Parish Nurse: The Importance of Sleep

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  (Proverbs 3:24)

Sleep helps us to lead healthier, happier lives. A Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests six reasons to get enough sleep.

  • Learning and memory: sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In 00studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  • Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivations may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  • Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors or road accidents.
  • Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave us too tired to do the things we like to do.
  • Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may help fight cancer.

One thing we can do to help us sleep better is encourage an overall state of calm and restfulness. Inability to sleep usually is a result of the brain being unable to calm down, to go into a state of rest. Our body is usually tired and wants to sleep to recuperate from the day’s activities. It is our brain that refuses to calm. If it is hard to achieve this calm, meditation and prayer can help. You might say prayers asking forgiveness, prayers of praise, prayers of commitment to the Lord, or for His help. But do not use this time to try to remember a prayer request or a Bible verse. When you are trying to quiet your brain is not the time to try to remember all for whom you should pray. Remember, you are trying to quiet your brain, not rev it up. Repeating a Bible verse might help: On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.  (Psalm 63:6-7)

Sleep Hygiene is also Important

  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on weekends. Our bodies love the same routine, the same schedule. Routine helps to regulate your body’s clock and can help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Wind down. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual allowing your body and mind to cascade down from the busy day to the rest of night. A relaxing routine activity such as a warm cup of tea, a warm shower, quiet thoughts and prayer will help your body as well as your mind get ready to sleep. Do not be in bright lights late in the evening. The body senses the low light at the end of the day and transforms serotonin, the busy-ness hormone to melatonin, the rest and sleep hormone preparing us to rest and sleep. Bright light makes the body think it is daytime. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating the brain. Avoid electronic devices before bed or in the middle of the night.
  • Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. But do not do active exercise in the hours before you want to sleep because it revs your body and hormones into a go-go state.
  • Evaluate your room. Your bedroom should be cool and ventilated, free of noise that can disturb your sleep, free from light with only a small light on the way to the bathroom. Consider blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices. DO NOT look at a clock during the night which will cause you to develop anxiety about not sleeping, further contributing to your inability to sleep.
  • Sleep on a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillows. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy—about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Be sure your bedroom is attractive and inviting and be sure there are no objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you get up during the night.
  • It is important to avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the hours before you go to bed. Alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine are proven to disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause abdominal discomfort or food high in sugar can energize your whole body to get up and go! If it is important to you, have a low calorie, bland snack about 45 minutes before you go to bed.
  • If you cannot sleep, get up and do something like read a lightweight book.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping and sex so your brain associates bed with only these two activities.
  • If you still are having trouble sleeping, call your doctor or find a sleep professional.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Marilyn Fleming, RN, MSN
For the Parish Nurses

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