” he explained.

“It’s very similar to how God did not instantly take me from point A to point B. Instead, it was the moments that happen along the way that helped me understand who He truly is over time.”

Daniel (left) performing at the Esplanade in 2021.

Having gone through what he did, Daniel hopes to encourage others to trust in God’s goodness and willingness to draw close to help us.

“We need to be open to His leading, knowing that He cares enough to want to be involved even in the daily and practical aspects of our lives.”

This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.

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