I'm fanatical about a lot of things: coffee, books, clothes, work, running—not necessarily in that order (in case my employers are reading this). But more than any of these activities, I'm fanatical about sleep. Like Brooke Shields and her Calvin Klein Jeans, nothing gets between me and sleep.

I used to think this refusal to burn the candle at both ends, even for the sake of church, work, or home, was selfish. Not anymore.

In the first year or so of our marriage, my husband and I were lassoed into chaperoning a youth lock-in at our church—you know, the Christian version of a rave except the kids play games like Duct Tape Head rather than dance all night and get high on sugar instead of Ecstasy. I learned something about myself that night (well, I learned quite a few things, but only one is pertinent to this article): I need sleep.

Eager to please both church and spouse, I tried to make it through that all-nighter. And I got so close. But by 5 a.m. (I'll spare the gory details), my husband was begging me to go home and go to bed. Feeling like a failure, I did.

I'm not sure why I thought I could (let alone why I should) make it through the whole night. Since childhood, having had barn chores most of my life since then, I've been an early riser and, consequently, an early-to-bedder. I never pulled an all-nighter in college. And although I had my share of late nights while sowing my wild oats, I've always had a natural body clock that needs closer to 9 than 8 hours of sleep, and preferably sooner rather than later.

For a long time, this kind of embarrassed me. But I'm over that embarrassment now. Way over it.

Whether you're a morning person or a late owl, when you sleep is less important than your amount and quality of sleep. Sleep is so important, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control is increasingly monitoring U. S. sleep behaviors because the effects of sleep-deprivation on public health are so dramatic. Poor sleep patterns are linked to stress, depression, memory loss, weight gain, lower attention, increased accidents. Good sleep habits, on the other hand, are associated with longer life, weight loss, increased creativity, athletic stamina, and higher grades in school. No wonder Shakespeare called sleep "Nature's soft nurse."

We know all this, yet as a culture, many of us continue to lead sleep-deprived lives.

I was once invited to speak at a women's dorm meeting and, told I could speak on any topic, I chose sleep. Perhaps in working with college students, chief among the sleep-deprived, my perspective is skewed, but I find sleep far too low on the scale of priorities. I've even seen sleep-deprivation used as a self-punishing behavior linked to eating and other disorders.

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Fatigue has become as American as apple pie. In history's most comfortable society, being tired has become the sacrifice du jour, and sleep is treated as a reward rather than a prerequisite for good work.

This is why I found refreshing a recent article examining the spiritual aspect of sleep. Rightly exempting those whose circumstances—parental, financial, or other temporary states—render diminished sleep a necessity rather than a choice, chaplain Lynn Casteel Harper insightfully addresses the spiritual significance of our collective disdain of slumber: sleep challenges us to give up control, to accept our limitations, to attune our bodies to natural rhythms, and to face our mortality.

Poets call sleep "death's picture," a daily reminder of that eternal rest to come. If we ignore our need for good rest at regular intervals—whether daily, weekly, or yearly—we ignore no less than our mortality. As Lauren Winner has noted, our need for rest is so central to our humanity that God set aside one day a week for it. In fact, one third of our lives is spent in sleep. Yet it seems to get far less attention and concern from experts and authors than food or fitness. Indeed, rest is often treated less like friend and more like foe. We are never more vulnerable than when we sleep. Perhaps that's why we resist it so.

The17th-century metaphysical poet George Herbert offers a beautiful and truthful depiction of rest in "The Pulley," which depicts God at the moment of creation, pouring all of his blessings on man. At the last moment, God withholds the blessing of rest:

"For if I should," said he,
"Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be."

This need for rest, the poem then says, tosses man back to God's breast; it is "the pulley" that draws us to him. Sleep, as D. H. Lawrence writes, allows us to awake each day "dipped again in God, and new-created." Sleep is not the enemy but rather, as Shakespeare says, the "chief nourisher in life's feast."

Consider that one of the most dramatic events in the ministry of Jesus—and a great test of the disciples' faith—begins and centers on Jesus' sleeping through a storm. Not only does Jesus admonish us through this story to have strong faith, but his example teaches us also to sleep well.

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