Wholly Healthy: We All Need More Sleep

I have spent a great deal of my career working at night and sleeping during the day. At one point, I worked full-time night shifts for roughly seven years. Near the end of that adventure, my wife, Jan, said, “You have to stop. You aren’t healthy and you aren’t happy, and the kids have noticed that you’re not much fun anymore.”

Indeed, I wasn’t. I had headaches and I felt depressed. My daytime sleep was seldom very high quality and my diet (with too much fast food and caffeine) was clearly unhealthy. I took her advice (like a smart husband does) and before long I had color in my cheeks, my headaches went away and I could sleep soundly. The diet? Well, I’m still fighting that demon, but that’s for another column.

I’m telling you this to illustrate the point that a much-neglected part of our health is the amount of time we rest and actually sleep. Our society runs full-speed 24/7/365. Our businesses are open all the time, our entertainment is available at all hours, and there are expectations placed upon us that never seem to end. In fact, it’s difficult for many folks to escape work even on vacation, thanks to the dubious wonder of smart phones and the Internet.

But before I go on, and while I throw stones at culture and its various pressures, I need to point out that the church has issues here as well. For example, have you ever thought about Sunday? Our alleged day of rest? For most families, it’s rise early, get kids cleaned, fed and dressed. Go early to greet or help with parking, attend deacon’s meetings and Sunday school, worship (or preach or lead music), then it’s back for Awana and/or youth meetings, possibly followed by a committee meeting. The rest of the week there are more meetings, youth activities, choir practice, small groups and local missions. Pastors and staff are often awakened at night by church crises, which are part of the job. But that can also take a toll on the health of pastors and their families.

Of course, all of our church activities are in constant balance with work and school and sports — and sometimes the day’s demands really aren’t finished until midnight or later, followed by a day that starts all over around 6 a.m. Is it any wonder we drink coffee, tea and soda and eat in the car? We are collectively exhausted.

Experts believe that sleep is extremely important to good health. It is commonly recommended that we have seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Many of us think that’s a silly recommendation unrelated to reality. But in fact, proper sleep is connected with such wonders as improved disease resistance, weight loss, better mood and improved intellectual ability. It’s also linked to fewer accidents, decreased chronic diseases and various other benefits. Why, better sleep might even make your coat more shiny and your teeth brighter!

Life is busy. But to the extent that we can consciously decide to do it, we need to rest, we need to relax and we really need to sleep. The rewards are worth the effort, as my family and I learned firsthand.

Besides, even God rested on the seventh day, right?