This article was written for and published in Grain Valley News (Link)
“I don’t want to go to sleep,” my five-year-old grandson protested defiantly. “Why not?” my wife asked patiently. “I hate to sleep” he grumbled. For the next twenty minutes, he tried to argue and delay the inevitable. But, five minutes after his head hit the pillow–he was out. The crazy thing is, he hates to get up. It’s easier to pull wallpaper off with a plastic spoon than to get him out of bed in the morning.
I enjoy sleeping. I also love my pillow. My wife is somewhat grossed out that I have had the same pillow for longer than I have been married to her (33+ years). She has washed it, re-covered it, and sewed it up on more than one occasion. Reading that sentence kind of freaks me out, but I do love my pillow.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to sleep. Decades of working on a morning show have wreaked havoc on my sleeping patterns. While working in radio, I was up about 3:15 AM. I set a minimum of two alarms. One of them was across the room so that I literally had to get out of bed and walk across the room. I also made sure the coffee pot was on auto brew. Getting up was a continuous challenge.
Going to bed was a challenge, too. Unfortunately, with kids and a busy life, I rarely got to bed before 10 PM which meant, I generally got about 5 ½ hours of sleep. The weekends were reserved for sleeping in.
What goes up must come down. By early afternoon I’d crash. I can remember nodding off at my desk at work or crashing in the easy chair when I got home. Sometimes, the nap affected my ability to sleep that night. It was a vicious cycle.
We’re all tired. I’ve even seen people fall asleep in church. These folks, like Adam’s eldest son, Cain, have “settled in the land of Nod” (Genesis 4:16). People, who perhaps stay up too late Saturday night, succumb to the rhythmic, hypnotic voice of the minister and helplessly wander off to the land of Nod.
In the times of the Puritans, dealing with sleepers in church took a more radical approach. According to the New England Historical Society, sleepers in church were dealt with harshly. In 1667, one church in Boston considered building a cage to imprison and impose shame on sleepers. However, most churches employed the use of the beadles (men given the job of keeping order in the services), who carried three-foot long sticks to prod those who followed the line of Cain.
Transitioning out of morning radio was pretty easy. I figured my body might instinctively arouse from slumber at 3:15 AM. It did not. But, I did learn how to enjoy staying up a little later and sleeping later. Several weeks later it dawned on me, “hey, I’m not falling asleep in the middle of the day!” I had been incredibly sleep-deprived.
Finding a sleeping rhythm for me has been difficult and, for a couple of years, I have been doing some reading on sleeping. Many people are just like me. We are sleep deprived and don’t know it. Multiple studies have shown that about half to two-thirds of all adults don’t get enough sleep.
Sleep is critical to our physical, emotional, and even spiritual health and well-being. In fact, according to one study, if you’re trying to diet, but not losing weight, it may be connected to your sleep. If you’re not getting restorative sleep, 70% of the weight you will lose will come from lean muscle rather than fat. Our bodies become resistant to giving up fat when we haven’t had enough sleep. So, we can have the donut, as long as we sleep in an extra hour. Sounds good to me.
The term “getting enough sleep” is a little tricky. As you probably know, there are stages of sleep. They are all important and necessary as they contribute to our body’s circadian rhythm (natural body clock).
REM, or rapid eye movement, is the deepest sleep stage. During this stage, the eyes move rapidly in all directions. Generally, it takes about 90 minutes to enter this stage. There is intense brain activity and you may experience crazy dreams. REM sleep restores the brain and helps with learning and memory. It’s like a ctrl/alt/del for the brain.
Deep Sleep is different than REM and is sometimes called, NREM (non-rapid eye movement). During this phase of sleep, the body naturally heals itself replacing cells, healing wounds, and building muscle tissue.
The five stages of sleep take time and, under normal circumstances, are somewhat predictable in frequency and length. The problem is, if you only sleep 5 ½ hours a night, there isn’t enough physical time for your body to naturally progress through the various stages of sleep designed to bring healing to your brain and body. Our brains and bodes may act like that little spinning wheel on our computers when they’re trying to think.
Our biggest question is, “how much sleep do I need?” The answer is not the same for everyone. However, a rule of thumb is, sleep until you wake up—naturally. Like a toaster, your body should pop up when it’s done.
As an experiment, shoot for 8 hours of sleep. Set an “emergency alarm” for when you absolutely need to get up, then count back 8 or 9 hours and go to bed. See what time you wake up naturally and adjust accordingly.
Several sleep tips:
- Since our bodies circadian system is based upon daylight and dark, power down the lights and bright screens no less than an hour before bed. Benjamin Franklin said: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Apparently, he knew something about circadian rhythms. Franklin was one of six, non-presidents to be featured on U.S. currency. Apparently, hitting the hay early worked out really well for him.
- Turn off all notifications from your phone at night. You can adjust these in your settings. My notifications go off at 10 PM and come back on at 5 AM. The nice thing is, my phone will still ring in case of emergency. However, I am not notified if someone likes my latest Facebook post.
- Concentrate on the look and feel of your bedroom. Is your bedroom relaxing? If you go to bed, opposite your computer desk with unfinished work laying there, there’s a good chance it will be on your mind. Also, a cooler temperature will help you sleep better. The best sleeping temperature is about 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Finally, avoid big meals and too much activity too close to bedtime. These can affect your quality of sleep. Some researchers say it’s best to avoid workouts and heavy meals 3 hours before bedtime.
I never realized how sleep-deprived I was until I went from 5 ½ hours of sleep to about 8. I no longer fall asleep in the middle of the day and never head off to the land of Nod in church—which is a good thing considering that I am the pastor.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Church Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech at Johnson Country Community College, and a freelance writer.