Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Ben was so right! Today there is plenty of scientific evidence supporting the notion that adequate sleep is indeed a key factor when it comes to living a long, healthy life. Thus, in our list of seven secrets for longevity, getting enough sleep ranks number 3.

In our previous health tips, we studied exercise and healthy diet as the first two secrets for longevity. But many do not realize that sleep is just as important as these two items. In fact, some researchers say that “sleep should be considered as essential to a healthy lifestyle as exercise and nutrition.”a The truth is that in many instances, inadequate sleep prevents us from getting the full benefits of exercise and a healthy diet. 

Here are a few of the many negative effects of poor sleep:

• Slows frontal lobe function, impairing our ability to make good decisions, concentrate, and engage in high-level intellectual tasks;b
• Contributes to depression and anxiety;c
• Promotes onset and increases the severity of diabetes;d
• Impairs the body’s immune system, reducing its ability to prevent and fight infection and inflammation.e

You may be surprised to learn that you feel physically well even though you are sleep-deprived. In fact, you may be unaware that your mental or physical abilities are less than optimal.f For instance, some people consider themselves “night owls” when it comes to sleep and rest, claiming they feel fine and more energetic being awake at night. However, the evidence points to the fact that God created our bodies with the same sleep rhythm regulated by our body’s chemical laws.g So even if you are comfortable staying up late, your body, mind, and spirit are still hurting.

At times, in our zeal for and dedication to the ministry, we may unintentionally overlook the importance of healthy sleep patterns. For the sake of finishing a sermon, completing a task for Sabbath, attending meetings, or even participating in inspirational programs, conferences, or prayer meetings, we may stay up later than is ideal. If that becomes our routine, we may become sick and feel depressed, anxious, short-tempered, or fatigued. We may then pray, asking God for strength and energy. But the question is: Where do our choices and priorities stand?

Certainly it is essential to participate in prayer vigils or to be available to help others in an emergency, but these situations are usually not routine. In most cases, sleeping too late or too little or having an irregular sleep pattern is often unnecessary and avoidable. If we place a priority on this issue, we can easily rearrange things and plan ahead, while still leaving room for special circumstances.

Think about your sleep habits over the past few months. Perhaps you see a pattern of irregularity in your sleep schedule and may even have experienced insomnia or felt unable to enjoy a regular 7-8 hours of restful sleep. Here are some tips for improving sleep and melatonin levels:

• Awaken with the sun, or be exposed to at least 30 minutes of bright light starting within 10 minutes of awakening.
• Establish regular hours for sleeping (ideally before 10 p.m.), for eating, and for exercise.
• When going to sleep, be still with your eyes closed and plan for 7-8 hours of sleep.
• Keep the room quiet, dark, and cool.
• Ask God for peace and restful sleep as you lay your anxieties on Him.

Isn’t it time to take a second look at the hours spent with God, family, work, and church ministry, while at the same time optimizing and planning for healthier sleep patterns? It will not only contribute to your longevity; it will positively impact those around you as well. “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Ps 4:8).

a P. Zee and F. Turek, “Sleep and Health: Everywhere and in Both Directions,” in Journal Archives of Internal Medicine, Sept. 18, 2006. 166: 1686-1688.
b D. Marschall-Kehrel, “Update on Nocturia: The Best of Rest is Sleep,” in Urology, December 2004. 64 (6 suppl. 1): 21-4.
c Neil Nedley, Depression: The Way Out.
d K. Spiegel, E. Tsali, et al. “Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men is Associated with Decreased Levels of Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite,” in Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 7, 2004. 141 (11): 885, 886.
e J. Perl, Sleep Right in Five Nights: A Clear and Effective Guide for Conquering Insomnia (New York; William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993), 32.
f Creation Health Workbook, Florida Hospital, 2009.
g T. Monk, “Morningness-Eveningness and Lifestyle Regularity,” in Chronobiology International. May 2004. 21 (3): 435-443.

Katia Reinert Family Nurse Practitioner at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, USA.