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By David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
Last week many of our fellow citizens stayed up past their bedtime to watch the Times Square Ball drop. So, it was counterintuitive to have so much ink spent on sleeplessness in the same period. The need for more sleep bridged stories on issue-fatigue, COVID, New Year’s resolutions, and even travel. Few subjects can claim such a segue.
Two days before New Year’s Eve, the New York Times proclaimed, “’Worry Burnout’ Is Real.” The article illustrates how the deluge of current calamities has created issue-fatigue in a large sector of the population. In affected persons, the failure to take prophylactic measures to protect themselves is the most pathological symptom of worry-burnout. Dr. Judson Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University, states “Worry burnout might be associated with what psychologists call ‘learned helplessness’, a sense of overwhelming powerlessness after trauma.” The first step back from this “fatigue” is within anyone’s ability: Get a good night’s sleep.
Newswise.com posted the results of a survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine which concluded, “New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Let COVID-somnia Drag You Down!” According to their findings, “[M]ore than half of Americans (56%) say they have experienced ‘COVID-somnia,’ an increase in sleep disturbances, since the beginning of the pandemic.” Multiple stressors can cause COVID-somnia, such as financial worries, infection exposure, illness of loved ones, and quarantine-induced limited socialization. Jennifer Martin, a licensed clinical psychologist, recommends “The best way to get healthy sleep during these unprecedented times is to be intentional about your sleep habits and routines.” This is the article’s suggested 2022 Resolution.
NBCnews.com featured an unusual New Year’s Day travelogue: “This Bus Won’t Get You Out of Hong Kong, But It Might Get You to Sleep.” The article asserts, “Nearly 70 percent of Hong Kong residents have trouble sleeping, according to a telephone survey conducted last year by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.” Pandemic quarantine requirements have also limited the island’s residents’ ability to make foreign excursions. A Hong Kong bus company is catering to both sleep and travel needs with its Bus Sleeping Tour. Billed as “[T]he longest bus route in Hong Kong at 83 kilometers (51 miles).” Before riders get on the five-hour expedition, they are served a “food coma” meal and then issued ear plugs and a sleep mask. Coupled with their own CO2 they receive from the facemask riders must wear to comply with pandemic regulations, the Sleep Bus provides many passengers with better sleep than they get in their own beds.
The New Testament has a story that combines issue-fatigue, travel and sleep. In Luke 8, Jesus suggested to his disciples that they take a boat trip. During the cruise, Jesus fell asleep. A storm developed, but Jesus continued to snooze. His disciples were convinced they were going to drown (v.24). The Gospel of Mark includes a comment from the disciples which sounds like the learned helplessness of worry-burnout, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mar 4:38). Jesus awoke from his nap and commanded the wind and waves to cease. Then Jesus asked his disciples, “Where is your faith?” No mention is made whether the disciples allowed Jesus to return to his nap.
If the numbers are correct in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine survey, one in two Americans do not get enough sleep. Whether this is the result of COVID-somnia, some other crisis, or something fun (like New Year’s Eve), it is obvious we need to resolve to get more of this gift from God. Our lack becomes even more important if our sleeplessness is fear induced. Let us resolve for 2022 “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).