Sleep: An Evidence of Divine Design

By Wayne Jackson
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“And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).

Presently, God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a help meet [suitable] for him” (2:18),

Subsequently, “Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept” (2:21).

This is the first reference in the Bible to “sleep.” Exactly what is this strange experience? Did God design it?

Science Baffled

Actually, science is puzzled about this phenomenon called “sleep.” One writer has described sleep as “a nightly miracle that baffles science” (Webster, 80ff). Others comment:

“On average, human beings spend a third of their lives in sleep, yet scientists do not yet know precisely what sleep accomplishes. It is presumed to serve some restorative function, but just how sleep refreshes us is unclear” (Guinness, 58).

“Scientists are still seeking answers to many questions about man’s need for sleep. They do not know, for example, why man cannot simply rest, as insects do. Nor have they discovered exactly how sleep restores vigor to the body” (Hartmann, 418).

Theories Galore

Various opinions have been advanced to explain sleep; they all have one thing in common — they grope in the dark! As one writer observed: “There are many theories about sleep, but none is universally accepted” (Schifferes, 456). A recent article in the journal BioScience confessed that

“modern researchers are, at the most fundamental level, as confounded by the purpose and ultimate control of sleep as were Hippocrates and Aristotle more than 2500 years ago” (Gillis, 391).

Consider some of the ideas that have been advanced regarding the origin and nature of sleep.

Anemia

Alemaeon, a Greek physician of the 6th century B.C., argued that sleep is the result of blood draining from the head. When the cranial blood depletes to a certain level, we lose consciousness, or to express it more euphoniously, we sleep. Years ago doctors called it “cerebral anemia.” It now is known that this concept is baseless.

Heavy Head

Aristotle, the noted philosopher of the 4th century B.C., in his work “De Somno et vigilin” (On sleeping and waking) argued that the digestion process causes “vapors” to ascend to the brain because of a higher temperature in the head. As the brain cools, these vapors descend into the heart, cooling the body’s pump, producing sleep. This theory hardly needs comment.

Poison

The “poison” or “chemical” view alleges that sleep is the result of certain day-time waste by-products, which gradually accumulate to the point where a temporary stupor, i.e., sleep is induced. This notion is refuted by several facts.

First, a person can fall asleep at any time of the day.

Second, one who is sleeping naturally can be easily awakened — which suggests that he is not “drugged” by body poisons.

Third, Siamese twins share the same blood system, yet one can be sleeping while the other is wide awake (Lavie, 153).
This theory likewise fails.

Fetal Urge

Sigmund Freud, the father of “psychoanalysis” (which is in considerable disrepute these days), contended that sleep is merely a regression from the difficulties of life. He suggested that man subconsciously longs to retreat to the security of “fetal life,” and so he developed the sleep mechanism to accommodate this need.

One would suppose, then, that someone enlightened on this matter, as Freud obviously thought he was, could have “shucked” the sleep habit and enjoyed life awake — around the clock. He didn’t!

Survival

Some evolutionists have argued that sleep is a development out of our animal ancestry. The claim is made that in our “pre-human” past, at night our animal kinsmen would huddle together for protection from predators. The darkness, combined with the body heat of the pack, produced a sort of trance, interrupted only by the rising sun. Over many ages this ultimately produced the crystallized habit of sleep.

Thomas Edison, the great inventor of the light bulb, adopted this view and asserted: “A million years from now, we won’t go to bed at all. Really, sleep is an absurdity, a bad habit” (quoted by Webster, 87). Edison charged that those who spend a lot of time sleeping are fools — which doesn’t speak well of Albert Einstein, a long-sleeper (Lavie, 114).

This view is downright silly. According to evolutionary chronology, true man has been upon the earth between two and three million years. Why hasn’t he abandoned the sleep habit? The fact is, we still have the same sleep cycle that is evidenced in all the historical records of antiquity.

Divine Design

In 1993, this writer published a book titled: {glossSub (“Courier Publications”,“The Human Body: Accident or Design?”)} In this volume, we argued the case that the human anatomy is so characterized by “design,” that it cannot possibly have evolved through a series of accidental circumstances. We are not a library of freak occurrences. Rather, as David, king of Israel, humbly declared: We have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psa. 139:14).

We do not believe there is any naturalistic explanation which accounts for the origin of sleep. On the contrary, we affirm that “sleep” is a mechanism, designed by God, to facilitate the well-being of certain forms of biological organisms, including man.

The Benefits of Sleep

Some still contend that sleep is non-essential for the welfare of humans. One writer recently argued that “sleep serves no important function in modern man and that, in principle at least, man is capable of living happily without it” (Meddis, Preface). The assertion is ludicrous; were it not for this “rest” provision, we could not survive very long.

Strange things happen when a person is deprived of sleep. After a day or two, mood changes, e.g., depression, become apparent. As days go by, experimental subjects, in most cases, begin to hallucinate and are even prone to violence. The record for staying awake is 264 hours.

