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Lack of sleep increases stroke risk

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A cute little baby in pajamas asleep in crib with face pressed against the crib rails (Credit: st-fotograf via

Do you get less than six hours of sleep a night?  According to a new study, you’re four times more likely to suffer a stroke as a result.  Memory loss, weight fluctuations, a weakened immune system, and high blood pressure are all linked to inadequate sleep.  One third of American drivers admit to drowsy driving in the past month; these drivers are involved in one of every six deadly crashes.  Sleep-deprived teenagers are more at risk for substance abuse and are more likely to seriously consider attempting suicide.

Sleep deprivation is clearly bad for us.  Why, then, are we sleeping less than ever?  The number of people who sleep eight hours or more a night has dropped from 38 percent to 28 percent.  A government study released last month found that 30 percent of working adults get six hours or less.  Experts blame stress over the economy, omnipresent technology that enables us to work around the clock, and constant entertainment.

I think there’s another factor as well.  Touring a World War II exhibit in England, I learned that Winston Churchill worked from 6 AM to 12 noon, took a two hour break, then worked with a second staff from 2 PM to 10 PM.  My first thought was one of admiration for his work ethic.  Our culture measures us by what we do.  As a result, when I go to bed at night, I usually feel guilty not to have gotten more done first.  Do you know the feeling?

How do we escape this destructive cycle?  Let’s begin with grace.  Someone described us this way: I am not what I think I am; I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am.  That’s a lie.  If Jesus is your Lord, you are what the King of the universe says you are: his child, loved unconditionally for who you are, as you are.  There’s not one thing you can do to make God like you any more, or less, than he does now.  More work and less sleep doesn’t impress your Lord—it grieves your Father.

Next, let’s submit our time to the Spirit—when the morning begins and all day long.  There are always enough hours in the days we give to God.  Do you think he wants you to be stressed and frenetic?  Didn’t Jesus promise, “My peace I leave with you” (John 14:27)?  Doesn’t his word offer “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” for all who trust their cares to him (Philippians 4:6-7)?  If you’re too busy to sleep, you’re doing more than God wants you to do.

Wise King Solomon noted: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:1-2).  Doesn’t God love you?