Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Of Blood Moons & Prophecy: "What Kind of God Leaves People Behind?"

The question of God's judgment upon a world of sin and woe has come up once again with the release of the latest Evangelical Christian film, Left Behind, asking the value that God has placed upon human life in these terrible times of unholiness, wickedness, and evil.

Time-and-again the bible reader reads within the ancient scriptures of a future judgment to come upon the wicked of the earth before a God who no longer will tolerate the evils of mankind. Who will reap the earth, wiping it clean of all its sin, gathering all sinners into the fierce wine press of his wrath that will spare none, causing all to perish as He once had done during the days of Noah's Great Flood.

Causing all who live during this time of wrath and judgment to be filled with fear-and-dread before the Holy One of Israel who sends forth His bloody angels to reap from the lands of the living its terrible wages of sin and injustice. So that on that day of Great Armageddon and Despair, shall even the great devil himself, fallen Lucifer of the heavens, with his demon minions, be cast into the great and terrible Lake of Fire. Emptying even hell itself on that final day of Judgment. A day like no other. A day described in the Bible as the Day of the Lord.

Thus is the Day of the Lord pictured by many readers of the Bible. A Day of Judgment and Woe. Of a Divine Justice come to reap freely and willfully over the unjust lands of the living. A Day where none escape its sickles of death and demise. Where all mankind will know the awful wrath of the Lord as prophesied by His holy prophets crying out for retribution and mercy.

But, there is a catch... as the movie Left Behind has so prominently shown... that those children of the Lord who have repented of their sins and live in a manner as pleasing this God of wrath will escape the divine judgment on that final day. That God's people will be redeemed from evil's deaths and harms, toils and fears. That the very church of God itself will be taken up (raptured) into the heavens above to witness God's judgment from the safety of His grace and protection.

Even so, this was my firm belief as taught from within its sacred time-hallowed halls of Christian liturgy, song, theologies, and tradition. That the gospel of salvation which I had learned was one where both body and soul will be spared some future day of wrathful judgment - if not in this life, than in the next to come, when death will no longer have dominion over my sinful soul protected by the blood of Jesus.

No less was my understanding of biblical prophecy with its dire warnings to repent and believe. To cling to the heavenly God above whose loving care and protection of His obedient children is the dearest desire of His heart.

And thus was my reading of the Bible of its rich metaphorical language and poetry of an ancient people filled with superstition and doubt. Who marveled at the works of God in their lives in fearful awe and mystery. Who like the church today, sought for a powerful God come to reap the world in His divine wrath and judgment, that had misplaced His gospel of peace and grace through Christ Jesus His Son. God of very God. Eternal Lord over all heavenly lords and earthly kings. Mankind's Redeemer who had come as God's unblemished lamb and Holy High Priest, and there took that same divine wrath and judgment of God upon Himself for all humanity for all time as even to ourselves this day.

However, long years have past and an impressionable youth has matured to realize that Christian theologies built of wrath and judgment do not reveal the God of light and love made weak for our sakes so that we may become whole, healed, restored. That such theologies too easily condemn those different from our faith rather than embrace those differences within the larger mosaic of a global Christianity that may be more unlike us than like us.

Decades later I now wish to see a Christian faith that understands the Day of the Lord as not just a future time in history but an everyday time in the here-and-now. A Day that is always present with us both in its love and its judgments. That continues despite the evil that rules so that love, forgiveness, and forbearance may be evidenced and displayed. Even as bigotry, pride, and greed are everywhere present so too must truth, justice, and avocation for the downtrodden, despised, and outcasts. These are the Days of the Lord.

That this Day of the Lord is an everyday Day which has come to every one of us to confront our sin and wickedness with God's good gifts of the Spirit who offers peace and healing upon the torn lands of our hearts, our families, our broken lives, abuses, and failings.

That Christian teachings of blood moons and future judgment are fictitious and unhelpful to those of the church who wish to "dig in and get their hands dirty" with the remnants of mankind grieving in sorrow at the wickedness of our own refusal to help. To be God's hands and feet for those crying out for protection and justice from the evil of their day.

That Christian prophecies voicing unwavering certainty over future events are built upon fanciful imaginations and not divine intent nor biblical truth. Such charlatans teach of closed futures with closed certainty against a biblical future that is never closed and certain only in that it will be redeemed. Even as the planner plans without knowing its future course, so does the Divine Planner speak redemption into the course of time's future.

