Every year as the days shorten and the weather cools, I find that I tend to sleep longer and more soundly than I do during the warmer months that coincide with longer days. I used to think there was something wrong with me when this happened--that I suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and that this was a problem that needed to be fixed.
Sometimes, however, with age comes wisdom. Last week, I was teaching a Bible lesson to our middle school youth and was seeking to help them enter the world around the time of Jesus. We gathered around a makeshift campfire (actually, two candles since it was pouring down rain outside), sat in the darkened room, ate middle eastern flatbread and olives, and talked about what it would mean to have only one set of clothes, and to sleep on the ground with just a cloak to cover them. I also reminded them that they would go to sleep when it got dark and get up when the sun got up. With no artificial light, their wake/sleep patterns would be in sync with the light/dark/day/night patterns of nature.
Most people today in the modern, electrified world live almost completely out of harmony with those patterns. The scourge of Daylight Savings Time means that hardly anyone gets to awaken with the dawn, but must get up in deep darkness in order to be on time for work or school. The process of gradual awakening with the coming of day has been almost completely eliminated. With 24 hour TV programming, combined with the ever available Internet and with many businesses open 24 hours a day, events and tasks normally done during daytime hours can now be performed any time of day. Plus, employees must now work those overnight hours, their bodies endlessly out of harmony with nature's pattern.
Scholarly research now coming out indicates a link between the disruption of those normal wake/sleep patterns (called the circadian rhythm) and ill health. In addition, many researchers are seeing a connection between inadequate sleep and weight gain. It seems contradictory, for one would think that less sleep would mean more calories burned. Yet the correlation is strong: more and better quality sleep does apparently lead to weight loss.
This came to a head with me recently as I realized that my growing fatigue was making me vulnerable to infectious agents that my normally healthy body should have been able to fight off. In the midst of battling what I assume was the flu, I was reminded that God spoke from the beginning to the human need for rest and refreshment.
One of the most ignored of the Ten Commandments is the one that calls for honoring the Sabbath. I would suggest that hardly anyone today ever considers taking a day of real rest. Ideally, such a day starts with joyous worship, so that we acknowledge from the beginning that God is our provider. We may find our rest more fully when we intentionally enter into the heart of God. Worship is then followed by meals freely shared with others, games and laughter, naps and conversations, left-overs and serenity, all followed by restful long hours of simple sleep. Almost all normal tasks are set aside--it will all be there the next day anyway.
What would it be like for us to set aside the clock and have no demanding "I've got to be there by then" schedules for the day? What would happen if businesses were to actually shut down on Sundays, such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A do now? What would happen if the organizers of youth sports teams would say to the children and families: "If we can't get it all in on the other six days, we are demanding too much. It's time to start honoring you as families and the Sabbath rest again." What would happen if all of us started recognizing that we are made in the image of God and that living out of that image means we honor our physical bodies with rhythmic and regular rest, worship and play needed for our well-being?
What would happen? We might just take a big step to solving the national health crisis. Not a bad idea at all.