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Jan/Feb 2012

Sleep Debt

“...[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
– Mark 6:31 (NIV)

If you want to perform better on the field—and in life—sleep might just be your secret weapon.

I recently came across a study conducted by sleep expert Dr. Bill Dement from Stanford University in which he evaluated 11 players from the university’s men’s basketball team. For the study, the athletes were asked to sleep normally according to their habits for two to four weeks and then spend the next five to seven weeks sleeping 10 hours per night. While most of the athletes still slept fewer than nine hours per night, the results were eye-opening. Their shooting accuracy improved by 9 percent from the foul line and three-point range, and they got significantly faster in sprint speeds and reaction times. Off the court, they also reported better
moods and less fatigue.


Think you might be in sleep debt? Take a few minutes to answer the following questions. If you answer yes to one or more, you may need to make adjustments to your routine and incorporate more rest into your lifestyle. It could make all the difference in the world!

1. Do you feel drowsy or tired throughout the day?
2. Do you lack energy and motivation?
3. Do you depend on caffeine to get you going in the morning
    or to keep you going in the afternoon?
4. Do you regularly get less than seven hours of sleep per


“Unless the LORD builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain. In vain you get up early and stay up late, eating food earned by hard work; certainly He gives sleep to the one He loves.” – Psalm 127:1-2

The more we know about the effects of proper rest and sleep, the more we marvel at God’s perfect design. When He created the world, He incorporated a rhythm of rest for both our daily and weekly routines.

In Genesis 2:2, God set an example for us by resting from all of His creative work. He then commanded us to do the same. The writer of Hebrews drove the point home in verses 4:9-10: “A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.”

Research tells us that most of us perform best and have the most energy for daily activity and athletic performance when we get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. When we contradict this design, we pay a heavy price in many areas of health.

Most people don’t realize that lost sleep accumulates over time and creates a deficit. Just like with our money, when we spend more than we have, we go into debt. The created shortage causes stress and robs us of life.

No shocker here: Most of us have sleep debt.

When we’re tired, we’re irritable and moody. We find it difficult to concentrate, and we make poor decisions. We’re also more likely to get sick and gain weight. Sleep debt has a direct negative effect on academic performance and work productivity, and, spiritually speaking, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage with God. If sleep debt continues long enough, we lose motivation for life and can even get depressed. And unfortunately we can’t “bank” extra sleep and get ahead. All we can do is try to catch up by sleeping more when we fall behind.

Early in the season, my youngest son and I went to a Sunday night NFL game, and we didn’t get back until well after midnight. He had school the next day, and I had to work. Needless to say, when the alarm clock went off five short hours later, neither of us were in the mood to start the day. All we wanted to do was sleep. It was a very long, drowsy and unproductive day.

In our culture, we often ignore our body’s natural signals that we need sleep. We are too busy, have too much to do, or are just over-stimulated with technology and other distractions. Instead of finding rest or getting to bed earlier, we turn to caffeine or other stimulants to help us push through. But anything other than sleep is a poor substitute for rest. Sleep is an active process that restores and rebuilds our health.

So, what can we do to get and stay out of sleep debt? In my life, I’ve found four strategies to be particularly helpful:

1. Pray – We know that an anxious heart weighs us down, so finishing the day with Jesus leads to a clear conscience and restful sleep.

2. Go to bed when you’re tired. – This sounds almost too easy, but listening to our bodies and actually going to sleep when we’re drowsy is a great strategy.

3. Create a cool, dark environment. – Our bodies get to the deep, restorative level of sleep faster and stay there longer when we are in a cool, dark place.

4. Unplug 30 minutes before bed. – Turning off technology and winding down without computers, phones or televisions will prepare our minds for rest.

In Scripture, we find that Jesus modeled how to find rest, and He taught the disciples how to as well. If we want to operate at our highest level for Him, we need to do the same. It’s time to take God up on His offer to bless us with rest by creating a lifestyle that’s in alignment with His Word and design. It just may make all the difference on the field and in life.

Live a fit life. C’mon—you can do this!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For nearly 20 years, Jimmy Page has been involved in various leadership roles in the medical fitness industry. As the former national director of FCA’s Health and Fitness Ministry, Page now serves as one of FCA’s 11 vice presidents of field ministry and is the co-author of the book WisdomWalks. He and his wife, Ivelisse, reside in Reistertown, Md., with their four children.

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Medical Disclaimer: All information in this article is of a general nature and is furnished for your knowledge and understanding only. For serious health symptoms, always consult a physician or health professional. 

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