Ahhh sleep. Who doesn't love it? I've always been dubbed "the kid we never knew we had" by my family because, ever since I was young, I would slip away fairly early in the evening to dive into my bed for a long, gratifying slumber. Still do. I LOVE SLEEP. I suppose we could compartmentalize that simply as a quirky personality trait and move on, but we'd be missing so much insight into how sleep intersects with health. So, let's explore.
There's so much to say on this area of health, but I promise to focus on the highlights. Did you know that we grow and repair while we sleep? We can hit the gym hard but, if we're not getting sufficient sleep, we will not see the gains for which we are working so hard. If our child is not on a solid sleep schedule and instead stays up late (probably zoned out on her/his device), s/he will not grow properly and fully.
Here's another interesting factoid. Did you know that when you sleep, your brain shrinks by up to 30% so it can cleanse itself with glymphatic fluid, washing away the debris and toxins from the day? So, again, if we are not getting sufficient sleep, our brains are not able to fully cleanse and repair. Think of this like starting the dishwasher just before going to bed. While we sleep, the machine is doing its job of washing the dishes. But, if we wake too early and open the dishwasher before its completed its cycle, the mug we're grabbing is still dirty. Do this day after day, and we'll be drinking our coffee from a nasty mug! Apply the same analogy to the functionality of our brains. Nights on end of chronic sleep loss lead to horrendous symptoms like brain fog, anxiety, depression, neurosis, slow processing, paranoia and other neurological malfunctioning. Over time, it is very likely that we can suffer permanent damage.
Another unhealthy side effect to sleep deprivation is hormonal chaos. We work long, hard days whether at the office or in our homes and cannot wait for each day to end. We collapse hoping to recoup, but instead struggle to calm down. Naturally, this causes us to stay up later than we should only to have loss of sleep wreak havoc on our adrenals and other hormone-secreting organs. When chronically tired, our stress hormones, namely cortisol and adrenaline, are higher so we can function. But the brain needs fuel to operate and its preferred source is glucose. What's glucose? Basically, it's sugar. This is why when we're exhausted all we want is something sweet. It's a survival mechanism. We give in to the cravings and eat a high carbohydrate food. This triggers a blood sugar spike and a release of insulin, the fat storage hormone. And, yup, you guessed it...this leads to weight gain. Weight gain leads to higher levels of toxicity (because toxins are stored in our fat cells) which results in more systemic inflammation and round and round we go. All because we just won't go to bed at a reasonable hour.
This admittedly is a rudimentary explanation of how sleep deprivation impacts our health, but hopefully it's enough to convince you of its importance. Now, the goal of this series is to help us integrate God into all the facets of healthy living. So then, what's God have to say about sleep?
There are many verses in the Bible pertaining to God's command for sleep and rest. The first one to come to my mind is Psalm 23. In particular, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul." God MAKES us lie down in order to restore our souls. That's love! Rest is not an option; rather it's a command. Our Designer made us for cycles. There's a time to work, a time to play and a time to be still and rest. That's divine balance. In order to do well that which God has called us to, we must have the mental and physical stamina to perform. That is impossible without proper rest. Sleep truly is a holy aspect of living - a non-negotiable. How's your sleep? Perhaps it's time to examine what's called your "sleep hygiene" and make some important changes. Of course, I'd be honored to help you regain balance in this area, and any other lifestyle area in which you struggle. God created each of us for greatness. We cannot fulfill our life's calling in a sick body. Tonight, head on up to bed earlier. Do it for the glory of God.
Want to dive deeper? Here's a phenomenal talk offered by author Shawn Stevenson of a fantastic book entitled Sleep Smarter.