[RE]FOCUSING on Health in 2021 – Part I

Pastor Chad Wright   -  

Some have expressed frustration that 2021 has not ushered in a new day. Hoping to put the difficulty of 2020 behind, they expected 2021 to be different. Does the flipping of a calendar page really bring positive change? Some would call that magical thinking. I am afraid we have all fallen into that thinking trap at one time or another. The reality that we all know too well is that change only happens with intent. Over the next few weeks, this blog will look at resources to help with that to help you with change if that is what you want.

It is not necessarily a vain thing to want to be healthy. On the contrary, caring for oneself is a matter of good stewardship. To care for one’s self – body, mind and spirit – is a proper response of a believer. The Apostles show how living in the body in this world is a practical faith matter. Paul wrote, ““Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, ESV) The Apostle John expressed care for his fellow believer’s whole person: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (3 John 2, ESV)

One good outcome of the calendar flipping to a new year for humans is the desire to do something new, something better. Apart from the proverbial resolutions for the new year, there is often an uptick in our culture to improve oneself. For example, take Dry January. Dry January formally began in 2013 as a public health campaign challenging people to give up alcohol for at least one month. Today, it’s more of a cultural phenomenon — debated on talk shows, embraced by health publications, and allegedly over-documented on social media. In 2018, the University of Sussex researchers wanted to document what actually happened to those who participated in Dry January, so they interviewed 800 participants. The results were amazing: 88 percent saved money; 71 percent realized they don’t need to drink to enjoy themselves — and 71 percent achieved the holy grail of health effects – better sleep.

Sleep plays a critical role in metabolism, learning, and memory. It is not only essential for the brain, but for every tissue in our body. Alcohol interrupts the benefits of sleep in all sorts of ways. Sometimes alcohol has a stimulating effect when consumed at a low dose, and when blood alcohol levels rise within the first hour after consumption. Alcohol also has been documented to disrupt sleep, especially the period of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The more you drink, the worse your sleep is likely to be. According to a 2020 study published in Nature, “heavy consumption of alcohol over an extended period of time leads to increased tolerance and this tolerance is accompanied by adaptation of the neurotransmitter systems.” A 2018 study that evaluated 4,098 Finnish subjects found while low amounts of alcohol — fewer than two servings per day for men or one serving per day — decreased sleep quality by 9.3 percent, moderate amounts decreased sleep quality by 24 percent, and high amounts by 39.2 percent.  

And if one suffers from insomnia, the negative relationship between alcohol and sleep can be bidirectional — with alcohol causing insomnia-like symptoms and people misguidedly using alcohol to fall asleep. Overall, if you are looking to drink and you also want to sleep well, it’s recommended to not drink within four hours of going to bed. (Other studies have found that late afternoon “happy hour” drinking can disrupt sleep as much as six hours before bedtime.) And if you want better sleep overall, Dry January – or just taking alcohol off the menu – is always an option. If you are looking to sleep better in 2021, maybe consider this. 

See you next time, here at the corner of faith and mental health. 

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Chad Wright