In 1996, 7-year-old Jessica DuBroff was attempting to be the youngest student pilot to fly across the United States. Accompanying her were her father and her flying instructor. The first couple of days went uneventfully, but as often happens, the media were closely following this attempt and hounded the instructor pilot for midnight and early-morning interviews.
While talking with his wife on the phone from Wyoming, the instructor told her how frustrated he was with all the media interruptions, how fatigued he had become as a result of the lost sleep, and how much he was looking forward to being finished with the “media zoo.”
The next morning, while preparing for the flight, this instructor with an impeccable record for safety uncharacteristically failed to get a weather briefing before departure. As a result, he flew directly into a storm, and the plane crashed shortly after takeoff. No one survived.
Interviews with ground staff later revealed that this very experienced pilot had started the engine without removing the wheel chocks—something every pilot does before cranking the engine. This forgetfulness evidenced his extreme state of fatigue.*Sleep science tells us that as in the case of this experienced instructor, tired minds are much more likely to make serious mistakes. In most societies of the world today a significant percentage of the population is sleep-deprived. In the United States fatigue is one of the 10 most common reasons people visit a physician!
The need to rest and relax appears to be the greatest when there seems to be no time for it. Without rest and relaxation all humans suffer cognitive impairments. Tired people become inefficient, slower, less safe, and make more mistakes. To remain “at the top of our game,” we need adequate sleep.
A growing body of evidence shows that sleep deprivation impairs our cognitive performance, which in turn influences the quality of our decisions, our emotional control, and our efficiency, productivity, and safety. We all need sufficient rest to restore the wear and tear of life.
When we are tired, the “executive functions” of our minds suffer. We become less effective at recognizing the choices that are available to us and less capable of deciding which of the choices is best.
The frontal lobes of our brains are where we combine the current information from our senses with previously learned information and life experiences to make our decisions. This portion of the brain is most affected by insufficient sleep and rest. Fatigue lowers our cognitive efficiency, lessens the awareness of our surroundings, reduces the ability to process new information, decreases our long-term memory, and impairs the learning of new information. Because success in almost all of life’s endeavors is determined by the quality of the decisions we make, it is vitally important to rest as needed.
Sadly, today there is a ubiquitous intrusion of personal, social, and cultural activities into the time that traditionally has been reserved for sleep. Consequently, attention spans are diminished, judgment is impaired, and our ability to carry out complex mental operations is reduced.
Sleep needs vary between individuals. Nearly all sleep experts agree, however, that seven hours of sleep per night is enough to “get by on,” but that most people need about eight hours for optimal cognitive performance.
The way people choose to live and order their lives, along with often hectic work schedules, frequently results in increased inattention at work. Sleep provides the “right stuff.” It prepares bodies and minds for peak performance.
Sleep scientists also recognize that to truly remain rested and productive, we need both a weekly and an annual rest. In Britain during World War I, increased productivity was attempted by continuous, nonstop work schedules. It was later recognized, however, that by reducing the workweek to 48 hours and requiring one day of rest per week, productivity actually increased by 15 percent.
On July 29, 1941, Winston Churchill announced before the House of Commons, “If we are to win this war, . . . it will be largely by staying power. For that purpose there must be one day in seven for rest as a general rule, and there must be one week’s holiday a year.” That was voted into law!
The Bible records that in the very beginning God instituted a weekly rest to provide a much-needed break from the tedium of work. Our Creator knew that in order to function optimally, we need balanced daily rest in addition to weekly rest, as found in Exodus 20:8-10.
The Lord wants us to fellowship with Him, especially on the Sabbath, because He created us as His children. Part of the blessing of Sabbath rest comes as we support and relate with others during these special hours. Regular, daily sleep and a weekly rest empower us to be receptive to the blessings of God physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, thus continually restoring us to optimal health.
* The details in this story are based on a March 4, 1997, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) press release (www.ntsb.gov/news/1997/970304a.htm; accessed June 19, 2012) and a personal interview between the author and an FAA/NTSB investigator.
Fred Hardinge, Dr.P.H., R.D., F.A.N.D., is an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department in Silver Spring, Maryland.
A professor announced to a new class of medical students: “I have good news and bad news: The good news is that half of the material you learn in medical school will survive all scrutiny and investigation. The other half of what we teach you, however, will be proven incorrect. The bad news is that we have no way of knowing which half is which!”
So, in what or whom can we truly believe? Sometimes determining the answer to this question is tough! Yet belief is essential to human existence and organization, and has tremendous power.
Belief—or faith, within a religious setting—has been shown to have statistically significant benefits that exceed the placebo effect. When the religious experience of Americans who reached the age of 100 was studied, researchers found that religiosity significantly enhanced health.1
A study comparing mortality rates between secular and religious kibbutzim (collective agricultural communities in Israel) found a decreased mortality rate over a 15-year follow-up in the religious group. The age-adjusted risk of premature death of members of the secular kibbutz was 1.7 times higher for males and 2.7 times higher for females when compared with the religious kibbutz.2
A study of African Americans found that those who engaged in organized religious activities had improved health and life satisfaction.3 Duke University researcher C. G. Ellison found that a lack of religious affiliation increases the risk of depression in African Americans.4
A connection between social relationships and survival has been documented in several studies. V. J. Schoenbach and others have noted this effect, particularly among White males.5
One of the most consistent findings across all racial groups is that spirituality profoundly improves the quality of life.6 Spirituality helps not only believers but also nonbelievers in the community. Research has found that communities gain health benefits when they have higher numbers of adherents to faiths that emphasize implicit obedience to God and His standards of conduct.7 The reason is likely that their social norms favor conformity to the more healthful lifestyle embraced by their religious neighbors.
Religious people—particularly adolescents from religious homes who frequently attend religious services, pray, and read Scripture—have fewer problems with alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs than do their nonreligious peers.8
Religion was positively associated with emotionally healthy values and socially accepted behaviors, such as tutoring or other volunteer activities often promoted by religious organizations.9
Belief in God also may be associated with reduction in stress, depression, and loneliness.
An Ohio study10 examined the effects of prayer on well-being. Of the 560 respondents, 95 percent classified themselves as religious people. Four types of prayer were identified:
Petitionary prayer: asking for material things you may need.
Ritual prayer: reading the book of prayers.
Meditative prayer: “feeling,” or being in God’s presence.
Colloquial prayer: talking as to a friend and asking God for guidance in making decisions.
The study revealed that colloquial prayer correlates best with happiness and religious satisfaction. Talking to God as to a friend, telling Him all our joys and sorrows, can bring happiness, healing, and religious satisfaction.
The Bible says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isa. 26:3, NLT).11 When we have a close relationship with God, we experience peace of mind.
This does not mean that those who believe in God and trust Him implicitly will be free from problems. “Trouble and turmoil may surround us, yet we enjoy a calmness and peace of mind of which the world knows nothing. . . . The peace of Christians depends not upon peaceful conditions in the world about them but upon the indwelling of the Spirit of God.”12
Trusting in a loving, powerful God provides us with the ability to enjoy a healthful lifestyle. Belief and faith in God enables Him to fill our lives with abundant peace and joy.
Fred Hardinge is an associate director of the Health Ministries Department at the General Conference.