Practical advice for achieving a good night’s sleep
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor; this is not medical advice.
Did you know you can be drunk without drinking any alcohol? Professor at Harvard Medical School, Charles Czeisler, states, “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.”1 Legally drunk because of sleep deprivation!2
In 2016, it was estimated that more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep.3 A booklet called Waking up to the Health Benefits of Sleep published by Oxford University and the British Royal Society for Public Health states that “Over half (54%) of the public have felt stressed from poor sleep.”4 A 2017 survey revealed that 45.1% of Japanese high schoolers reported falling asleep during classes, a higher percentage than for students in the USA, China, and Korea.5
Do you get enough?6 My struggle to achieve between seven and eight hours of sleep a night continues. I know there is a direct correlation between sleep deficiency and a loss of spiritual vitality and emotional well-being.7 Sleep is not a luxury. It is essential for daily maintenance and keeps our brains functioning properly,8 and the lack of it is linked to many chronic diseases and conditions, including heart disease and stroke, depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity.9 Neuroscientist Matthew Walker has written a good article on why sleep deprivation is increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s—and what you can do about it (link in the endnotes).10
Some years ago, a visiting OMF doctor commented on how many OMF workers in Japan considered themselves to be “extremely tired.” The reasons for this were many and interrelated but certainly included “working too hard,” “concern caused by the non-responsiveness of Japanese to the good news,” and “sleep deprivation/insomnia.”
What we can do
I have not discovered any single cure for sleeplessness (that is, when one has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as desired), but I do have some methods I have tried with varying amounts of success. I share these with you using the acronym CALM down to SLEEP in the hope that something may connect and help you. The realisation of the importance of sleep can cause us to become anxious, which makes things worse. Calm down, relax, and breathe. You can get back to enjoying your night’s rest, but it may take some time.
C: Circadian rhythms
We all experience 24-hour rhythms that are driven by a circadian clock (think of the disturbance caused by jet-lag). I have found that going to sleep and waking up around the same time helps me to sleep better, as does getting at least ten minutes of direct sunlight a day and having a doable before-bed routine.11 What about mentally deciding to start your day when you go to bed to emphasise the importance of sleep in your schedule?
A: Afternoon naps
Power naps shorter than 30 minutes and taken before 4 pm are helpful in many ways, including restoring energy.12 However, naps are not a replacement for needed deep sleep and REM activity that occurs only after at least 90 minutes of sleep.
L: Laughter and lavender oil
Fifteen to thirty minutes of laughter and the use of lavender oil (three drops of pure oil activated by rubbing on your hands, applied to your feet, and deeply inhaled) have helped me.
Be careful of the long-term use of sleeping tablets. I can testify to the addictiveness of these medications so casually prescribed 14 years ago by a Japanese doctor during the period my first wife was battling cancer. A melatonin supplement is helping me to finally conquer this addiction.
According to Dr. Frank Lipman: “Antihistamines, diuretics, antipsychotics, antidepressants, decongestants, asthma medications, and some blood pressure medicines can cause sleeplessness and disturb REM sleep.”13
S: Sounds (especially snoring)
The great smartphone app “SnoreLab” rated the snoring coming from our bedroom as “epic!” We raised the head of our bed 15 centimetres, giving the bed an overall five degree slant. This reduced the sounds by 70% (but increased my back pain). This app can record sleeping sounds, which can help a doctor to diagnose a sleep apnoea problem.
I continue to try different kinds of earplugs (solid metal with rubber tips are the best but can hurt after some nights) and often listen to white noise through earphones. I have a lifetime subscription with Brain.fm, an app which provides music that helps with sleep and relaxation.
Current research shows that exposure to light at night, even at low levels, is detrimental to sleep and potentially harmful.14 I was discouraged when the eye masks I first used blackened the bedding because of my sweat. The best sleep mask is one made by Tempur and is worth the price. In a pinch, the “40° heated for 10 minutes” MegRhythm disposable masks work.
E: Eating and energy drinks
Energy drinks (including coffee) drunk after 4 pm and large meals full of carbohydrates and sugar at night can disturb sleep.
Ask God to help you to enjoy your sleep, even the times when you wake up unexpectedly. Meditation and thankfulness can lead to praise-filled intercessory prayer times in the middle of the night. At least twice, I found myself praying for a critically sick colleague and friend in the middle of the night and realised later that this was the time when they were transported to heaven.
The God who “gives rest to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:2 NLT) loves us unconditionally and knows what we (and others) need and how much we can take. Trust him!
Calm down, relax, and breathe. Jesus’ grace and strength are sufficient in our extreme weakness. Jesus will allow us to grow as we begin, one step at a time, to get enjoyable and refreshing sleep.
1. Journal abstract: “Sleep deficit: the performance killer. A conversation with Harvard Medical School Professor Charles A. Czeisler,” 2006 Oct, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17040040
2. Lissette Calveiro, “Studies Show Sleep Deprivation Performance Is Similar to Being Under the Influence of Alcohol,” March 31, 2016, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lissette-calveiro/studies-show-sleep-deprivation-performance-is-similar-to-being-under-the-influence-of-alcohol_b_9562992.html
3. Anna Almendrala, “More Than A Third Of Americans Don’t Get Enough Sleep,” February 19, 2016, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/americans-arent-getting-enough-sleep_us_56c61306e4b0b40245c9687b
4. “Waking up to the health benefits of sleep” can be downloaded here: https://www.rsph.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/50220c8f-febb-416e-8f3f7a4d2f973897.pdf
5. Nihon Kanzen Shinbun, “Over 40% of Japanese high school students sleep in class” (Japanese website), April 7, 2010, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXNASDG0704E_X00C10A4000000/
6. A useful English/Japanese explanation and questionnaire PDF on sleep problems (221 kB) can be downloaded here: https://www.healthinfotranslations.org/pdfDocs/Common_Sleep_Problems_JPN.pdf
7. Christine Shellnutt, “God Wants You to Get Some Sleep,” January 22, 2017, https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/january/god-wants-you-to-get-some-sleep.html
8. Joseph Mercola, “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It”, March 29, 2018, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2018/03/29/why-do-you-need-sleep.aspx
9. Contact the author for articles about these.
10. Matthew Walker, “‘Sleep should be prescribed’: what those late nights out could be costing you” accessed September 11, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/24/why-lack-of-sleep-health-worst-enemy-matthew-walker-why-we-sleep
11. Leon Ho, “The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive,” last Updated on August 22, 2018, https://www.lifehack.org/679044/night-routine-ultimate-guide
12. Michael Hyatt, “5 Reasons Why You Should Take a Nap Every Day,” February 17, 2016, https://michaelhyatt.com/why-you-should-take-a-nap-every-day/
13. Frank Lipman, How to be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life, (S.l.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), 113.
14. Dr. Najibah Rehman, “Sleeping in rooms with even a little light can increase risk of depression: Study,” Mar 10, 2018, https://abcnews.go.com/amp/Health/sleeping-rooms-lighting-increase-risk-depression-study/story?id=53636492
A South African, Dale Viljoen is in his 40th year of ministry in Hokkaido serving with OMF International. He married Karen Harless (then TEAM) after his first wife’s death and continues to be amazed by God’s unconditional love.