Sleep: A Life Essential

January 16, 2016

by Maria Fontaine

Have you ever been frustrated that you have to sleep so much, when it seems like all those hours of sleep are “cheating” you of the time to do the things you want or need to do? Have you ever wondered why God made our bodies to need so much sleep? In fact, God made it so that most individuals need to spend about a third of their lives inactive while the world spins by. I know I have wondered that, especially when things that I needed to do seemed much more important than sleeping. Sleep can seem like a luxury that will make me feel good, but also something that I need to forgo for the sake of what I consider much more important activities.

It’s so easy to cut back on this seemingly unproductive period of our lives that usurps so many priceless hours of our brief span of years here. At first glance, sleep seems to curtail our purposes, forcing us to leave things undone, help ungiven to those in need, and aspirations unfulfilled while we languish in stasis, waiting for our body to recharge.

With this kind of perception I suppose it wasn’t any wonder that I so often nibbled more and more at the edges of those times of sleep in order to get a little more of this or that taken care of. But after a while I realized that there were consequences to cheating on my sleep. I had to learn from experience that sleep is much more than a non-essential activity. It’s a fundamental part of the balance our body has to have to keep it from crashing and burning.

So when I started experiencing some health issues and we prayed about them, the Lord said that one of the things which I needed to correct was to get more sleep. This was a bit of a hard saying for me because I hadn’t even realized that I had built up quite a sleep deficit over time. I was often tired but had chalked that up to getting older, working hard, and my body being weaker than it used to be.

The Lord told me that I needed to try to go to bed earlier at night. In particular, to get to bed at least a couple of hours before midnight, because sleep during those pre-midnight hours is even more valuable than the sleep after midnight. On top of that, He told me that I also needed to try to sleep later in the morning.

I knew that if the Lord was telling me this, it must be wise counsel, so this piqued my interest in finding out why He saw these specific details about my sleep as something so important. The value of sleep has been a big topic of discussion for many specialists for years. Still, it wasn’t until I began compiling into one place the many reasons why sleep is so important that I realized what a priority it is to get the right kind of sleep, as well as to get enough sleep overall.

Sleep has a powerful, positive impact on so many aspects of our lives. There has been a lot of research done on the effects of sleep. It recharges our brain, improves our memory, helps us live longer, and enhances our creativity. Those times of repose curb harmful inflammation in our bodies and improve overall performance, physically and mentally, in our work, study, and play. Sleep sharpens our attention, helps us maintain a healthy weight, lowers stress, and helps us avoid accidents. Sleep also helps alleviate depression, and provides many other positive benefits.

Each person’s body is different, and how much sleep you need might be a bit different than how much I need, but sleep is definitely important for all of us. Here are some more points that can motivate us to do all we can to ensure that this essential part of life is given the priority it deserves.

  • Our minds are surprisingly busy while we snooze. During sleep we can strengthen memories or "practice" skills learned while we were awake. (It’s a process called consolidation.)
  • A 2010 study found that C-reactive protein that triggers inflammation and which is associated with heart attack risk was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night. (Inflammation is also linked to stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging.) …
  • Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
  • Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep-disordered breathing, which includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep, are more likely to have problems with attention and learning, according to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep.
  • A lack of sleep can result in ADHD-like symptoms in kids, Dr. David Rapoport says. … "Kids don’t react the same way to sleep deprivation as adults do," he adds. "Whereas adults get sleepy, kids tend to get hyperactive."
  • Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat—56% of their weight loss—than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass.
  • "Sleep can definitely reduce levels of stress, and with that, people can have better control of their blood pressure," Dr. Raymonde Jean says. "It’s also believed that sleep affects cholesterol levels, which play a significant role in heart disease."
  • The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2009 that being tired accounted for the highest number of fatal single-car run-off-the-road crashes due to the driver’s performance—even more than alcohol!
  • "A lack of sleep can contribute to depression," Dr. Jean says. "A good night’s sleep can really help a moody person decrease their anxiety. You get more emotional stability with good sleep."1

The consequences of sleep deprivation extend way beyond not being as effective in what you do. They can even become debilitating or deadly. Here are a few points regarding the consequences of an ongoing lack of sufficient sleep. 

  • Infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when we don’t get enough sleep.
  • Sleeping fewer than seven hours a night is associated with a tripled risk of coming down with a cold.
  • Chronic sleep deprivation (less than six hours a night) is associated with:

          - Skin aging
          - Four times greater risk of stroke for middle- and older-aged people
          - 50% higher risk of colorectal cancers, and some links with other cancers 
          - High blood pressure
          - 48% higher chance of developing or dying from heart disease
          - Lower fertility rates

  • Chronic sleep loss can lead to a 30–40% reduction in glucose metabolism.
  • Sleep flushes dangerous proteins from your brain, improving mental health. “When you’re sleep deprived, you get a dirty brain.”
  • Sleep loss can cause psychological damage because sleep regulates the brain’s flow of epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, chemicals closely associated with mood and behavior.
  • In one study by researchers at Columbia University, teens who went to bed at 10 p.m. or earlier were less likely to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts than those who regularly stayed awake well after midnight.
  • Getting six or fewer hours of sleep triples your risk of drowsy driving-related accidents.

Insufficient sleep is estimated to cost American businesses $63 billion a year. The worst costs arise from the fact that sleep deprivation causes safety lapses and contributes to other health issues. D. A. Carson wrote:

“We are whole, complicated beings; our physical existence is tied to our spiritual well-being, to our mental outlook, to our relationships with others, including our relationship with God. Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep—not pray all night, but sleep. I’m certainly not denying that there may be a place for praying all night; I’m merely insisting that in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you [to] get the sleep your body needs.”2

This quote from D. A. Carson is similar to something the Lord had previously showed me. As important as prayer is in our lives, if we don’t get proper sleep, it will be much more difficult to pray as effectively with a mind that is clouded and a body that’s weakened.

And finally, a thought from John Piper on a Christian’s need for sleep. He said: “It is irrational that my future should look bleaker when I get four or five hours of sleep several nights in a row. But that is irrelevant. Those are the facts. And I must live within the limits of facts. I commend sufficient sleep to you, for the sake of your proper assessment of God and his promises.”3

I’d like to leave you with some points received from the Lord in prophecy on this crucial topic of finding the right balance in our lives in regard to sleep.

Jesus: “Sleep is even good for your spirit. Those times of sleep allow a clear, unfettered connection to Me. It’s a time to rest, to process and draw conclusions, and to develop greater understanding.

“In the physical, sleep allows your body time to repair damage, build up reserves of physical strength, to get ahead on your stocks of what you need to fight disease, to rebuild muscle or other areas that have been weakened or damaged, and to clear out waste products that your body wasn’t able to process while you were awake.

“Mentally, sleep provides a time to organize all that your brain has observed and experienced during the previous awake time and to assess conclusions and weigh possibilities. There’s a lot of truth in that common statement people use when they aren’t certain which decision to make: ‘Let me sleep on it.’ Your thoughts, feelings, and input from the day all have to be sorted and organized in order to use them effectively.

“It takes time and focus for your mind to make sense of and draw conclusions from all you’ve experienced and weighed against past events, and that happens most effectively when you are sleeping. Sleep helps you to make sense of what comes into your life and to develop ways to use that knowledge or those experiences effectively. If you don’t get enough sleep, your physical body and mental state start to break down because certain essential functions only take place when you are asleep.

”There will be some times when emergencies will unavoidably crowd out sleep, but it’s the day in and day out robbery of the hours you need for sleep that can cause serious harm, not to mention that you also rob yourself of a great deal of happiness, health, motivation and peace because you’re exhausted.”

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.—Psalm 4:8 ESV

If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.—Proverbs 3:24 ESV

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.—Psalm 127:2 ESV

2 Quote is taken from Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by D. A. Carson (Crossway, 2010), 147.

3 From a talk by John Piper (1995) on Charles Spurgeon. Source no longer available.