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From the column Health and Wellness

Ah—the Bliss of Sleep!

health-wellness-07-15-1Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Obviously, Ben considered rest and industriousness essential factors to a thriving life. Most of us would agree, but for some, a good night’s sleep is about as likely as teens messaging with typewriters.

A variety of reasons have been linked to the problem of insomnia. They include things like stress; illness; worry; exposure to the artificial light of TVs, phones, and computers before bedtime; extraneous noise; or overfilling the hours of the day—leaving fewer hours for restorative sleep. In addition, the rise in the obesity rate in America is being blamed for an increase in sleep apnea. As a society, it seems we can’t rest and, for the most part, are exhausted!

A Big Deal?

So why be concerned if we don’t sleep well? Researchers associate several chronic health conditions with insufficient rest, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression. No small problem is the fact that accidents with motor vehicles and machinery are often traced to fatigue caused by a lack of sleep.

What Are the Benefits?

The positive benefits to adequate sleep are many. Researchers say adequate sleep provides:

  • Improved memory - something happens while we sleep that helps the brain organize and retain new thoughts and skills.
  • Better quality of and longer life.
  • Better physical stamina.
  • Improved weight control.
  • Enhanced creativity.
  • Lowered stress, which reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Fewer accidents due to improved reaction time and better alertness.
  • Decreased anxiety and a stronger sense of well-being.
  • Reduced chance for depression.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

How many hours of sleep is enough? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted a study involving review of hundreds of publications and consultations with specialists from a broad spectrum of disciplines. They concluded that while everyone’s need for sleep is unique, on average the recommended amounts for age groups range from 14 to 17 hours for newborns, to 7 to 8 hours for adults over the age of 65 (see chart).

How Can We Sleep Better?

So what can we do to achieve that blissful state with so many benefits? Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid caffeine after 2 pm. We think of coffee and tea as the culprits, but many sodas have caffeine. Read labels.
  • Avoid heavy meals near bedtime; however, don’t go to bed with a growling stomach. A small snack of protein and carbs, such as a few nuts and cheese, can be helpful.
  • Avoid warm temperatures near bedtime. The body rests better in a cool state—so take that tub bath or shower a few hours before bedtime.
  • Gentle stretches before bedtime. This signals the muscles to relax and reduces tension.
  • Prepare the bedroom for sleep. Lower the lights to signal the biological clock that it’s time for sleep. Keep the room temperature cool and dark (room-darkening shades can be helpful). Keep the room quiet from outside noises (use ear plugs or white noise machine if necessary).
  • Move the cell phone out of reach and turn it off if possible. It’s better to use an alarm clock than to have a phone nearby.
  • Reduce exposure to artificial lights (including computers and TVs) at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Pray! Leave your cares and concerns with the Father. The Psalmist said, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalms 4:8).

As believers, we should assess sleep habits to better care for the bodies we use to carry forth the “Good News.” It is tempting to do just “one more thing” before heading to bed, but we should not feel guilty for wrapping up the day and “hitting the sack.” Henry Ward Beecher said, “God has made sleep to be a sponge by which to rub out fatigue. A man’s roots are planted in night as in a soil.”

Sweet Dreams!


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