by Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA
Babies love it. Toddlers fight it. College students belittle it. Working adults covet it. It improves memory, lowers stress, combats disease and increases longevity. S L E E P – we should approach it as if our lives depend on it—because they do.
Jesus himself, embracing his humanity — body, heart, mind, and will — closed his eyes and went to sleep. And not once or twice, but every day.
Of his thirty-plus years living here on earth, Jesus spent roughly one-third of that time asleep. He not only ate, drank, cried, and celebrated like every other human, but he also became tired, “…wearied as he was from his journey…” (John 4:6, English Standard Version), just as we become tired and weary.
For many of us today, the most God-honoring act of trust we can do is get some sleep. The problem is that we can’t always control it, and when we can’t sleep it seems to affect everything else. Sleep impacts our physical health, emotional health, immune system, energy levels, decision making and critical thinking skills, motivation, ability to focus, job performance, relationships, and even our spiritual health.
There are many different reasons why sleep might be difficult. Lack of sleep could be caused by medical disorders such as thyroid or kidney problems. Different lifestyle habits can cause sleep problems including too many caffeinated beverages, drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day, increased amount of screen time, and eating only one meal a day. Both depression and anxiety can effect sleep. Stress and anxiety are actually the most common causes for sleepless nights. In fact, research suggests that there was a 37% increase in the rates of difficulty sleeping due to stress from the COVID pandemic this past year (Carrier & Morin, 2020).
While we can’t always control the circumstances that affect our sleep, there are some helpful practices that can lead to better sleep.
1. Use the bed only for sleeping. Oftentimes we lay on our bed and scroll on social media, watch TV, or even work. Doing this, however, trains your body that the bed is not exclusively for sleep. Lying in bed several hours after you wake up has actually been proven to disturb your sleeping routine. Try cutting down time in bed, allowing your body to know your bed is only a place for sleep.
2. Plan to go to bed and wake up at a regular time. Statistically speaking, you’re likely not in the group of people who can get away with little sleep (looking at you, college students!). The amount of sleep we need is largely due to our genetic makeup or season of life. Being consistent with your sleep schedule helps get your body in a rhythm of going to sleep and waking up. Even when you do go to sleep late, don’t compensate by waking up later than usual.
3. Write down your worries and thoughts before bed. Those of us who struggle to sleep because of anxiety or depression might benefit from this the most. Journaling your thoughts and worries before you go to bed allows you to get them out of your head and onto the page. Give yourself permission to leave those things in the notebook while you go to sleep.
4. Find ways to calm your body and mind. Stretching before bed or low intensity yoga actually calms both the body and the mind, allowing it to fall asleep easier at night. Counting from 100 backwards, imagining a place that feels peaceful and calm as you’re in bed, taking slow, deep breaths, or doing check ins on all areas of your body for stress and tension can all be ways to help your body relax.
Carrier, J. Morin, C.M. (2020) The acute effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on insomnia and psychological symptoms. SleepMed. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2020.06.005
Hauri, P., Linde, S. (1996). No More Sleepless Nights. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.