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3/31/14 at 04:49 PM 0 Comments

Sleep Your Way to Success

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Photo: Flickr/Daniel Guimarães - Creative Commons
Sleeping cat

By David Murray

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, and Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post fame, both say that we should sleep our way to success.

In their speeches and the Q&A at the launch of Huffinton’s new book, Thrive, they both kept coming back to the importance of getting enough sleep.

“For many years the way I thought that I would get everything done was to get less sleep,” Sandberg said. The Facebook COO said she has taken Huffington’s advice to heart; she now makes a conscious effort to not only sleep more, but to spend at least five minutes a day meditating, even though “it’s really hard.”

Some in the audience were skeptical, but Huffington insisted:

When I look back, all my biggest mistakes were when I was burned out…I look back and life would have been incredibly easier — if I’d slept more.

I’ve been studying (and trying to practice) this more in my own life. Last year, in The Sermon You Preach in Your Sleep, I wrote about how our sleep pattern reveals our theology.

I’m scheduled to speak on the subject at a few conferences in the next few months, and hope to explain the impact of sleep in six areas of life. Here’s some of the research about the impact of sleep on the physical and emotional realms.

Physical Consequences

  • Just one week of sleeping fewer than six hours a night results in changes to more than 700 genes.
  • Just one night of sleep deprivation is linked with signs of brain tissue loss.
  • Infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.
  • Sleeping fewer than seven hours a night is associated with a tripled risk of coming down with a cold.
  • Lack of sleep increases hunger, portion size, and preference for high-calorie, high-carb foods, with the resulting risk of obesity
  • Chronic sleep deprivation (less than 6 hours a night) associated with
    • Skin aging
    • 4 x stroke risk for middle- and older-aged people
    • 50% higher risk of colorectal cancers, and some links with other cancers too
    • 48% higher chance of developing or dying from heart disease
    • Lower fertility rates.

Emotional Consequences

  • Sleep loss produces apathy, irritability, weepiness, impatience, anger, flattened responses,
  • Sleep loss can cause psychological damage because sleep regulates the brain’s flow of epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, chemicals closely associated with mood and behavior.
  • People with insomnia are 10 times as likely to develop depression and 17 times as likely to have significant anxiety.
  • The lack of sleep affects the teenage brain in similar ways to the adult brain, only more so, and can lead to emotional issues like depression and aggression.
  • In one study by researchers at Columbia University, teens who went to bed at 10 p.m. or earlier were less likely to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts than those who regularly stayed awake well after midnight.

So, it’s not just sleep your way to success, but sleep your way to health, strength, and happiness.


David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, blogs at Head Heart Hand, and is author of the books Christians Get Depressed Too and How Sermons Work.

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