Staying fit for active ministry: Part 2 in a series

Lack of sleep puts people at greater risk for developing serious health problems

By Denise George
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Sadly, too many Alabamians are not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep puts Alabamians at greater risk for developing chronic health conditions, heart attacks, coronary heart disease, strokes, asthma, pulmonary disease, cancer, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease, obesity and diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health states that adults need between seven and eight hours of solid sleep during a 24-hour period. A recent national sleep study shows that only 61.2% of Alabama’s residents sleep at least seven hours per night. Out of the nation’s 51 states, Alabama ranks No. 48 in sleep deprivation.

Researchers blame Alabama’s lack of regular shut-eye on the higher than usual rates of obesity, blood pressure and diabetes. 

Within the past six years, adult obesity in Alabama has increased 13% (from 32.0% to 36.3%); adult diabetes has increased 19% (from 11.8% to 14.1%); and premature death, cardiovascular and cancer deaths rank high. 

Why is sleep so important?

The National Sleep Foundation defines good sleep quality as:

  • sleeping 85% of the time one lies in bed
  • going to sleep within 30 minutes of retiring
  • waking up no more than once at night.

Sleep affects both physical and mental health. When asleep, the body’s immune system strengthens, skin and tissue renew, blood pressure drops, muscles relax, energy is restored and the brain cleanses itself by removing toxins that have built up during the day. 

Lack of adequate sleep can damage the brain, leading to early memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease.

What causes most sleep problems?

Most people occasionally have trouble sleeping due to stress, travel, jet lag, illness or other temporary interruptions. 

A sleep disorder, however, is different, and can be caused by insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and/or circadian rhythms disorders (see below). 

How lack of sleep affects health, work and ministry

One-third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep, leading to car crashes, work-related accidents and mistakes, the inability to handle stress or strong emotions, slower reaction time, weight gain, memory problems, strained relationships and disruptions in mood, energy and efficiency. 

Many pastors and church leaders suffer sleep deprivation due to sleep interruptions to attend to worries about congregation and church concerns, pastoral emergencies and extra time needed to accomplish overwhelming work responsibilities. 

One study shows that pastors of effective churches sleep only 6 hours per day. 

How can Alabamians develop better sleep habits?

  • Visit a medical doctor who may recommend an Alabama sleep center for sleep disorders. 
  • Establish a regular bedtime and sleep-wake schedule. Aim for 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • Refrain from eating, drinking (especially alcohol) and smoking before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon.
  • Create a sleep-promoting bedroom that is dark, cool, comfortable and noise-free (use a white-noise machine, soft music or ear plugs to block unavoidable sound).
  • Avoid late afternoon naps.
  • Stop all exercise 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Reduce eye exposure to bright light. Turn off television and computer screens long before attempting to sleep.
  • Pray, asking God to relieve your mind from stress and worry.
  • Diffuse, inhale or massage into skin (only therapeutic grade) 100% pure essential oils to enhance sleep.

Find part 1 of the series here or in the Oct. 24, 2019, issue of The Alabama Baptist.

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Who are the most sleep-deprived in Alabama?

Alabama’s men (39.3%) are more sleep deprived than the state’s women (38.7%).  

Alabamians between the ages of 45–54 years (47% of the state’s population) sleep fewer hours than other ages. 

Alabama’s students are sleep-deprived due to stress, financial concerns and time management. The lack of sleep interferes with concentration in class and can produce long-term consequences for chronic diseases. 

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Definitions of common sleep disorders

Insomnia: the inability to sleep, often caused by stress, health conditions, medications, anxiety, depression, overconsumption of caffeine, etc.

Sleep apnea: a serious (and treatable) disorder in which breathing temporarily stops during sleep, causing frequent waking.

Restless legs syndrome: the irresistible urge to move legs (or arms) while resting.

Narcolepsy: dysfunction of the brain that controls sleeping and waking, causing uncontrollable daytime sleepiness and sudden “naps” during activities, work, driving, etc. 

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: A poor quality or lack of sleep caused by a person’s biological clock, responsible for regulating the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.