“How’d you sleep last night?” “Not good.”

“How’d you sleep last night?” “Not good.”

Early in our ministry, I learned that a group of friends meeting for any reason, in about 20 minutes the conversation turns to spiritual matters. That was confirmed as a friend would prepare breakfast on a Saturday morning and invite ladies in the trailer park where they all lived but did not necessarily know each other very well to attend ‘Coffee and Talk’ as it was called.  As we enjoyed coffee cake and coffee (or tea) and discussed families, school, work and the weather, it wasn’t long until the conversation naturally turned to spiritual questions or comments. I was present to offer positive answers and invite them to a ladies’ bible study at our new church. We used that pleasant format all over town.

And have you noticed that chit-chatting soon includes sharing sleep problems? How’d you sleep? “Not good”, “Tossed and turned’ to “So-so”, “Not at all” or “Up and down all night.” I’ve heard pretty often, “I have trouble falling to sleep”, or “I can fall asleep but wake up and stay awake for hours”.  I’ve compiled a list of various methods for dealing with this frustrating, irritating, exasperating and common complaint to help my clients. Now, unusually, those same concerns affect not only adults but children and teens who are dealing with anxieties stemming from the pandemic’s juggling routines and upsetting schedules.  One teen said anxiety over not seeing friends affects her sleeping. Possibly, this blog will also address a younger audience.

Among the list of tested, tried and true remedies, playing white noise tapes of birds, trickling brooks, soft instrumental music, are favorites. Some swear by focusing on fan noises, or the ticking of a grandfather clock.  Others say that they repeat song lyrics, memorized scripture verses or repeating nursery rhymes. Others begin at the toes and think their way up their body.  One lady says she prays for everyone she can think of. I smiled when someone mentioned what I prefer to do, create an acrostic of tomorrow’s chores. However, I admit with thankfulness that most nights I don’t even remember going to bed. However, a few times I’ve needed to try some of these remedies.

Many suggested not eating anything after dinner while others swear by warm milk and cookies getting them physically ready to sleep. We are all pretty convinced that caffeinated drinks or chocolate are counter-productive. Most are aware that vigorous exercising before bedtime is not a wise move. Sleep authorities agree that for adults, bedrooms are for two things only—sleep and sex. TVs in a bedroom or even reading are frowned on by several sleep advisors. But tell that to a child whose routine includes hearing a story, a song or two and a good-night prayer or an adult whose favorite reading time is while propped up in bed.

Back in 1971 I came upon a very simple sleep aid from the neurological standpoint that I tried with success, copied and still use for clients struggling with sleeplessness. “If you toss and turn for 20 minutes, get up and go to a quiet room under low light--no TV--and read a manual or do something very boring for 20 minutes. Return to bed, and most people will fall right off to sleep.” The article added that “If you continue to toss and turn, repeat the 20-minute routine.” The idea is to teach our brains what we want our bodies to do. This article also emphasized “Go to bed at the same time and get up the same time even on weekends and holidays. Drinking alcohol near bedtime might make you sleepy, but it can cause wakefulness in the middle of the night.”

While I was mulling over the idea of a blog on sleep, I opened a book that had just arrived --No Ordinary Time –about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The very first page caught my attention and caused me to laugh out loud, even though I was alone. I’ll paraphrase: On nights that FDR could not fall asleep he closed his eyes and recalled sledding at Hyde Park when he was a strong kid and envisioned how skillfully he accelerated down the hill until he reached the bottom. Then, he pulled the sled back to the top to do it all over again.  Knowing he would never sled again or even walk, in this way, he liberated himself from his paralysis through his imagination.

My brother, John, the professor and retired pastor says he imagines he is in the presence of the Twenty-Third Psalm--The Lord is my Shepherd, etc.  He goes through the entire poem as though he were seeing and experiencing every verse. Both of my brothers encourage their clients to find a special place where they can get lost in imagination and gradually fall asleep. So, last week I determined my special place in case I ever needed to go there in the middle of the night.

So, sleeplessness is not a modern problem in the least, but ignoring it or getting bent out of shape over the problem doesn’t solve it. Each person has to find what works for them.  Some people take sleeping pills, but the potential of an addiction isn’t worth the risk.  Short-term help with meds for chronic problems under the care of a physician is preferable. Understanding the value of sleep and accepting the fact that each of us has to discover our own solution by trial and error, is the wisest decision. By observing what works for us in promoting quick, sound sleep, we ascertain our best style.

Brother Mac, has shared pertinent information on how the amount of sleep affects future mental health. “In my private practice in Blue Ridge, Georgia, I am visited by clients with a variety of psychological complaints.  No matter what their main focus is--anxiety, depression, anger, etc.--I always ask about the quality of their sleep. I know from past experience how critical a good night’s sleep is to good day-time healthy living. The more brain research that is done, the more the resulting data underscores this truth.  Once it was believed that when we sleep, our brains shut down. Now, we know that they actually light up to do the necessary preparation for the future. The most recent research claims that we experience a flushing of the brain which expels the protein generated by the activity of neurons. If we don’t sleep soundly enough or long enough these proteins can form a shield on our brains that can short circuit the needed functioning of the brain for routine activity and eventually other diseases, primarily Alzheimer’s. Each person is designed to need a certain amount of sleep and it’s up to each of us to figure out what our particular number of hours would be and religiously supply what our brain needs to function. Please check out the apps that help us do the right thing to safe-guard our critical practice of slumber.”

An experience last week drove that home for me.  Our youngest son and his wife were visiting for the weekend and I decided I’d stay up as long as I wanted to visit with them rather than sticking to my regular routine. So, the 2nd night I did the same, going to bed each night about an hour and half later than usual. I didn’t want to miss a word.  We enjoy our visits, but they are much younger than I. After the morning they left, I realized I wasn’t functioning normally, was a bit lightheaded and very tired. The next couple of days I went to bed earlier but got up the same time and took a long nap in the afternoon. In a few days, I was restored. Lesson learned.  The loss of sleep upset my mental rhythm.  But we can’t always maintain our personal schedule depending on responsibilities, emergencies, illnesses, surgeries, etc. But in normal circumstances, we owe it to ourselves to stick with the same routine providing ample time for our brains to reboot or whatever they have to do while we slumber.

P.S. Underlying our sleep needs, having a not-too-hard and not-too soft, clean bed along with a comfortable pillow and appropriate blankets in a quiet, dark room is tantamount to receiving adequate and restorative sleep needs for all ages. Your comments and experiences will be greatly appreciated.

The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake is confirmed by my sleeping heart. Day and night I’ll stick with God. I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go. 9 I’m happy from the inside out, and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed…. Ps 16:7-9a MSG