Sleep: Good for the Body and Soul
Imagine this with me:
It’s 9:30 p.m. (again), your house is still noisy and not nearly as clean as you’d prefer it to be. You (and your spouse, if you have one) have been run ragged all day between work, school, homework, and the usual host of things that dominate every…waking…moment. Laundry has piled up in your toddler’s and middle schooler’s rooms once again, to say nothing of your own, and there is still a host of email yet to check. You may or may not have eaten dinner. By the way, it’s now 9:35 p.m.
In the midst of endless activities, things just…get lost. Time keeps slipping away due to the “busyness of life.” It’s all good busyness, you know that, but there’s a lot of it. And as the night wanders on and you check that email, start that laundry, eat something, and straighten up what you can, the hour(s) grow later. If you’re like me, you may even make a cup of coffee at this point. Afterall, “it doesn’t affect me anymore,” and we tell ourselves if we can just get a little more done, it’ll put us ahead for tomorrow. Then, before we know it, it’s 11:45 p.m., and 6:00 a.m. is not that far away. Sleep, once again, is relegated to the minimum amount of intrusive time so that we can get back to being productive as soon as possible.
This is not the way. And it is certainly not God’s design for how we should consider sleep. Yet too often, this is what occurs.
Dr. Robert Stickgold, Director of Harvard’s Center for Sleep and Cognition, notes that societally, “we are now living in a worldwide test of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation.” 1 He is quite correct, given the fast pace of life, personal desires, long-term plans, and vocational/scholastic responsibilities that occupy our world. This is to say nothing of the 24/7/365 news cycle across the TV and the Internet, multiple social media platforms providing a constant intake of information, and immediate access to information via consistent buzzing, beeping, and vibrating notifications on our smart phones. We live lives of constant movement, distraction, and interruption in both our waking and sleeping hours.
In modernity, God has given us great insight into what it means when the Bible says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). It is a mistake to think this does not apply to God’s design for sleep. The study of the human body has resulted in tremendous insight into not just what we are capable of in our waking hours, but what our bodies need in our resting hours as well. This is an important thing: God did not just design us for constant movement. God designed us for rest, as well. He even patterned rest for us in the very act of creation, when on the seventh day, God rested and blessed the “action” of rest (Genesis 2:2-3). This is a truth so easily forgotten. And yet it echoes throughout Scripture. Consider Psalm 127:1-2:
“Unless the Lord builds the house,those who build it labor in vain.Unless the Lord watches over the city,the watchman stays awake in vain.It is in vain that you rise up earlyand go late to rest,eating the bread of anxious toil;for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
It is without a doubt that verse one is making the point that those who build a house or have any sort of work set before them, must accomplish it diligently. And they must do so being faith-filled, recognizing that it is God who has equipped and empowered us to do this work, lest we work in vain and our own strength—a recipe for certain failure and discouragement (as seen in the opening illustration). But it is the end of verse 2, that I want to draw our primary attention to: “…for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
Christian: you are God’s beloved, and he has given you sleep as a gift! God built the need for sleep into the human body with great intention: to remind us that not only do we need him, but that he loves us so much as to sustain us even as we are unaware. Sleep is not an inconvenience, it is God’s grace to us, in reminding us that in every moment of every day, through all of the busyness of life, God is holding us up. Sleep is an unconscious act of humility and faith. To deny it, to fight it off, to prioritize other things over it, even good things, is to deny an aspect of God’s patterned grace to us, for us, and preservation of us.
To neglect sleep comes at a cost. Not prioritizing the God-given need for sleep does damage to the human body and makes it difficult for us to function in daily life. After years of research, The National Institute of Health revealed a direct linkage between sleep loss (for whatever reason) and a number of specific, negative health results. They include: sluggishness (mentally and physically), obesity (the body does not have the resources to run your metabolism at its needed efficiency), diabetes (for related reasons), cardiovascular (heart) issues and hypertension (high blood pressure), emotional irregularity (mood swings, heightened feelings of anxiety, unnatural feelings of depression, paranoia), and organic brain disorders (physical issues with the brain, not to be confused with mental illness).2 To make this a little bit more pointed, it is known that sleeping allows a brain fluid called CSF to more freely move through the brain, cleansing it of proteins known to be associated with causing conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other organic brain disorders.3 These things should mandate our attention.
Why am I writing about sleep? Outside of the God-given design for it, there is a practical reason. Over the last six months I have had countless individuals share with me, that they are having trouble sleeping. The consistent reasons as to why are typically a combination of these: the pandemic and its ramifications, lack of feelings of safety, the stress of school, e-learning, changes to family, financial pressures and lack of work, feelings of isolation, and the thought that people need to constantly be informed. This is all perfectly understandable. I have lost no shortage of sleep myself over the last few months. But that doesn’t mean it’s right or wise. It means we need to make some adjustments to how we are thinking about our priorities, as, in God’s economy, sleep is a priority he patterned for us. It is non-negotiable. We shouldn’t even want to negotiate it. As God said in Psalm 127:2, it is a blessing for his beloved!
So, in closing, I’d like to make some hard and fast recommended adjustments, in order of importance, for us to receive this blessing from God again.
In truth, the application I could outline here could go on for pages, but doing the above, by itself, will enhance your life and the well-being of your family significantly.
Friends, our houses all occasionally, if not often, can look like my opening illustration. There is always a lot going on. But God did not design this existence to suck us dry, do a minimal recharge, and then do it again the next day. God designed our lives for much more than that, and there are likely a number of priorities in your life or home that need to change or be enhanced to accomplish this. If you find you are struggling with this, please do not hesitate to reach out to the church. Go to www.bethelweb.org/counseling, and we can counsel, encourage, equip, and resource you in the process of making needed change.
If you’re interested in a little self-study on mastering your time to allow better sleep, check out this short resource that can assist you in generating big results: Priorities: Mastering Time Management.
I pray, upon reading this, you and yours prioritize good nights of sleep for the days ahead!
|↑1||“What is Sleep: New Answers to an Old Question,” National Geographic Special: Sleep: You Brain, Body, and a Better Night’s Sleep, (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2020), 8.|
|↑2||Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research Board on Health Sciences Policy, eds. Harvey R. Colten and Bruce M. Altevogt, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. (Washington, DC: The National Academic Press, 2006), 53.|
|↑3||“Omens and Hopes in Dementia.” National Geographic Special: Sleep: You Brain, Body, and a Better Night’s Sleep. (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2020), 77.|