American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Research Update: Does Sleep Really Matter?

Laura Captari

 

“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

 

One in four. That’s the number of American adults who say they “cheat” sleep on a regular basis. The numbers are particularly high among teenagers and young adults. The results of a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are startling:

 

  • Nearly 40% of 18 to 25 year olds and 45% of 65+ year olds report “unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the past month.”

 

  • Over 7% of 25 to 35 year olds say they “nodded off while driving in the past month”; 11% say they had difficulty driving altogether.

 

  • Between 18 and 25% of adults report difficulty concentrating, remembering things, and completing daily tasks because of sleepiness.

 

“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”

Perhaps you’ve heard or even made this statement. In some Christian circles, sleep is purported as optional, even viewed as being for the “lazy” or “weak”; however, nothing could be further from the truth. To need sleep is to be human, and those of us who deprive ourselves, whether in the name of “fun” or “productivity,” cause significant damage to our bodies. Individuals who sleep less than the recommended 10 to 11 hours for children, 8.5 to 9 hours for teens, and 7 to 9 hours for adults can experience serious health side effects, including:

  • Depressive mood
  • Inability to regulate emotions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired brain function
  • Hormone dysregulation
  • Immune system suppression
  • In accurate pain perception
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease

 

Is it worth it? No matter how you look at sleep deprivation, there’s nothing positive about it. Not physically, spiritually, or emotionally. Many mental health disorders are precipitated or exacerbated by lack of sleep. Keep this in mind when you’re meeting with clients!

 

It is always important to assess for sleep patterns, and help your clients develop “sleep hygiene.” This may include “a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” The National Sleep Foundation offers some very helpful interventions for battling sleep deprivation. It’s amazing how, sometimes, getting regular and adequate sleep can improve, mood, focus, energy, and even spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, journaling, and reading God’s Word.

 

In today’s culture, we must acknowledge the seductive pull of technology. After all, the Internet never sleeps. With laptops, iPads, smartphones, and a host of portable electronic devices, it can be very hard to truly get the rest we need—even when we’re laying in bed! When our brains get over stimulated, we may not even feel sleepy at times when our bodies are truly exhausted.

 

Catching up on work. Surfing the web. Even ministry. Whatever your reason may be, it’s not worth it!  APA’s January issue of the Monitor on Psychologyreports, “New research finds that not getting enough sleep—whether from our insatiable desire for digital media or more traditional sleep disturbances—has far-reaching effects on physical and psychological health.”

 

A Biblical Mandate to Rest

What does all this mean for Christian counselors, coaches, and caregivers? We are not superhuman! As believers, we should be the first to practice a lifestyle of biblical rest, and encourage our colleagues and clients to do the same. This certainly includes consistent and adequate sleep, but also spiritual rest and solitude.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus’ words echo down through history and strike a glaring contrast with today’s culture that tells us to do more and be more. Scripture challenges us to honor God with our bodies—this most certainly includes moderation in eating, regular exercise, and, yes, adequate sleep!

 

In Sleep: It Does a Family Good, Dr. Arch Hart shares that sleep—or lack thereof—affects an entire family system. When mom and dad don’t sleep, it affects their ability to parent well, handle marital conflict, and offer their children a safe, loving, and stable home environment. When kids don’t sleep, it impairs their ability to do well academically, and can lead to unnecessary temper tantrums and behavioral problems.

 

Dr. Hart offers five helpful questions for assessing sleep deprivation:

 

1. Am I tired often?

2. Am I irritable?

3. Am I hard to get along with?

4. Am I forgetful?

5. Do I have a hard time being happy?

 

Being healthy—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually—requires that we follow God’s design for our bodies. No one is exempt! In the creation story, “[God] rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done” (Genesis 2:2). Sometimes, resting may just be the most “spiritual” thing you can do!

 

 

Laura Captari, B.S., B.A. is a freelance writer and licensed professional counselor in training. She currently serves as Director of Professional and Public Relations at the American Association of Christian Counselors. Laura lives with her husband in Lynchburg, Virginia.

 

 

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