God never sleeps, but we desperately need to

By Curtis K. Shelburne

When I learned that CBS’ 60 Minutes news program was doing a story on sleep, I was interested. Sleeping is one thing I’ve always been really good at. But if anyone has pointers to help my technique . . . So I made sure to watch what was a fascinating program, and I learned a lot.

In 1980 a study was done using rats who were kept awake indefinitely. After five days, they began dying. They needed sleep as badly as they needed food. All mammals do.

Modern folks in our society have been a little snooty and dismissive about sleep, as if needing to snooze at all is something of an embarrassment, a luxury we could likely do without if we weren’t lazy and unmotivated.

Not so.

Recent studies show that sleep is every bit as important to our health as diet and exercise, and that we need 7 1/2 to 8 hours of it each day. The lack thereof seriously impacts our memory, our metabolism, our appetite, and how we age. A recent study at the University of Chicago School of Medicine restricted the sleep of young, healthy test subjects to four hours a night for six consecutive nights. At the end of that time, tests showed that each of the subjects was already in a pre-diabetic state (which would be naturally reversed when they resumed sleeping normally).

They were also hungry. Lack of sleep caused a drop in levels of leptin, a hormone that tells our brains when we’re not hungry.

A lack of sleep? No problem. If you don’t mind being fat and sick. One researcher said that sleep deprivation should definitely be considered a risk factor for Type II diabetes. The program host went on to mention studies done all over the world linking lack of sleep to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke—not to mention the mood swings that make sleep-deprived people “hell on wheels” to harmony in their homes and workplaces, and whose brain activity on MRIs mimics that of the severely psychiatrically disturbed.

To those who say they have trained themselves to do fine with little sleep, the researchers reply, “Nonsense.” For a day or two, artificial “counter measures” such as caffeine or physical activity may mask the problem, but it is cumulative and real, and can’t be hidden for long.

“People who are chronically sleep-deprived, like people who have had too much to drink, often have no sense of their limitations,” said Dr. David Dinges at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “It’s a convenient belief,” he says. But he issues a standing invitation for “any CEO or anyone else in the world” to come to his laboratory and prove it.

We easily adopt society’s lie that our true worth is in what we produce. We’re so impressed with ourselves, our indispensability, our strategies and plans. We quit “wasting time” by sleeping much. Then the wheels come off even as we slog on physically and emotionally as if through molasses. And the God who is real Rest and Peace but who Himself never needs to sleep, chuckles and says, “Time for bed, child. Go to sleep and let me do within you what you can’t do for yourself.”

I think there is a lesson in that, but right now I need a nap.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at: ckshel@aol.com