Why is sleep so important, and how can we get more of it?

According to medical experts, getting enough sleep can help to protect our physical and mental health, our quality of life and even our safety. As we sleep, the body is busy working to support physical growth and healing as well as healthy brain function. The body and brain are preparing for the next day and forming new pathways to help us learn and recall information. It is also busy healing the body, for example repairing the heart and blood vessels.

Sleep deficiency can impact the way we react, think, learn, work and respond to others. In the short term it can put us at risk of accident and injury through a lapse in concentration, and in the longer term it has the potential to increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. Lack of sleep has also been linked with risk-taking behaviour, lack of motivation, relationship breakdown, mood swings, anxiety, depression and even suicide.

People who don’t sleep well tend to take longer to get things done, make more mistakes and have slower reaction times. Losing just an hour or two of sleep each night can have the same impact as not sleeping at all for a couple of days. It’s possible that we can experience microsleep – brief moments of sleep while we’re officially awake – when we are sleep-deprived. This is far from ideal if we’re driving or carrying out high-risk activities.

So how do we increase our chances of getting quality sleep?

Everyone is different, and your circumstances may make getting sufficient sleep really difficult – for example if you work shifts or have a newborn. However, there are a few basic rules that are worth following if you’re struggling to get a decent night’s sleep:

  • Stay active during the day. Maintaining an active lifestyle and getting out in the fresh air can really help to prepare the body for a good night’s sleep, as well as offering many other health benefits.
  • Eat and drink wisely. Avoid large meals, alcoholic drinks, caffeine and nicotine before bed. Even drinking a strong coffee in the early afternoon could make falling asleep more difficult, so if in doubt, cut it out!
  • Be wise about napping. While small children may benefit from longer naps, adults should limit daytime sleeps to no more than 20 minutes and take them during the early afternoon. Short naps can help to improve performance and alertness if you are flagging during the day.
  • Start prioritising sleep. You may be really busy, but you can’t afford to regularly sacrifice sleep for the sake of work or other commitments. Aim to go to bed at least eight hours before you need to wake up, even if you aren’t able to sleep for the whole time.
  • Get into a healthy routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even at weekends. Doing so will help to keep your sleep-wake rhythm in order.
  • Wind down during the hour before bed. Take a hot bath so that your temperature naturally drops as you get into bed, and use relaxation techniques or prayer to calm your mind. Keep work well away from the bedroom!
  • Create a conducive sleeping environment. Make sure your room is cool, quiet and dark. Bright lights can signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up, even late at night.

Psalm 127:2 says: “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.”