Society today does not value the importance of rest and sleep, and many often con­sider sleep to be a waste of time.

Fred Hardinge, Drph, Rd, is associate director, Health Ministries Department, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Society today does not value the importance of rest and sleep, and many often con­sider sleep to be a waste of time. Thomas Edison reportedly believed that sleep was a waste of time and set out to invent the electric light bulb to extend daylight hours. His success has contributed to a 20 percent decrease in the average number of hours of sleep adults get compared to just 20 years ago. His attitude has infected all age groups.

In 2002, surveys revealed that more than 25 percent of Americans are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their daily activities.1 Just one in five adolescents gets the optimal nine hours of sleep on school nights.2 Sadly, most people are totally unaware of their own reduced capabilities because they have been sleepy for so long they do not know what it is like to feel wide awake! A rested person will accomplish more in less time and do it better, more effectively, and safely.

Depriving ourselves of sleep is much like depriving ourselves of food. If we eat fewer calories than we need each day, we will slowly lose weight because the effects are cumulative. When we deprive ourselves of sleep, we accumulate the total amount of sleep loss in the same way. If you lose one hour of sleep each night over a week, you will accumulate a sleep debt of seven hours, which is nearly the same as losing a whole night’s sleep.

Sleep debt directly affects our thinking ability and mental efficiency. During the past two decades scores of studies have looked at this area with a very clear pattern of findings. The bottom line is that when we allow ourselves to get tired, the highest mental functions are com­promised—blunting discernment, judgment, initiative, and creativity.

Interestingly, sleep deprivation leads to decreased performance similar to what occurs when a person is under the influence of alcohol. Studies have shown that 16 to 18 hours of wakefulness (one long day) in healthy adults results in impairments comparable to the legal intoxication level of a blood alcohol level of greater than 0.08 percent.3 We all need sleep at the end of the day if adverse effects on our performance are to be avoided.

Fatigue has a very important influence on our spiritual lives. Optimal decision-making capacity is necessary to differentiate between right and wrong. Yet, when we are tired, we have even less motivation and willpower to act on what we know is correct. Thus we succumb to temptation more easily.

As humans, we all have our limitations. We cannot work around the clock or every day and maintain a healthy, happy, and productive life. We need daily rest as much as we need weekly and annual breaks to provide mental and emotional recuperation that are necessary for creativity and positive family relationships.

Bible study and prayer is the life­line of the Christian. The devil knows that if he can keep us tired even with good activities it will lessen our ability and interest in the study and understanding of the Bible and will weaken our commitment to communicate with God in prayer.

Most sleep researchers agree that humans can get by on about seven hours of sleep per night. But how many of us want to just get by in life? The evidence remains strong that for peak performance in all areas of our lives, we need between eight and nine hours of sleep each night. Our small children and teens need a little more to maximize their learning and memory abilities. Getting those amounts of sleep requires careful choices and self-discipline.

Remember: tonight’s sleep builds tomorrow’s energy. It prepares our body and mind for peak perfor­mance. Sleep is as important as diet and exercise—only easier!

1 “Sleep In America” Survey, National Sleep Foundation, 2002.

2 “Sleep In America” Survey, National Sleep Foundation, 2006.

3 A. M. Williamson, et al. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2000, 57:649–655.

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Fred Hardinge, Drph, Rd, is associate director, Health Ministries Department, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

January 2012

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