I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

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“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” That is a phrase I heard repeatedly at one of the wonderful ministries I had the pleasure of working for at one point in my life. For those of my former colleagues who are now readers of this blog, I’m glad you’re still alive!  Tired eyes and nodding off in meetings were commonplace…exhaustion was worn as a badge of honor. And while “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” was intended to convey passion and commitment to the Great Commission, it often resulted in illness, ill-will and eventual burnout.

Last week we started a conversation on slowing down—who we are being in relationship to busyness and rest. Keep in mind, who you are being has greater impact on your results than what you are doing. Consider Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and George Costanza, a primary character on the TV sitcom Seinfeld. Know what they’re both famous for? Naps! They both “did” the same thing, but from very different ways of being. Winston Churchill napped out of his commitment to being responsible for leading a great nation; recharging to serve at a high level. George Costanza napped out of his commitment to not being responsible for his own life; playing small to just survive. Different ways of being produce different results, even if the behavior looks identical on the outside. It is crucial to remember this as we discuss the application of slowing down. The “doing” of rest will not compensate for a “being” of unrest. It’s that shift in who you are being in relationship to busyness and rest that will make the greatest difference as you apply the following principles in slowing down.

The “doing” of rest will not compensate for a “being” of unrest.
By taking time to nap, Winston Churchill and many other great leaders actually, benefited from what neuroscientists have identified as Focus Mode and Diffuse Mode in the brain—two brain states that work in tandem with each other. Focus Mode is our daily thinking and problem-solving state, and Diffuse Mode is our relaxed non-thinking state. Don’t confuse non-thinking with non-active. While in Diffuse Mode, the brain synthesizes and processes all the information gained during Focus Mode. And it’s while taking a break—being in Diffuse Mode—that answers and revelations are more likely to appear in our awareness.   Have you ever noticed that when you stop searching for the answer, it pops into your brain? You know, usually 10-30 minutes after you actually needed it.  That’s Diffuse Mode at work. Imagine the implications for increasing that process in your day and week. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more demanding your schedule, the more you will benefit from breaks. You will come back to your work with renewed energy, fresh eyes and literally new brain connections to elevate the quality of your work. For ideas from some of the most productive companies in our nation on setting up breaks throughout your day, check out this great article by Fast Company.


Take this principle of rest further as it relates to sleep and the quality of your life. We are designed for daily rest. In case there is some confusion over daily, it means every day. The internet is full of research on the benefits of sleep, and it’s not my intention to replicate that here. But I would like you to remember the last time you woke up fully refreshed and recharged from a full night’s sleep. For you parents with young kiddos, that may easily be years ago. A night of incredible sleep does more good for your mind, body and spirit than any pill ever could. In his book, Proof Positive, Neil Nedley, M.D. asserts, “I am convinced that if the benefits of rest could be put into a pill, it would be among the hottest selling supplements on the market. Unfortunately, in order to reap the benefits of rest, we must slow down and take the time to rest. Sadly, many of us do not believe that we can really pause long enough to take advantage of this vital remedial and preventative agency.”

The more demanding your schedule, the more you will benefit from breaks.
At the aforementioned ministry, I had a spectacular boss. Even in the middle of a fast-paced, mission-driven environment where it was common for leaders to be at work until 10pm, he walked out of his office and home to his family every day at 5pm. Yes, he was great with time-management, but he was demonstrating something beyond time-management by shutting down work at five o’clock. He was demonstrating a decision. He told me, “Becky, you could stay here until 9 or 10pm every day, seven days a week, and there would still be more work to do the next day. There will always be more work to do. So you must decide that you have completed today’s work and that it’s time to engage in the other priorities in your life. Anything left must be for tomorrow.” You are the only one that can make rest a priority for yourself. Make a decision. Choose it. It’s really that simple.
You are the only one that can make rest a priority for yourself.
Even for the most demanding schedule, there really is another option besides “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”   Sleep now so that you can live and give to the fullest extent you were created for!

To Your Great Life!


Becky Henderson
Becky Henderson
I am a catalyst to uncover the blocks and barriers getting in your way of creating the life you desire. Together we can transform the obstacles into opportunities. I listen to what you say…and what you do not say. Similar to a mirror, I show you what you cannot see on your own right now, and tell you what is necessary to create the results you are looking for. I value who you are and where you want to go in life.
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