I had a hard time sleeping for the first week of my sabbatical. Restlessness and anxiety kept me tossing and turning. And then, like a switch turning off, suddenly I slept and slept and slept. Like a baby, as they say, I pushed through the anxiety and found the rhythm of REM sleep. Eight full hours of sleep, which often meant ten hours in bed, and my mind, body, and spirit were transformed. My sabbatical taught me the incredible benefits of sleep.
The Power of Sleep
According to a 2017 Forbes Magazine article, Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. “In 2013 (the last year measured by Gallup), the average American slept 6.8 hours a night—with 40 percent banking less than six hours.”
But, Americans haven’t always been this sleep-deprived. According to the article, in 1910, people slept an average of nine hours per night. Our culture of sleeplessness has been propelled by technologies like the light bulb and the Internet, which have given us more opportunities to stay awake in an increasingly 24/7 world.”
There are all kinds of health issues that are exacerbated by our sleep deprivation (a term that wasn’t even coined until the 1970s). Research shows that children who fall short by just one hour per night have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In addition, studies and reports have linked insufficient sleep to depression, ADHD, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Not to mention that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving causes 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually in the United States.
Getting enough sleep is a matter of life and death.
Here are my takeaways on what I learned about sleep, along with some sound biblical advice!
Anxiety plays a big role.
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
The two hardest parts of sleep for me are: (1) getting to sleep, and; (2) falling back to sleep when I inevitably wake up too early (or in the middle of the night). My mind starts going on all the things I need to do and/or all my problems.
Repeat the following line — “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:17).
Routine is my friend.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccl. 3:1).
The number one problem for falling asleep is that we are too connected to our technology. The computer screen causes eye stimulation that makes it difficult to sleep.
Develop a nightly routine that includes disconnecting at least one hour before bedtime.
There are few things more important than sleep.
But what is higher beyond thought than thee?
Fresher than berries of a mountain tree?
More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal,
Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle?
What is it? And to what shall I compare it?
It has a glory, and nought else can share it:
The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy,
Chacing away all worldliness and folly …
[from Sleep and Poetry by John Keats]
The answer for Keats (obviously suffering from insomnia) was — SLEEP! Like anything else, you have to recognize the life and death importance of sleep and make it a priority.
My Dad was a workaholic, rising before dawn everyday to head for the jobsite. Somewhere in my childhood, I was taught that people who sleep too much are lazy. Certainly, it’s possible to sleep your life away. However, the greater danger today seems to be getting too few hours of sleep.
I now believe that maintaining healthy sleeping habits will add years to my life. Few things are more important than that.
God is active in my sleep.
‘We both had dreams,’ they answered, ‘but there is no one to interpret them’ Then Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.'” (Gen. 40:8).
God created sleep as a healing agent and he speaks to me while I sleep. The wonderful and mysterious world of our dreams is God’s country and he will bring refreshment to your mind and regeneration to your body if you give him your sleep as an offering.
Goodnight and sleep tight!!