Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Practical Christian Thoughts on Good Sleep

This is a pilot of a post to come which will (God willing) be a lot more clear and in depth. As an ex-insomniac I have spent a lot of time reading theories and studies of getting a good nights sleep, in fact during my a level psychology I took some extra-credit work looking at sleep patterns. As a theology student, I find a restful sleep vital to reduce stress and increase motivation and productivity. This post is to give some of the best advice, tips, and thoughts from that accumulated reading in hope they might help someone else.
So, in no particular order:

1. More sleep does not equal better rest, in fact restful sleep is built primarily on a consistent sleep pattern...i.e. its better for your body to shut down and wake up at the same time every night and morning than to have the occasional lie in or extra hour. Our brain patterns respond to zygotes, (better known as an internal clock) which function in patterns and cycles, the more efficiently this is regulated, the more productive our sleep.

2. How does one achieve a helpful sleep pattern? There are two main schools of thought, one is to simply sleep when your body tells you, i.e., when it’s tired; the other is to sleep and wake at exactly the same time each night. I feel however that an effective sleep pattern is built on a hybrid of these two theories: One should settle down to sleep in the evening when ones body is ready, (within some set boundaries...see below) and wake up at a regulated time in the morning.

3. Zygotes can be confusing, particularly when beginning a regulative pattern. Your liver starts to construct enzymes a few of hours after sun down which your body needs to be in a ready state for in order for this to work...so lets say your body really needs to be asleep by 11.00 (in the current UK climate and season).

4. You need to shut your mind down before your body. I.e. you should really stop working on that essay an hour before you settle down to sleep. That goes for thought-provoking TV and novels too. This should also help with our evening quiet times...don't use the time right before sleeping to have a deep Bible study, exercise a different part of your brain (and soul!) by taking a verse you know well, or a psalm and just reflect on and pray through that.

5. Think a lot about your sleeping area. What do you use your bed for? If you have difficulty sleeping then you should only use you bed when you sleep. Get your body used to the sensation of recognizing its surroundings as 'bed' to be immediately equated with 'sleep.' To make this work you should be expected to fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, if your not falling straight asleep get up, do something else, then settle back down...don't let your body get used to lying in bed and not sleeping (this one is mainly for the person who has difficulty sleeping).

5b. Linked to 5a, don't use your bed for pondering the day behind and ahead if you want to sleep, f your tired then your defenses are not up and pondering can quickly lead to sin. Prayer and submissive reflection is a more reasonable cognitive exercise when wanting to sleep.

6. Light is very important, if you put a flashlight to a chickens head it will wake up immediately because its skull is exceptionally thin and it has receptors and nerves around its brain and sinuses to wake it up. It’s the same with us, the thin skin around our eyes is very sensitive to light, make your room as dark as possible while preparing for sleep, and while sleeping.

7. Your sleep consists of a cycle which, when simplified, consists of non rapid eye movement times (NREM) and rapid eye movement times (REM). During peak NREM, your body is in deep sleep, here you are most difficult to rouse, and here your body does most work. Some poor sleepers have a disorder where they sleep for hours with little rest, and often feel drained when awake. This is often due to small periods of NREM, so little chance for the body to do its vital work. This is often corrected by getting into a gradual pattern of consistent sleep habits giving your body time to correct itself. During REM, you are the closest to awake, this engages your mind and schema memories, and hence you dream. This time is used to prepare your body for the next period of NREM. Those who suffer from consistent waking up often suffer because they find it difficult to regulate REM...this can be linked to stress, bad diet, or other physiological illness. If linked to stress (v-common), then perhaps a long soak in a hot bath with some lavender oil an hour or so before sleeping is a goo idea.

7b. Because of the above cycles (each lasting between 35-55 minutes roughly) need consistency to work effectively and both NREM and REM are vital to productive rest, then it is important to be as much in control as your sleeping area as possible to avoid unwanted unnecessary interruptions. This might involve locking the door, turning the phone off, having an alarm clock without the spine-chilling immediate shriek, etc.

8. A good diet, particularly a good intake of vitamin C, protein, iron, and amino acids are invaluable. vitamin C and iron allow your body the resources it needs to rest without feeding elsewhere, whereas protein and amino acids allow NREM times to be more effective for the bodies maintenance work.

9. Note, tiredness or drowsiness during the day is not usually linked to lack of sleep. More likely it is linked to boredom, stress, etc. Lack of sleep is generally shown through an inability to keep ones eyes open.

10. be respectful to your body via sleep. Enjoy God's gift of sleep, it is invaluable to the maintenance of our bodies and subsequently our general health, outlook, motivation, and discipline. A good sleep can be a practical step to Godliness. Do respect it. Read proverbs 6 for a healthy view of sleep. Pray for effective sleep, and enjoy it. Do not underestimate the importance of a good nights sleep. Remember, sleep is -not- a type of consciousness, it is an action which the body needs to perform. So like every deed of the body, seek to be in control of it by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Paddy MacBain said...

Good thoughts, Tim. I'm enjoying your blog having just discovered it, though this is the first time it'll put me to sleep!
Paddy MacBain.

Tim Gough said...

Hi Tim, interesting to read your blog on sleeping. I'm sure you'd be interested to know how Chinese Medicine views lack of sleep, and can differentiate insomnia in many ways - lack of 'yin', trouble with the spirit of the heart (the shen) blood deficiency, heat, and the list goes on...... I can heartily recommend acupuncture for anyone suffering from poor sleep who doesn't want to resort to prescription medicines.

Best wishes, Tim Gough (yes, we do have the same name!)