“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” In 1735, Benjamin Franklin wrote these words in the Poor Man’s Almanac, unaware that it would become the mantra of the modern western world. Sleep is a tool, a gift, and for some, utterly evasive. However, we often underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep, causing us to develop poor sleep patterns that have adverse effects in our health and daily life. In this episode of ANN InDepth, host Jennifer Stymiest is joined by Dr. Roger Seheult, a Pulmonology doctor with Beaver Medical Group and Associate Professor at Loma Linda University, as well as Dr. Katia Reinert, the Associate Director for the Health Ministries Department at the General Conference.
We have all suffered the consequences of a poor night’s sleep. It is that foggy, groggy, unfocused feeling that can drain our energy as well as impact our productivity, and it all starts with our sleep habits. Reinert confirms that “[sleep] basically impacts every area of our well-being and health. I mean you talk about physical health, mental health, it has to do with our longevity.” Studies have shown that sleep has long term effects which go beyond a single “off day”, but connect to weight loss, blood pressure, cognitive ability, and susceptibility to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In addition to the physical effects of sleep, our mental health is also linked to our ability to get proper REM sleep, which allows our minds to rest and rebalance, diminishing depression, anxiety, OCD, and more. Any college student can tell you that, though good in theory, pulling an all-nighter can leave you drained and unable to remember the content, since memory loss is another adverse result of bad sleep patterns.
The endless studies covering the ripple effects of bad sleep habits, all reveal one universal truth: we were created to respect and maintain the delicate balance of our bodies. God is an intentional creator, making humanity in such a way that no aspect of our health is meant to be neglected. Like a circle of dominos, once the balance is disrupted, the rest of our lives are affected. Our mental, physical, and spiritual health are intertwined in such a way that proves God means for us to care for ourselves with full person care. An example of God’s intentional design is circadian rhythm, the internal clock in our bodies that tells us when to sleep. Dr. Seheult explains:
there's a master clock that sits in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus and that is the master clock that regulates all of those clocks, and that's in part of exposure to light, melatonin sleep and so sleep is a very very high function issue in terms of a regulation of the body so really the question should be is what part of the body isn't affected by sleep.
In light of science and personal experience showing that sleep is more than just rest, but a vital part of our functioning, why is it so hard to sleep? Though there are some that suffer from insomnia, a majority of sleeplessness stems from poor sleep habits. We have rushed the process of sleep. Rather than making our bedroom a space without screens, we bring our phones, our laptops, and our televisions. Rather than letting our bodies and minds ease into sleep naturally we take high doses of Melatonin, often resulting in adverse effects. In short, rather than allowing a slow descent into sleep, we slam on the brakes expecting a soft stop. All affect the circadian rhythm, training our bodies to shut down later and later, not providing our bodies enough time to rest. Unlearning these unhealthy sleep habits is made even more difficult when western culture glorifies the sleepless lifestyle that sacrifices rest for the sake of work. Latin cultures have siestas, France has 2 hour lunch breaks, many Europeans have month long vacations, and the western world has Hustle Culture. This glorification of “the grind” has come at the expense of basic health. In a culture where going without sleep is mistaken for a good work ethic, and constant stimuli in the form of social media, television, and podcasts are mistaken for rest, carving out a healthy sleep routine is seen as a luxury or laziness.
So how do we re-educate our circadian rhythm? Both Seheult and Reinert agree that creating a proper environment for sleep is a good start. Reclaiming the bedroom as a space for rest, without extra stimuli will help prepare the body and mind for sleep. Not eating before bed to ensure the body isn’t busy with digestion while trying to unwind. Most of all, not forcing yourself to go to sleep earlier. It is helpful to go to bed around the time you fall asleep, then gradually make the bedtime earlier and earlier, all promoted by better sleep conditions. This slow reversal is key to rewiring the body for quality rest. God designed us to function in a specific way, and sins interruption meant our return to a pre-edenic well-being will take time, however with the proper habits it can be done.