Sleeping for gratitude


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The following post is offered by Spirited Life wellness advocate Lisa MacKenzie.

Remember when sleep came easily? Maybe you remember the smell of the cool sheets fresh off the clothesline and the night sounds through the open window near your bed, a soft breeze lulling you into a peaceful rest or the soft breathing of your cat at the foot of the bed.


Sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes we find ourselves falling into bed feeling stressed, overworked and over-stimulated and just not able to settle down. Poor sleep patterns catch up with us and can affect body, mind and spirit. New research points to the fact that poor sleep can also impact our relationships with people around us.

An interesting study out of the University of California at Berkeley contends that good sleep fosters psychological well-being and even gratitude. “In the past, research has shown that gratitude promotes good sleep, but our research looks at the link in the other direction and, to our knowledge, is the first to show that everyday experiences of poor sleep are negatively associated with gratitude toward others — an important emotion that helps form and maintain close social bonds,” says Amie Gordon, co-author of the study. She goes on to say that “Poor sleep is not just experienced in isolation. Instead, it influences our interactions with others, such as our ability to be grateful, a vital social emotion.”

WOne resource that promotes both gratitude and a peaceful night’s sleep is the Three Blessings exercise from Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness. Every night for the next week, right before you go to bed, write down three things that went really well during the day. These things can be small and ordinary in importance. As your list grows over the course of the week, think about why these good things happened, and you may find that you’ll rest better.

The following tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine might also help you get the sleep you need:

  1. Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. If you are not sleepy at bedtime, then do something else. Read a book, listen to soft music or browse through a magazine. Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to take your mind off of worries about sleep. This will relax your body and distract your mind.
  2. If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of the bed. Find something else to do that will make you feel relaxed. If you can, do this in another room. Your bedroom should be where you go to sleep. It is not a place to go when you are bored. Once you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.
  3. Begin rituals that help you relax each night before bed. This can include such things as a warm bath, light snack or a few minutes of reading.
  4. Get up at the same time every morning. Do this even on weekends and holidays.
  5. Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis. Get enough sleep so that you feel well-rested nearly every day.
  6. Avoid taking naps if you can. If you must take a nap, try to keep it short (less than one hour). Never take a nap after 3 p.m.
  7. Keep a regular schedule. Regular times for meals, medications, chores, and other activities help keep the inner body clock running smoothly.
  8. Don’t read, write, eat, watch TV, talk on the phone, or play cards in bed.
  9. Do not have any caffeine after lunch.
  10. Do not have a beer, a glass of wine, or any other alcohol within six hours of your bedtime.
  11. Do not have a cigarette or any other source of nicotine before bedtime.
  12. Do not go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal near bedtime either.
  13. Avoid any tough exercise within six hours of your bedtime. You should exercise on a regular basis, but do it earlier in the day.
  14. Avoid sleeping pills, or use them cautiously. Most doctors do not prescribe sleeping pills for periods of more than three weeks. Do not drink alcohol while taking sleeping pills.
  15. Try to get rid of or deal with things that make you worry.  If you are unable to do this, then find a time during the day to get all of your worries out of your system. Your bed is a place to rest, not a place to worry.
  16. Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little bit cool. An easy way to remember this: it should remind you of a cave.

Sleep well!

–Lisa MacKenzie

Images used with permission.



The Healthy Mind Platter


It seems there are no shortage of riffs on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid and (newer) choose my plate graphics, which depict the food groups that should be included as part of a healthy diet.  A few weeks ago, we blogged about the Food for Thought Pyramid, a tongue-in-cheek look at what really makes us healthy.

Here’s another, the creation of Daniel Siegel and David Rock, who wondered what the equivalent ‘diet’ would be for a healthy mind.  They developed The Healthy Mind Platter, with seven daily essential mental activities they claim are necessary for optimum mental health.  These activities serve to both strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with those you share your life with.

There is not a temporal serving size for each component, as every individual is different and their needs may change over time.  The goals of The Healthy Mind Platter are to draw attention to a spectrum of essential mental activities and to encourage people to take steps toward achieving balanced mental health by including each of those activities in their daily routine, even if only for a few moments.

