Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Archibald D. Hart's book, Sleep: It Does a Family Good, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2011).
Many people aren’t getting enough sleep, resulting in damage to their health that then damages their relationships with family members. God has designed every person to need a full night’s sleep. If you’re not getting the sleep you need, your body, mind, and spirit can all suffer as a result, making it difficult to sustain healthy family relationships. But if you and everyone else in your household sleeps enough, your relationships can thrive as God intends.
So get the sleep your family needs. Here’s how:
Determine how well your family is currently sleeping. Is each member of your family getting enough sleep, or are some or all of you struggling with insomnia and fatigue? You can tell by asking each family member to evaluate whether or not he or she has signs of a well-rested body, which include: the ability to fall asleep within a half hour after going to bed and to fall asleep again after waking up during the night, feeling refreshed and alert after waking up in the morning, and having plenty of energy to get through the day well even if you do feel slightly sleepy in the early afternoon.
Figure out how much sleep each family member needs each night. While the amount of sleep varies from person to person, generally everyone needs at least 8 ½ hours of sleep each night to function well the next day, and children, teens, and some adults need more. Keep in mind, too, that people need more sleep when dealing with a stressful crisis than they do at other times. Each family member can figure out the right amount of sleep for him or her by gradually adding 15-minute increments to their sleeping time and observing the benefits that they experience until those benefits peak.
Go ahead and take a nap when you can. A brief daily nap – between 12 and 20 minutes of sleep time – can refresh adults, and children can benefit from longer nap times. So make time in your family’s schedule for naps whenever possible.
Deal with bad dreams that disturb sleep. If your children are struggling with bad dreams that disturb their sleep, encourage them to express their fears and other difficult emotions triggered by those nightmares. Listen to them without judging them, and reassure them of God’s love and your love for them. If either you or your spouse are struggling with bad dreams, intentionally think about each of those dreams before going to sleep, because that tells the brain that there’s nothing to be afraid of from those dreams. As a result, you all may then sleep peacefully.
Avoid or reduce factors that can interfere with sleep. Stress, anxiety, and worry can all prevent your mind from relaxing enough for you to sleep, so pray for the ability to deal with stress well and overcome anxiety and worry with peace from Jesus. Avoid or reduce the amount of caffeinated drinks you consume, since caffeine can interfere with sleep. Since depression can interfere with sleep, seek treatment for depression if it’s affecting you. Try to eliminate or reduce noise and light, since you can sleep best in a silent and dark room. Set the right temperature for your bedroom, since a room that’s too hot or cold can interfere with sleep. Try to get physical exercise each day, since that prepares your body to relax at night. Stop watching TV or using the Internet well before bedtime, since your mind needs time to rest from stimulation to prepare for sleep.
Evaluate your family’s sleep habits. Ask each family member to keep a written record of his or her sleep habits for a while. Record such habits as: the time you each went to bed and woke up, how long and well you each slept, when you each were awake during the night, what and when you each ate and drank, what medications you each took, what stresses you all were dealing with, and what emotions you all were feeling. Then use the information to evaluate what lifestyle changes to make to help everyone in the family sleep better.
Help your children manage their schedule so they sleep well. Work with your children’s school teachers to develop the best plan to manage their homework, limit their after-school activities, and make sure that your kids turn off their cell phones and TV sets well before bedtime so their brains won’t be over-stimulated when it’s time for them to go to sleep.
Work with your spouse to develop good sleeping habits together. Resolve arguments before bedtime, synchronize the time you both go to bed and wake up (as much as possible), and compromise on differences about how to make your bedroom a good environment for sleep (such as the temperature and the details of your bed, pillows, and blankets).
Go easy on sleeping pills. Try to avoid sleeping pills whenever possible. The artificial sleep that pills induce doesn’t give your brain the best quality of sleep that it gets naturally (in which it reorganizes itself to function at its best). Many sleeping pills can become habit-forming, training your brain to rely on them and preventing you from getting good natural sleep again. Instead of sleeping pills, try drinking warm milk before going to bed or after waking up during the night, since the lactic acid inside milk releases a chemical when warmed that triggers sleep naturally.
Sleep more to prepare for times when you must sleep less. When you know that you’ll have to lose sleep for a while (such as when crossing time zones when traveling), sleep as much as you can beforehand so your body will better be able to handle the temporary sleep deprivation.
Calm your mind through the peace that Jesus gives. Before going to sleep, remind yourself of the reality that Jesus is with you, and ask Him to give you the peace you need to sleep well. In prayer, express your gratitude for the blessings He has given you, let go of whatever grudges you’ve been carrying against people who have hurt you, and express your love for Jesus while enjoying His love for you. Breathe deeply, and as you exhale, imagine yourself letting go of all of your concerns and trusting Jesus to deal with them while you sleep.
Adapted from Sleep: It Does a Family Good, copyright 2010 by Dr. Archibald D. Hart. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Ill., www.tyndale.com.
Dr. Archibald D. Hart, a former dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, trained as a clinical psychologist in his native South Africa. Dr. Hart is now retired from full-time teaching but continues to teach two courses in psychology, as well as in the doctor of ministry program. His physiological lab research continues to examine issues of stress, depression, and anxiety. He and his wife, Kathleen, are sought after by church groups around the world to speak and conduct workshops on marriage, stress management, emotions, divorce, the hazards of ministry, and sexual behavior. Dr. Hart has published 26 books, including Stressed or Depressed(written in 2005 with daughter Dr. Catherine Weber). Dr. Hart and his wife have three daughters, four grandsons, and three granddaughters. You can visit his website at: www.hartinstiute.com.
Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor. You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.