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Nap Time

July 18, 2011

I usually write this column on Wednesday evening after I get home from a long day’s work. I submit it to the newspaper on Thursday to be published the following Monday.

This week when I sat down to my computer to write these words, I fell sound asleep. I was tired because I hadn’t gotten enough rest.

Clare’s observation was, “You need a nap.”

I eased into the La-Z-Boy recliner, doing as my wife advised. Upon waking, I decided to write about sleep.

As a pastor, I am well aware that folks need their sleep. Some Sunday mornings as I wax eloquent from the pulpit, I notice those in the pews with their heads bowed and eyes closed. My assumption, not always accurate, is those devout souls are deep in prayer.

In this country our greatest national deficit has nothing to do with the federal budget. We are a sleep deprived people. According to the National Institutes of Health about 70 million Americans suffer from lack of sleep. Many Americans are sleeping less than six hours a night. Sleep problems affect three out of four adults. A short-lived bout of insomnia is nothing to worry about. The bigger concern is chronic sleep loss.

If you have ever pulled an all-nighter, you know the results of missing one night of sleep. We are apt to be irritable the next day. We may seem energetic because of excess adrenaline. Eventually we will become exhausted.

If a person misses two nights of sleep, concentration becomes difficult. Attention suffers. Mistakes increase.

After three days, a person begins to hallucinate. Clear thinking is impossible. With continued wakefulness a person loses touch with reality.

Good sleep helps us think, plan, organize, remember, and comprehend. Sleep restores us and helps us pay attention. When we do not sleep well, we put ourselves at risk for drowsiness and accidents. Poor sleep may trigger depression and may weaken our immune system.

Getting a good night’s sleep means falling asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of going to bed, waking up refreshed, and being able to maintain alertness throughout the day. Everything looks and feels better in the morning. Both the brain and the body are refreshed and ready for a new day.

Sleep gives the body a chance to repair muscles and other tissues. Serious sleep disorders have been linked to high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. Sleep deprivation alters immune function and makes us more susceptible to disease.

Sleep helps the brain process new information. Sleep enhances learning and improves memory because it gives the brain a chance to organize and retain data. Dreams are an important part of this process. It really does help us make a better decision when we sleep on it.

Chronic sleep deprivation causes weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates. Hormones that affect our appetite are sleep related. Sleep lowers our energy consumption, so we need less calories.

Sleep makes us more alert. Sleep deprivation leads to a tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause errors at work, traffic accidents, and mistakes at home.

Sleep improves our mood. Sleep loss may result in irritability and impatience.

Sleep is just too important to shortchange.

There’s little question that the duration and quality of our sleep can have a pronounced effect on our physical and mental health and our ability to cope with the challenges of the day.

How much sleep do we need? Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. You probably know how much sleep you need in an average night to feel your best.

How can we improve our chances of getting a good night’s rest? It is impossible to force ourselves to fall asleep by sheer willpower. Learning how to relax will help us get to sleep faster and easier.

Regular exercise helps tire and relax the human body. Exercise and a shower at least two hours before bedtime enhances sleep.

Caffeine and other chemicals like nicotine and alcohol can interfere with good sleep.

A regular bedtime and wakeup time, even on weekends, contributes to better sleep patterns.

A comfortable bed in a darkened room is the best place to sleep.

One way to compensate for sleep loss is to take a power nap or a catnap. A power nap involves a break from activity, while a catnap is of a more leisurely nature. We may take a power nap in the middle of a busy workday, and a catnap on the couch during a lazy afternoon.

Many cultures have recognized and promoted the benefits of daily naps, including the tradition of the siesta in Spain and the inemuri in Japan. Some trucking companies encourage drivers to pull over and take a 15-minute power nap to help reduce the risk of fatigue.

A woman telephoned my office and asked for a recording of one of my sermons. She did not know the date or the title of the sermon, but she did remember one of the illustrations. I was not sure which sermon included the story, so I took CDs of two sermons home to find the one she wanted. After supper I played one of the tapes. I listened to the sound of my own voice.

And I went sound asleep.

Kirk H. Neely
© August 2011
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