By Laura Stephens-Reed
Back before Christmas, the website Masterclass was offering a two-for-one membership deal. The opportunity to learn about any subject I could imagine was more than my inner nerd could pass up. I can virtually sit at the feet of experts in the arts, sciences, athletics, history, and more.
A neuroscientist is currently teaching me about something I love but am no longer very good at: sleep. (I hope to get better at it.)
Here’s what I’ve gleaned: Our sleep consists of non-REM (rapid eye movement) and REM sleep. In the former, our body repairs itself from the physical stresses of the day and builds up our capacity to fight off illness. In this stage we also commit to long-term memory all that we studied during our waking hours. In the more active REM sleep, we recover emotionally from the stresses and hurt feelings we’ve experienced. From a mental angle, we begin to make associations between new and old pieces of information. Our weird dreams are signals that are brains are at work during REM sleep, seeding connections that we can draw on the next day.
We are living in very challenging times. The pandemic continues—with all of the health concerns and personal inconveniences it entails—even as vaccines are starting to become available. Our larger political and cultural landscapes are a hot mess, to put it exceedingly mildly.
We need to make use of every tool at our disposal to nurture our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health so that then we can keep our gaze on God, love our neighbor well, and speak wisdom into tangled messes. Sleep allows every part of us to convalesce, learn from what has happened, and approach the coming day with new stores of energy and creativity.
Self-care is harder right now. Many of our usual avenues have been cut off by safety precautions or the constant presence of others. Sleep is something we can all attain, though, and it is perhaps the most potent means of both responsively and proactively nurturing ourselves. Be consistent, then, in your sleep schedule, setting firm boundaries around time for rest. Pay attention to the quality of your sleep and what might be hindering it, whether it is what you eat or drink (and when) or your exposure to light at the wrong portions of the day or doom-scrolling at bedtime.
In short, make sure you are getting enough rest—of the right kind. We need to be rested for what already is and is yet to come.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.