Though sleep appears to have been primarily designed for the health of the brain, as we shall subsequently observe, there are numerous physical side-effects as well. Consider the following from Miller and Goode:

“What happens in the body when we go to sleep, we know in considerable detail. There is a general slowing down of all the body’s rhythms, a diminuendo of all its processes. Heartbeat and respiration retard to a leisurely pace; blood pressure and temperature fall to a lower level; the level of adrenaline in the blood and the volume of urine also fall” (299).

Another writer notes: “Sleep restores energy to the body, particularly to the brain and nervous system” (Hartmann, 418).

Sleep also assists healing. Dr. Justus Schifferes, former Director of the Health Education Council, states that

“sleep is more than a time of rest and relaxation. It is also a time of recuperation and repair, of growth and regrowth. During the normal course of living, cells of the body wear out and must be replaced. This regeneration takes place more rapidly during sleep. It has been shown, for example, that the epithelial cells of the skin divide and make new cells about twice as fast during sleep” (457).

It is believed, however, that sleep performs its most powerful “magic” on the brain. This appears to be suggested by the fact that those who are deprived of sleep over several days experience minimal physical damage as compared to the mental turmoil that afflicts them. John Pfeiffer cites a study done on several hundred soldiers who stayed awake for more than four days. Medical examinations afterward revealed no significant physical debilitation. “Sleeplessness has its most important effect on one organ, the brain” (65).

Some experimental evidence appears to suggest that sleep “seems to activate the immune system” (Davis, 77). Scientific studies have indicated that long term sleep deprivation can precipitate fatal blood infections in laboratory animals.

The brain is a paradox. It needs sleep, but it does not sleep. The fact that the brain is quite active during sleep is demonstrated in a couple of ways.

First, it is the “computer” that orchestrates all of the body systems, keeping them running on “automatic,” even when we are not consciously thinking about these functions.

Second, “dreaming” reveals that the brain is still active during sleep. In fact, some folks have been quite creative during their sleep time. Longfellow dreamed his poem, “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” Sir Isaac Newton composed some of his mathematical formulas during slumber. Professor Norbert Wiener of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — the man who was mostly responsible for the development of the electronic calculator, frequently would jolt out of bed at night and write down the solution he had dreamed to some problem.

Modern researchers are of the opinion that sleep helps keep “the brain’s nerve networks up to par.” This might explain why it is so difficult to think clearly when one has been deprived of sleep. Dr. Mark Mahowald, a neurologist and a specialist in sleep disorders, says: “In a sense, sleep serves as an all-systems run-through that keeps the brain at optimal functioning” (Davis, 78). Some suggest that sleep provides the brain with “cleanup time” in which the jumbled activities of the day are sorted and stored, much as in a computer.

Joel Benington and Craig Heller, scientists at Stanford University, are working on the theory that the brain is fueled by glucose, and when this fuel depletes to a certain level, after hours of vigorous mental activity, changes occur in a substance known as adenosine, which trigger the sleep urge. Thus, during deep sleep the glycogen storehouse is replenished (Gillis, 1996). This theory has not been wholly confirmed, but its authors believe it has merit.

The emotional benefits of sleep hardly need elaboration. Perhaps they are best summed up in the words of the celebrated Shakespeare —

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

Where the Evidence Points

As one reflects upon the matters discussed above, two facts stand out clearly.

  1. Sleep is an absolute necessity for human existence.
  2. Man has a long way to go in understanding this phenomenon. As one writer puts it, sleep is a “complex” behavior with probably no single, simple explanation (Gillis, 393).

How can anyone, with a reasonably modicum level of rationality, argue that this beneficent and complex experience simply evolved by chance? How can a lucid person believe that: “More than three billion years ago, evolution discovered the biological clock of blue-green algae, a clock which would force us to fall asleep in a regular cycle…” (Lavie, ix)?

For every effect there must be an adequate cause. The data associated with sleep eloquently argue the proposition that there was an intelligent Cause for this experience. There are too many tell-tale evidences that reflect “design” in the process. And, as we have observed many times before, even skeptics concede that “everything designed has a designer” (Ricci, 190). Thank God for this provision. Sleep well!

Sources/Footnotes
  • Davis, Susan. 1996. “Why We Must Sleep,” American Health. April.
  • Gillis, A. M. 1996. “Why Sleep?” BioScience. June.
  • Guinness, Alma E., ed. 1987. ABC’s of The Human Body. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Assoc..
  • Hartmann, Ernest. 1979. “Sleep.” The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: World Book-Childcraft, Vol. 17.
  • Lavie, Peretz. 1996. The Enchanted World of Sleep. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Meddis, Ray. 1977. The Sleep Instinct. London: Henley & Boston.
  • Miller, Benjamin and Goode, Ruth. 1960. Man And His Body. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  • Pfeiffer, John. 1961. The Human Brain. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.
  • Ricci, Paul. 1986. Fundamentals of Critical Thinking. Lexington, MA: Ginn Press.
  • Schifferes, Justus J. 1977. The Family Medical Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Simon &Schuster.
  • Webster, Gary. 1957. Wonders of Man. New York, NY: Sheed & Ward.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.