Sleep and Rest the Second Pillar
Psalm 127:2 says:
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
Matthew 11:28 says:
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
I think when we look at health matters, many of us don't realize how important our sleep is. I am one who needs a lot of sleep. My clock usually starts shutting off around 9 o'clock at night--which can be a little difficult when traveling and sitting in conferences when the meetings go on sometimes until very late.
I knew someone that was going through a dark season in their life. As a result of this, they stopped sleeping. This increased their trauma and anxiety to the point of insanity. Once they got help with the sleeplessness and began to start sleeping again, their body and emotions could work together again.
As you sleep, your body has time to repair itself. Your immune system recharges. Your major organs are restored. Old cells are being replaced with new ones. Your mind relaxes and orders its thoughts, creating a healthy mental state (Colbert, 37).
Sleep does five things:
- Regulates release of important hormones.
- Slows the aging process.
- Boosts the immune systems.
- Improves brain function.
- Reduces cortisol levels (Colbert, 39).
If you are having a hard time sleeping, here is a checklist of reasons this could be happening:
- Painful physical conditions
Arthritis, chronic back pain, tension headaches, degenerative disk disease, and other painful conditions can rob an otherwise healthy person of sleep.
May people doom their sleep by consuming caffeine in coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and over-the-counter headache medicines that contain caffeine. Caffeine increases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Caffeine can remain in the body for up to twenty hours. More that 80 percent of all Americans consume caffeine regularly, and the average American drinks about three cups of coffee a day.
- Cigarettes and alcohol
Nicotine and alcohol can interfere with sleep. Some people think alcohol helps you to fall asleep, but in fact, alcohol can disrupt the stages of sleep, causing you to sleep lighter and to awaken feeling less refreshed. Nicotine from cigarette smoking is a stimulant that causes adrenaline to be released, which often causes insomnia.
Decongestants, appetite suppressants, asthma medications, prednisone, thyroid medications, hormone replacement, some pain relievers, some blood pressure medications, and certain antidepressants may all cause insomnia.
- Food insomnia
Many people eat too much sugar and highly processed foods before bed, keeping their nightly date with a bowl of ice cream, piece of cake, or bag of popcorn. These carbohydrates stimulate excessive insulin release from the pancreas. The result is a "sugar high" of energy. But later, usually in the middle of the night, their blood sugar hits a "low" which triggers the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline and cortisol. Suddenly, they are awake and feel hungry again.
- Low-carb diets
These diets can also create a low-blood-sugar reaction, causing you to awaken in the middle of the night. Even if you fill up your stomach with healthy foods at bedtime, it may affect the quality of your sleep. When you eat too much protein or eat too late, you generally will need more sleep. This is especially true when you eat too much meat. That's the reason animals like lions and tigers usually require up to twenty hours a day of sleep: their bodies are having to digest and assimilate all the protein in the bellies.
People who exercise within three hours of going to sleep raise their levels of stress hormones, which may interfere with sleep.
- A bad mattress or pillow
Is there anything more frustrating than a mattress that is too saggy or too hard, or an overstuffed pillow? One of the best investments you can make for your health is a good mattress or pillow. To find the mattress for you, lie on the mattress and if you are able to get your entire hand through the small of your back, the mattress is too hard. If, while lying flat on the bed, the base of your spine is lower than your heels, the mattress is too soft. When shopping for the right pillow, make sure it is soft enough to conform to the contours of your head and neck, but also thick enough to support the head and neck in the neutral position (Colbert, 54).
- A snoring spouse
A snoring spouse wrecks many people's sleep. Most snorers tend to be overweight. They typically have increased thickness around their neck and poor muscle tone of their tongue and throat. Simply losing weight, sometimes ten or fifteen pounds, can make a huge difference. Snoring can also be helped if a person avoids using alcohol, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, or sleep medications. These send to relax the muscles of the throat and can worsen snoring (Colbert, 55).
- Hot flashes or menstrual cramps
Women over fifty often know the aggravation of being kept awake by hot flashes or night sweats. Other women have such severe cramping that they become insomniacs every month when their period arrives.
- Enlarged prostate
Some men over fifty find themselves on a there-and-back-again loop to the bathroom when they should be sleeping (Colbert, 42-44).
One thing I try to do is early in the morning I will go outside and sit in the sun for 10 minutes, no sunscreen, just sunshine. What this does is produce natural melatonin in your body that helps you sleep at night (more on this later).
Also, engage in some sort of aerobic exercise. I like to walk. Just make sure that it is 4 hours before you go to bed. People who exercise spend a greater amount of time in stage three and four sleep, which is the most restorative and repairing stage of sleep. (See more on sleep stages in Dr. Colbert's book on page 46.)
Eat a modest, healthy dinner four hours before bedtime. As the sun goes down, your body will relax naturally. You are designed hormonally to stay in sync with the cycles of nature. When the light fades, the hormone melatonin is released into your bloodstream, making you sleepy. Follow your body signal. Turn down the lights. Light messes up our hormonal response at night. A late afternoon massage or even a hand held massage can help relax you (Colbert, 49).
Here are some natural sleep aides you can use to help you sleep:
- Valerian 150mg -- 300mg taken one hour before bedtime.
- 5-HTP 150mg -- 300mg taken at dinner or before bedtime.
- Calcium and magnesium; use recommended dose.
- L-theanine 100mg to 200mg, 2 hours or less before bedtime.
- Melatonin 1 or 2 mg under the tongue at bedtime. (Do not give this to children).
- It is important to check with your health care provider especially if you are taking medications before you take any of these supplements (Colbert, 57-60).
Many years ago we were visiting Spain. I noticed that during the middle of the day the stores would close and the children would come home in the afternoon from school and then leave later to go back to school. We found out that during the middle of the day the people in Spain would REST. Then, after their afternoon rest they would go back and open their shops or go back to work. I decided back then that the Spanish people were so wise. As well, many Latin American countries do the same thing. What smart people! We live in such a busy world that thinking of taking a nap in the middle of the day is only a dream. Researchers at Loughborough University's Sleep Research Laboratory have found that people are designed for two sleeps a day. Very successful men have been known to nap regularly: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and George W. Bush (Colbert, 62). All I need is a 20-minute nap during the day, and I'm ready to go. I call them power naps and they are a blessing and we should not feel guilty for taking one when we get a chance.
As you can see by reading this article, sleep and resting are an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. We are more productive and alert.
One of the things my husband does at night when he lays his head on his pillow is he cultivates praise and a thankful heart. When he does this, it puts all of the day's stuff into perceptive and puts him at rest.
To your health!
Colbert, Don. The Seven Pillars of Health. Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, 2007.