Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Matthew 11:28 (MSG)
Our Brains and the Need for Rest – The Rest Series – Part 2
Culturally, we’re getting busier and faster and less satisfied, so we chase harder and harder. People are glorifying the constant push and shove of getting ahead. “We can sleep when we’re dead” is declared from social media platforms, board rooms, pulpits, and lunchtime conversations.
But fast living is not doing us any good. Life is light and dark, fast and slow, action and rest, awake and asleep… It’s not “either-or” but “AND.” There’s an ebb and flow to it that unless we learn to work with, will fight against our constant need to go hard, until something out of our control happens to slow us down.
“Sleep when I'm dead” might be a catchy, cliché thing to say when your neck deep in work, even work that you love. But it's not a phrase to live by… literally.
While we sleep our brains consolidate memories, and our muscles, bones, and organs repair themselves and sleep keeps our immune system healthy. Getting consistently less than 6 hours of sleep per night increases the risk of cancer purely because you’re not giving your body time to rest, regroup and repair.
In 2012, scientists discovered how our brains clean themselves out. While our bodies and cells are working, they accumulate toxic waste. The lymphatic system washes this waste away from our bodies, but our brains need a different cleaning system.
A clear liquid called cerebrospinal fluid covers our brains. It travels through particular channels and washes the brain out, taking the toxins to the general circulatory system, where the liver can remove them. Studies show that this special cleaning system within our brain is TEN TIMES more active during sleep.
When we wake, these channels squeeze shut, and the cerebrospinal fluid hangs out mostly on the surface of the brain, not deep inside it. When we are awake, this cleaning system performs at 5% of its capacity.
While are we awake, our brains are crazy busy supporting everything we do: movements, thoughts, capturing memories, and interrupting the signals that come in through our senses. It’s only when we are asleep, and these processes shut down for the day that our brains can switch into cleaning mode. If these toxins are not cleaned away from the brain, it invites all kinds of nasties in to play.*
I used to be proud of how little sleep I got. I mistakenly thought it was a strength and a sign of importance, busyness, and productivity. And while there are seasons and moments where we burn the candle at both ends and push through until the small hours of the morning, it should be the exception, not the rule. Sleep is essential to our health; physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not something for the “weak,” and getting no sleep should not be glorified.
Matt 11:28 has become a life verse for me: “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” (MSG).
In his book, The Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Buchner said:
“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day's chalking.”
Much is forgiven, restored and redeemed in our bodies, brains and hearts while we sleep. Don’t neglect it. Plan for it. Cherish it. Enjoy it. Because you need it. And needing it is just the way it's meant to be.
*(Reference: The Journal Science Translational Medicine Aug 2012).