Your sleep quality not the best? Consider your sleep hygiene
4 MINUTE READ
If you asked me what is one thing I could do to improve my godliness at this point in my life, I would probably say, “Sleep more.” What?! Why would I say something like that? Is sleeping godly? What does the Bible say about sleep?
Well, the Bible does mention sleep ninety times across both the Old and New Testaments: sometimes it is a reference to death, sometimes a sign that one trusts that God will keep one safe, and sometimes it is a sign of laziness. However, it is not one of the fruits of the Spirit, nor is it in the Beatitudes. Sleep is not even mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Perhaps ‘rest’ was, in regards to keeping the Sabbath day holy, but that is not specifically sleep. Jesus was reported to be asleep on a boat – does that make sleeping a godly activity?
Well. No. It is not a Christian command, nor a sign of godliness, to maintain an adequate amount of sleep. What I talk about is merely applying Christian principles to everyday life. I am sure that many of us can identify with the fact that inadequate sleep alters our mood. I know that when I have not had enough sleep, I am less capable of displaying the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness and particularly patience! This can be easily remedied by getting enough sleep the next night.
What if inadequate sleep is a regular occurrence?
In a 2019 survey performed by the Sleep Health Foundation, as many as 40.4% of respondents reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of chronic insomnia disorder, defined as difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, or early morning waking > 3 nights per week. Having said that, of those with insomnia symptoms, 60% reported that they did not have adequate opportunity to sleep.1 What does this mean? Why are we not having adequate opportunity to sleep and how is this leading to poor quality sleep?
One of the possible answers is the impact that technology is having on our lives. Technology has brought us all sorts of incredible advances and changes to the way we live over the last one hundred years. We now have access to the world at our fingertips. We are able to work more, watch more, read more, and communicate far more than ever before! I was recently amazed by the fact that I could be on a videocall to a group of uni friends across the country, including a missionary friend in the middle of South Sudan, who, during the wet season, is cut off from the world physically, but still is able to meet with us online for a chat. We are so advantaged compared with previous generations.
“Because we are online, we have access to more information, but our expectations are also higher.”
But with the advantages come some costs. Because we are online, we have access to more information, but our expectations are also higher. We might have access to our workplace computers from home, which makes life easier in many ways, but means that the lines between work and home can be blurred. We have smartphones, iPads and laptops which can be used anywhere and anytime, but can lead to countless hours on social media, gaming apps, and general mind-numbing scrolling instead of interacting with our families, peers and God.
Technology even interferes with a very basic human function: sleep
Of those with insomnia from the Sleep Health Foundation survey, 40% were watching TV/social media/on the internet or working in the hour prior to going to sleep, all of which contribute to poor sleep hygiene and ultimately, poor quality sleep. But why do we paint such a negative picture of these technological resources? Patients often say that watching TV or YouTube helps them relax and get to sleep. In fact, I had a hard time convincing my electrician recently that I didn’t want TV ports in any of the bedrooms when we were wiring our house.
The fact is that screens before sleep are actually scientifically proven to be unhelpful. We all have an internal body clock (circadian rhythm system) which is driven by several factors, one of which is the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and works to inhibit firing of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, found in the anterior hypothalamus, which is the central pacemaker responsible for the promotion of wakefulness.
Light is the major external ‘zeitgeber’ or ‘time cue’ for the circadian rhythm system. In particular, light on the back of the retina actually provides a negative feedback loop for melatonin production. Melanopsin-containing retinal ganglion cells are the primary circadian photoreceptors that send information through projections to the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which in turn, inhibits production of melatonin by the pineal gland.2 This means that light at the wrong time inhibits melatonin production, reducing the drive to sleep.
“This means that light at the wrong time inhibits melatonin production, reducing the drive to sleep.”
Therefore, whilst TV screens, phone screens, or computer/laptop screens might help soothe someone to sleep by, for example, distracting from worrying thoughts, the unseen negative is the significant reduction of the hormonal drive to sleep and impact on the body’s natural circadian rhythm system. This leads to either decreased ability to get to sleep, decreased ability to stay asleep, or a combination of both. The advice from the Sleep Health Foundation is to avoid alerting activities such as watching TV, using the computer, or using your phone in the hour before you go to sleep.3 They recommend doing other relaxing activities prior to sleep including having a warm bath, reading quietly, doing relaxation exercises or listening to music. There are an ever-increasing number of apps that help with relaxation, play quiet noises, or even audiobooks which can be useful (although try not to look at the screen too long whilst turning it on!). Maybe ‘Hey Siri’ in the bedroom is a better option!
“Maybe ‘Hey Siri’ in the bedroom is a better option!”
So, how does technology interfere with godliness? There are probably many ways that we can think of, but this is one that is perhaps not immediately obvious. If your sleep quality is not the best, consider your sleep hygiene. Consider reducing your screen time before sleep and giving yourself the best opportunity to have that glorious, restful, refreshing sleep so that you can be at your best during the day, clothed with the fruits of the spirit, and reflecting Christ in your home, your workplace and your church.
Dr Alyssa Arnold
Dr Alyssa Arnold is a respiratory and sleep physician in Newcastle, NSW. She is married to Tim and has 2 children. She attends Hunter Bible Church in Lambton.
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- Reynolds A, et al. Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia: A Report to the Sleep Health Foundation. North Strathfield, NSW: Sleep Health Foundation; 2019. Available from: https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Special_Reports/SHF_Insomnia_Report_2019_Final_SHFlogo.pdf
- Kryger MH, R. T., Principles and practice of sleep medicine 6e. Philadelphia, USA: Elsevier, Inc. 2017
- Sleep Health Foundation [Internet]. North Strathfield NSW: 2022. Good Sleep Habits; 2011. [cited 2022 April 24] Available from: https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/good-sleep-habits.html