You might be thinking that sleep seems like an odd place to start a series on soul shaping. How can you shape your soul while you sleep? Sleep seems so…. passive. Maybe so, but I think that’s exactly the reason why it’s the most perfect place to start.
Americans are notorious for not getting enough sleep. In fact, it’s even officially become a public health problem. We choose a lot of things over sleep- working, exercising, watching Netflix, reading, Facebook scrolling, and maybe even making out (whatever, you know it’s true). And for some of us, we really wish that we could sleep more, but too much caffeine, too much screen time, and too much worry keep us from dozing off peacefully early in the night.
While I know sleep is complicated and it’s way more complex than I even know, I want to talk about a side effect that doesn’t really make the headlines very often.
Insufficient sleep damages our souls.
1. When we’re well-rested, we make better choices for ourselves and for others.
In a May 2015, Washington University performed a study on sleep deprivation. You can read the details of the study here, but basically they concluded that when people don’t get enough sleep, they make really stupid decisions.
“It wasn’t just that sleep-deprived people were slower to recover,” says Paul Whitney, a psychologist at the university who led the study. “Their ability to take in new information and adjust was completely devastated.”
Whitney says sleep scientists still don’t understand why this happens. But it looks like the lack of sleep may be dulling the nervous system’s response to new information. They found this out by hooking up the volunteers to electrodes that tracked their bodies’ response to stimuli.
“Normally, the machine will pick up when people have a strong negative or positive response to something,” Whitney says. “And we found that for the sleep-deprived group, the machine wasn’t picking up much. Their reactions were completely blunted,” Whitney says. (Source: NPR)
While this study was done with people who were sleep deprived for 48 hours, many believe that the kind of sleep deprivation happening with the average American still causes these kinds of problems. With dulled reactions and an inability to take in and adjust to new information, how can our soul be formed in a positive way? How can we be treating others with compassion while listening for the often quiet voice of the Spirit when our minds and nerves are dulled?
2. When we choose sleep instead of working into the wee hours of the night, we are recognizing our human limitations and boundaries.
For some, long work hours are a part of life they desperately wish they could change. Many who work for minimum wage pay have to work 2 jobs just to pay the bills and put food on the table. That’s not really the kind of situation I’m talking about here (but that could certainly be another post!). I’m talking about the person who works late into the night, believing that he or she always needs to do just one more thing, or the person who finds his or her identity in the amount of work produced or the accolades given for the long hours and hard work. Sometimes it’s easy to believe that if we don’t get something done, the world we’ve created will fall apart.
Here’s the reality: we all have the 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week. If we’re working hard and wisely and we still can’t manage to make time to do the other things God desires for us (like sleep), then perhaps it’s because some of the things on our plates are not really what God desires for us. Perhaps we’ve said yes to one too many things and it’s time to ask God, “Is this what you want for me? Is there something that I can get off my plate? Something I can say ‘no’ to, giving someone else the opportunity to use their gifts too?” For some of us, this may be one of the most courageous prayers we can pray.
3. God designed our bodies to sleep.
So many amazing things happen while we’re off in dreamland. Our muscles are repaired. Our memories are consolidated. Our hormones that control growth and appetite are regulated. Our body and brain take care of themselves, getting everything back to where it needs to be for the next day. It’s not an accident that all of these things happen during the most “unproductive” parts of our days. God created our bodies and brains to work this way, which means it may be wise to lean into sleep instead of fight against it.
I’m a person that really struggles with choosing to sleep. After the kids go to bed, the house is quiet and it refreshes my soul. I have a million projects to do, things to learn, work to accomplish, and books to read. By the time 11p or midnight rolls around, I typically feel more energized and awake then what I felt at 8p when the last kid finally drifted off to sleep. My desire to avoid sleep lies in the spaces of my heart that love to work- if I do just one more thing, then maybe I’ll feel ___________ . On different days I can fill that blank with different things. Maybe I’ll feel more Useful. Important. Fulfilled. Recognized. Loved. All of these are simply substitutes for what my soul is really needing– fulfillment that only comes through knowing deep in my soul who I am and what God thinks of me.
So friends, lets do our souls a favor and go to bed earlier tonight.