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  • Larry Payne

Sleep Better Tonight!

How did you sleep last night? I know that’s a personal question. Your answer might include several factors, like how long your head was on the pillow, or whether you snored, what your children did, or even how your cycles of brain activity fluctuated during the night. Whatever the answer, your experience of sleep is important. The way you feel today, and the illness that you might have next year, may depend on how you slept last night.

Let’s turn the clock back a few hours to think about the need for healthy sleep. Your waking hours can be better if your sleeping hours improve.

child sleeping among the stars
Photo by Darksouls1 on

The book of Acts recounts a semi-humorous story about sleep. One night in the city of Troas, on the coast of modern Turkey, Paul the Apostle was meeting with Christians. They met in an upstairs room and Paul preached for a long time. A young guy named Eutychus had perched himself near an open window, perhaps to catch a sea breeze blowing in the midnight air. The Bible says, “As Paul preached on and on, Eutychus was sound asleep and fell to the ground from the third story window and was feared dead” (Acts 20:9, paraphrased). Dear listener, let’s ignore the obvious comparison to many other sermons which have put you to sleep. For our study today, we might conjecture that this teenager was put in mortal danger by his sleep deprivation. Here’s a lesson indeed!

Eutychus has many descendants in America today. More than one-third of Americans report less than seven hours of sleep per night.[1] According to the United Health Foundation, “Sleep is critical for basic functions such as cognitive processing, mood regulation, blood sugar level and immune system response. Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cancer, depression, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Insufficient sleep is also associated with reduced productivity and quality of life…as well as risk of motor vehicle accidents, industrial accidents and medical errors. Drowsy driving caused 684 deaths in the United States in 2021 or 1.6% of all motor vehicle fatalities.”[2] All this drives home the value of what happens in your bedroom every night. It’s no wonder that the Geneva Convention classifies deliberate sleep deprivation as a form of wartime torture!

Unfortunately, our American culture doesn’t support healthy sleep habits. We are a culture obsessed with the myth that the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be. Many people sacrifice sleep, by choice or the demands of work schedule in our 24/7/365 society. This stress-filled schedule doesn’t make us sleep better at all. We may pride ourselves in our advanced culture and knowledge over primitive people, but it seems we’ve backtracked a long way from the commandment to keep a Sabbath of rest that God instructed the Hebrews to practice 3000 years ago!

My wife had a busy schedule years ago as she balanced full-time teaching with mothering teenagers and staying active at our church. Exhaustion lurked around the corner. She reported that she would fall into a microsleep episode when stopped at a red light, prompting our youngest daughter to say, “Momma, it’s green,” to wake her up. All of us can tell similar stories under the pressure of our overcommitted lifestyle. Now we understand how this exhaustion is bad for our health.

A huge amount of research on sleep has shown the benefits that come from getting good sleep. Earlier I mentioned emotional regulation, which helps us manage the stress of daily life in constructive ways. When we aren’t rested then we can’t handle our emotions, just like a cranky toddler who needs a nap. Another benefit is clearer thinking, where the cognitive processing of all the data that floods our senses is sorted out in rational ways. Memory and problem-solving deteriorate when we are tired. Our thoughts seem confused, and we can’t focus on doing what we are supposed to do.[3] For many of us, this drop in performance and quality of life becomes the dull norm that quietly robs us of feeling fully alert and alive.

Neurological research has discovered the complex interaction of several neurotransmitter chemicals that produce sleep. A couple of these are melatonin and adenosine. Your mind is aware of the day and night pattern of each day. Darkness raises the melatonin in the brain to make us sleepy. The brain is also monitoring the cellular activity expended during the day in the level of adenosine. High levels make us drowsy. They are working to reduce alertness to we can go to sleep.[4]

Dreams are an important part of sleep. Scientists debate the function of our dreams, with theories ranging from memory consolidation to emotional processing. We do know that poor sleep can make our dreams more intense and frequent. Another issue is nightmares that wake us from sleep with an intense experience of fear. If this is common it is a signal to seek some help with a therapist to look at the issues that may be troublesome.[5]

The stories of Jesus mention his sleep. Caught in a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples panicked while Jesus slept in the storm-tossed boat. The men shouted at him to bring him awake, “Rabbi, don’t you care? We are going to drown!” (Mark 4:38). Now it’s possible to interpret this story several ways. Maybe Jesus was sleep-deprived after days of demanding ministry. Maybe he wasn’t worried about the storm since he had the power to calm it. Or maybe he is an example of the vital habit we need to improve. Let’s say for today’s lesson that even Jesus needed a good nap every so often. If sleep was important for him, who do you think you are?

Sleep is important for your well-being. Here are some suggestions to promote effective rest and improve your quality of life.[6]

First, have a regular time for going to bed and getting up. The body needs consistency to set the internal clock. Of course, set this habit to give at least seven hours of sleep. Try to do the same, relaxing routine in the hour before bed, like taking a bath or some reading and meditation.

Second, set up your bedroom environment for success. Make it dark, cool, and quiet. Move out the dog, cat, or preschooler. Invest in a quality bed since you spend one-third of each day in it. Have an honest conversation with your bed partner for collaboration in what practices help both of you sleep better. Your body clock is very sensitive to light and needs a dark environment to promote the best sleep. It’s best to start dimming your environment two hours before bed. The bedroom should be dark to diminish the stimulation to your body clock.[7]

Third, program your brain and body for rest. Good sleep requires good preparation. Use the last hour of the day to calm your mind and body from the busy day. Avoid the stimulations of caffeine, alcohol, and big meals in the four hours before you lay down. Turn off electronics an hour before bed. Don’t wait until late in the evening to have important conversations. When you lay down, consciously become present to the bed and your body relaxing. Focusing on these immediate physical sensations may keep your brain from chattering about the day, tomorrow, and the other crazy things you have no control over at all!

During your next doctor’s appointment, take time to talk about your sleep. To prepare for that, keep a simple journal of how you sleep for two weeks before your doctor appointment. Record what you did in the evening, what time you went to bed, whether you got up during the night, and if you had any insomnia. In the morning, note how many hours you slept and take stock of how rested you feel. Pay attention to times of tiredness during the day. You can use a simple Sleep Diary to do this.[8] Take it to your next appointment to open the conversation.

A few months ago, I started using a sleep tracker that connects to my smart watch. It records heartrate, oxygen, and movement to analyze the phases of sleep. The data is combined for a score and suggestions to improve sleep. I know, it’s a nerdy thing and isn’t clinically accurate as a medical test. But I find it a good reminder about healthy sleep habits.

You can improve your life with some good sleep. Maybe you’re drowsy after this episode. That’s okay! Put some good practices into place tonight to be healthier tomorrow. Let me close with a quote from my mother-in-law, Ruth, as she spoke to the grandchildren. Her admonition was, “Good night, sleep tight and wake up in the morning bright, to do what’s right, with all your might.” May you do the same.

[1] “Insufficient Sleep in the United States.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Sleep and Mental Health.” Psychology Today.

[5] Alex Dimitriu and Eric Suni, “Dreams.” Sleep

[6] “Healthy Sleep Habits,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, March, 2022.

[7] Renske Lok, “Shedding Light on Restful Sleep.” Sleep Research Society, March, 2024.

[8] “Sleep Diary,” ,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, March, 2022.

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