How's Your Sleep?
by Gretchen Fromke, M.S.
A poor night’s sleep, we’ve all experienced it at different times in our lives. It’s no fun. If you’ve spent a
good part of a night tossing and turning, it inevitably impacts you the next day. We’re grumpy, short-
tempered, and have a lower tolerance for anything that might irritate us. We compensate by downing
large doses of Starbucks and count the hours until we can sleep again.
One bad night of sleep is bothersome, but for some 40 million Americans, most over the age of 40, a
chronic sleep disorder is a way of life. It is estimated that one-third of adults experience sleep problems.
Yet interestingly, American culture seems to minimize the need for sleep. In fact, we often glorify
individuals who seem to function on less sleep. They are held up as models of productivity. It makes me
wonder how many of us would do away with half of our sleep if we didn’t experience any deficits?
And so there is this dissonance or tension about sleep. We know we need it, but we really don’t know
why. When it eludes us, we value it even more. Sleep continues to be a mysterious frontier of exploration
even in science.
Sleep is a basic human need and vital to our well-being. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is
as important as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Lack of sleep is a seriously
harmful situation physically, emotionally, and psychologically for individuals at any age.
Matthew Walker, the director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley,
states,”In a series of studies done back in the 1980’s, rats were kept awake indefinitely. After just five
days, they started dying. In fact, sleep is as essential as food because they will die just about as quick
from food deprivation as sleep deprivation. It’s that necessary” (“Science of Sleep”, 2009).
Research reveals that sleeplessness impacts our appetite, our metabolism, our memory, and how we
age. It slows our thinking, impairs our reaction time, increases anger, decreases our capacity for stress,
and makes us less likely to engage in good habits such as eating well and exercising. In one study
conducted by Taylor, Lichstein, Durrence, Reidel, and Bush, at the University of North Texas (2005),
people with insomnia were almost 10 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression and more than
17 times more likely to be affected by “clinically significant” anxiety. Sleeplessness is also linked with
Clearly, adequate sleep is essential to our health and well-being.
Children, adolescents and adults need different amounts of sleep. For children, sleep is the primary
activity of the brain during early development. A child will spend 40 percent of his or her childhood
asleep. Sleep directly impacts their mental and physical development.
Likewise, brain development is one of the most significant events that occur during adolescence and
sleep is an active process that promotes neurological development in teens. Teens need 9 ¼ hours of
sleep each night to function best (for some 8 ¼ is enough).
Adults vary with needs ranging from 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, most adults sleep less than
7, and the average woman aged 30-60 sleeps only six hours and forty-one minutes during the workweek.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say their sleep needs are not met during the week.
The work of sleep researchers seems to shed light on what happens when we sleep. In sleep, we rest
and heal, we dream and generate ideas, we solidify and retain memories, and we reinforce our
immunity. In the young, tissue growth and repair occur and important hormones are released for growth
and development. The Psalmist writes, “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late
at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:2).
Perhaps this is part of the reason God created us with a great need and capacity for sleep. After all, most
humans will spend one-third of their lives asleep. Freelance writer, Amy Simpson (2013) brings another
perspective. “Is all this sleep really a waste? A luxury we can’t afford? A haven for the lazy? Or is it an
expression of our humanity, an act of submission to God, a celebration of his creation? Might it be
valuable in its own right?”
She poses the idea that the Bible portrays sleep as a reflection of our relationship with God. It is an act of
trust: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (Psalm 4:8). It is a
celebration of God’s blessing: “You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly. You
need not be afraid of sudden disaster or the destruction that comes upon the wicked, for the Lord is your
security” (Proverbs 3:24-26). And finally, she points out that it is a point of distinction between us and
God: “He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who
watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:3-4).
So perhaps a change in perspective about sleep could help all of us wherever we are on the spectrum of
sleep behavior. Solutions for the sleepless may lie in medical interventions, relaxation therapy,
medication, lifestyle changes, spiritual transformation or a combination of any of these. An informed
counselor can help you navigate your options if you struggle with this. But ultimately, the most important
realization for all of us, whether we can control how much we sleep or not, is that our sleep matters to
God. It is part of his design for the rhythm of life and looking to him in trust with the sleep that he grants
lays the foundation for peace.
Gretchen Fromke, M.S., N.C.C.
Finkelstein, S. (Producer). (2009). The science of sleep. [Television series
episode]. In CBS 60 minutes. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8364-
Simpson, A., (2013, September 21). Big business and the sacred mystery of
sleep. Retrived from http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/august/
Taylor, D.J., Lichstein, K.L., Durrence, H.H., Reidel, B.W., & Bush, A.J., (2005,
November 28). Epidemiology of insomnia, depression, and anxiety.