I was particularly interested by the yin and yang, the opposite and complimentary nature of the activities.  For example, ‘focus time’ is defined as time spent pursuing tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain, whereas ‘down time’ is non-focused time, which allows the mind to completely wander and relax, allowing the brain to recharge.  The same contrasting nature exists between time spent sleeping and time being physically active, or time spent connecting with others versus ‘time in,’ which they describe as time spent quietly reflecting internally.

I wonder if individuals have a tendency to spend more time on one end of the continuum than on the other end and whether the task of investing equal amounts of time on both ends of the spectrum is challenging.  For example, I sometimes have a tendency to overbook connecting with friends and family, and this leaves me little time for meditation and journaling, which are activities I’ve found to be equally important to my ability to recharge.

One way the platter’s creators suggest using the tool is to map out an average day in your life and see how much time you spend engaged in each activity.  If you find there is an activity that is not a part of your routine, consider whether there is there a way to insert even 2 or 3 minutes of it each day. After all, we appreciate the importance of variety in a nutritionally balanced diet, so why shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to mental health?

Catherine Wilson

Image used with permission. © 2011 David Rock and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. (;

A Prophetic Ministry of Sleep


What can Christians do for the common good? Sleep more, says Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor of Spirituality at Duke Divinity School, in a 2006 Books & Culture article. On the theological, countercultural value of sleep, she writes:

It’s not just that a countercultural embrace of sleep bears witness to values higher than “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.” A night of good sleep—a week, or month, or year of good sleep—also testifies to the basic Christian story of Creation. We are creatures, with bodies that are finite and contingent. For much of Western history, the poets celebrated sleep as a welcome memento mori, a reminder that one day we will die: hence Keats’s ode to the “sweet embalmer” sleep, and Donne’s observation, “Natural men have conceived a twofold use of sleep; that it is a refreshing of the body in this life; that it is a preparing of the soul for the next.” Is it any surprise that in a society where we try to deny our mortality in countless ways, we also deny our need to sleep?

The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Of course, the Creator has slept, another startling reminder of the radical humility he embraced in becoming incarnate. He took on a body that, like ours, was finite and contingent and needed sleep. To push ourselves to go without sleep is, in some sense, to deny our embodiment, to deny our fragile incarnations—and perhaps to deny the magnanimous poverty and self-emptying that went into his Incarnation.

We’d love to hear from pastors who have considered taking up this prophetic mantle, calling parishioners to an earlier bedtime.

Tommy Grimm

(Picture by flickr user Richard Masoner /via Creative Commons)

You snooze, you lose!


Getting enough sleep can be challenging for pastors.  You never know when you will receive a call from a parishioner in need in the middle of the night, and the demands on your time often leave space for yourself only very early in the morning or late at night.

sleep on deskBut if you’re trying to lose weight, not getting enough sleep can set you up for failure.

Perhaps this story sounds familiar: Lack of sleep results in mid-day fatigue.  To combat this, you reach for a cup of coffee and snack to get through a mid-day meeting, but feel too fatigued to fit in an afternoon workout at the Y.  In the evening, the caffeine from earlier in the day is still cycling through your bloodstream, so you decide you may as well work on a sermon or channel surf to de-stress from the day.  Late night hours then become a dangerous time for snacking on comfort foods before you finally get to bed, only to start a similar routine in a few short hours.

The result is sleep debt — a deficit that continues to build and carries high interest rates, just like a credit card.  Not getting enough shut-eye has implications on your overall health, particularly when you are trying to lose weight.

Persistent lack of sleep influences the hormone levels that play key roles in metabolism.  When you are sleep-deprived, your body maintains more ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and reduces energy expenditure, but it also holds onto less leptin, a hormone that signals satiety.  The result is a perfect hormonal storm of more eating, a lessened satisfaction with food, and a slowed metabolism, all ending in weight gain.

Emerging research suggests that sleep is critical to fat loss as well.  A recent study out of the University of Chicago compared the weight lost of dieters over a two week period.  Some had sufficient sleep; others were sleep deprived.  Though the two groups lost similar amounts of weight, those who were well-rested lost twice as much fat as those who burned the midnight oil.

So, if you’re making commitments to improve your diet and exercise more, these ten tips for improved sleep may help you on your way to weight loss success.

by Catherine Wilson