How much sleep did you get last night? What would your average sleep per night be for the last week? The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person and over the course of a lifetime. But for most of us we’re not getting enough sleep to be fully rested. Here’s the average number of hours sleep a day you need:
6-13 years: 9-11 hours
14-17 years: 8-10 hours
18-25 years: 7-9 hours
26-64 years: 7-9 hours
65+ years: 7-8 hours.
How do you do compared to those averages? In our society a lack of sleep is viewed as heroic, you’ve pushed on through, you’re hard, ‘there’s time to sleep when you’re dead’ is a phrase we hear. We regularly hear stories of people who achieved because they only needed four hours sleep a night. It leads us to think of sleep as the enemy, or a necessary evil. But that is to rebel against the way God made us. Here are 8 consequences of regular inadequate sleep culled from Matthew Walkers brilliant ‘Why we sleep’:
- your immune system is damaged increasing the likelihood of developing cancer,
- is a key factor in whether you develop Alzheimer’s,
- disrupts blood sugar making you pre-diabetic,
- increases the chance of heart disease,
- contributes to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions,
- produces a hormone that makes us hungry even when we’re full,
- shortens lifespan
- drowsy driving causes more accidents than alcohol and drugs combined
We were made to sleep. Sleep is God’s gift to us, too much sleep because of sheer laziness can be a problem as other Proverbs point out, yet too little sleep is also a problem, a sin. And yet some of us have drifted into patterns of unhealthy sleep. Allowing a desire to be entertained to rob us of sleep to just finish that box set, or level, or read that feed. Blue light in particular, like that from our phones, iPads, and TV’s, impacts our ability to sleep, disrupting the production of the melatonin we need to sleep because it simulates sunlight.
Alcohol and caffeine also disrupt our sleep patterns, caffeine for example has a 6 hour half life and takes 24 hours to fully work its way out of our system. So that coffee you’ve just had, 25% of its caffeine will still be present in your body at 10.30 tonight, and that makes it harder to fall asleep.
We also don’t have a regular time to go to bed and wake up – we do it for our kids, bath at 6, story time at 6.30, lights out at 7, all positively encouraging sleep, cooling the body temperature, soothing, non-stimulating. But we don’t apply the wisdom to ourselves – we rebel against our bodies natural God given rhythms.
Some of those things we just need to stop. We need to listen to our bodies and God and recognise that if we rebel against our bodies God given rhythms there will be consequences. As those called to honour God with our bodies, we need to sleep. It’s an act of rebellion not to. There’s also a link between sin and sleeplessness, tiredness, and staying up late. We stay up late we get grumpy, in our irritability we sin against others. Or staying up late we leave ourselves vulnerable to other sins in what we watch or do.
Sleep is a godly discipline, a way of reflecting and respecting our creatureliness and honouring our creator. Maybe you’ve never thought of sleep like that, and so you’ve just drifted into unhealthy patterns. Stop, think, repent and change. Honour God in what you do, in how you set your rhythms, what you put into your body, what you watch, when you watch it, and when you go to bed.
But what else stops us sleeping? Look at Proverbs 3v24. Solomon paints a picture of someone enjoying a restful nights sleep, sleep that is sweet – good, pleasant – from which you wake refreshed. How are they able to enjoy that? Because “you will not be afraid.” The Hebrew is actually stronger than fear, the word is dread. Terror, fear, anxiety, dread stops us sleeping.
We’ve all had those nights where it’s impossible to turn our brains off, where we run through every possible scenario to every situation we’re facing and every possible anxious outcome. Like one of those choose your own path books where at the end of the page if you do A you turn to page 9, or if you do B turn to page 14,except we’re trying to work out what will happen if we do A, B, C, D, E, F, G and so on. Crossing bridge after bridge after bridge endlessly, or thinking if only, if only, if only. Until we’ve tied ourselves in knots and hours of sleeplessness have ticked by, and then we watch every flicker of the numbers on the clock aware that we should be asleep, becoming anxious about how we’ll face tomorrow so tired.
Fear, anxiety, terror, dread, rob us of sleep. Even chronic insomnia, not just occasionally being unable to sleep, but ‘an inadequate ability to sleep even when allowing adequate opportunity to sleep’ is most commonly triggered by emotional worries or concerns, distress or anxiety.
And sometimes we feed that anxiety by distracting ourselves with our social media feeds, or by dealing with work emails when we can’t sleep– reasoning that at least we’re dealing with something, but actually making our anxiety worse and sleep less likely.
Proverbs warns us that fear robs us of sleep, which is God’s gift to us. Dread drains us of the sleep we need. And Solomon knew all about anxiety. As a young man he’d become Israel’s king, with his brother having tried unsuccessfully to steal his kingdom even before his coronation, and then plotting to overthrow him just afterwards. Then there’s the pressure of succeeding David, Israel’s greatest king, and of all Israel looking to him, coming to him for judgment on their problems, looking to him to uphold justice. World leaders know anxiety, fear and pressure, that’s partly why we must pray for them. When Solomon speaks of being able to sleep because you are free from the fear of sudden disaster or ruin, or being caught in a snare, we should listen to how he enjoys that.
God cares about how we sleep. Sleep is God’s good gift to us. “In vain you rise up early and stay up late toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Psalm 127v2. Sleep is God’s gift. He wants us to enjoy it. But in a broken world, a world of glory but also of garbage, anxiety and fear press in and make sleep hard.
How is your sleep? What does it reveal about us? Is the problem distraction? Is it bad habits we need to change? Have you swallowed the lie that you don’t need sleep? Or that it’s for wimps? Is it a rebellion against our creatureliness? Or is it anxiety that robs us of rest? We live on a nervous planet, so how can we enjoy good sleep?