That Christian prophecies which teach we must wait on the sidelines anxiously praying always for God's judgment to come are untrue, unwise, and profoundly denounced by Jesus Himself in the very narratives of the Gospels.

That our "biblical timelines, charts, and teachings" are more the imaginations of our heart unwilling to translate the bible faithfully, factually, and relevantly. Preferring to live in the metaphors and superstitions of our religious hearts than seeing the wonder and awe of the Lord everyday we wake up and every night we go to bed.

That we don't need a God of wrath and power but a God of love and weakness. A God who is bigger than the fears of our trembling hearts. Who is strong when we are weak like He is. Who are humble, kind, wise, and thoughtful. Who do not force heavenly truths upon others but who lives out God's truth in service, sacrifice, and selflessness.

These are the harder the commands. The more difficult commands. They are not the kinds of commands that give immediate solutions to deep problems. But like yeast leaven through the routines of life so that one day the small and insignificant mustard seed might displace the towering trees and craggy mountains in its wake. That it takes a church committed to staying in this world of sin and woe and not one that wants to leave it so quickly - or so dismissively - to blood moons and prophetic omens of doom.

Will there be a time of judgment? Yes, even as there has been past times of judgment. Think of Rome, the barbarous hordes, the crusades, the genocides throughout the earth from then until now. All the earth is in turmoil because of God's great gift of volitional free will that He has bestowed upon mankind.

Will there be a time when all the world must be judged by fire even as it was by water? To the degree that the biblical flood was limited regionally as a cataclysmic event in the lives of those ancient peoples along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers then even now does the earth experience nature's own turmoils and troubles. To live on this earth is no guarantee to live without hurricane and tornado, tsunami or earthquake, fire or calamity.

Does God send the wind and the fire? Yeah, He is its creator.

Does God control the wind and the fire? Nay, verily, He does not. He goeth where it will go even as we do in our very own lives.

Does God send us to do evil and sin? Nay, He does not.

Is God responsible for our evil and sin? Nay, He is not. We are free will creatures even as we live in a volitional (indeterminate) creation filled with chaos and disorder. No less is sin's effect upon mankind's free willed heart to do right or to do wrong.

So where is this God of creation and of mankind? He is here with us in all events.

Is God helpless to save? Perhaps He is, given the measure of volition He has endowed creation and mankind. But perhaps, given the volition of creation and mankind He is not.

Will evil be allowed to stand? Perhaps, given the responsibility He has placed upon mankind to do His will. To observe His command to love one another. To seek and to save and to help.To not oppress nor take the lives of others.

How will the End Times end? Let us assume for argument's sake that we are now, and have always been, in the End Times.

How will they end? It's really up to you. The kind of theology you preach. The kind of beliefs you allow to live in the midst of your heart. The kind of actions you teach and use. The kinds of hopes and fears you allow to be embraced by your words and deeds.

For myself, I believe in a God who will never leave anyone behind. Who will do all that He can to preserve and protect all the children of men. Not only those of faith but those of non-faith. Who seeks the lost lambs of life that none are forgotten nor neglected against the evils of our day.

I believe in a God who loves first and judges second. Who judges as He must but who seeks to embrace mankind within His atoning love every moment of our existence. Whose gospel is one of peace and goodwill. Whose ethic is to go out and love all. Even our enemies. And that the church is to make every effort in observing these commands as it can.

I believe in a God who is both strong and weak. Strong to save, weak before the decrees of His Word to allow us the freedoms of our hearts however evil or wicked. Who stands before the winds and commands its courses even as the winds on their own behalf go where they go in the chaos of their constitutions. This too is the decree of God.

And finally, whether we deem our time on earth as before the Day of the Lord, or as living in the End Times of His Judgment and Grace, to know that Christ is our Savior, God's Word our light, God's Spirit our Advocate and Counselor. To not be so foolish as to place our words into God's holy Word. Nor our ideas and superstitions upon the covers His speech. To be sound-hearted, common-sensed, and filled with fear and wonder at the mysteries of God in His daily commune and communication with His creation. Even mankind.

I don't believe in a God who leaves people behind. I don't believe in an evil God who sends calamity upon His children. I don't believe in thinking that my future is closed except as it is portended in the salvation of our Lord who will bring redemption to mankind by the fury and might of His own will.

R.E. Slater

October 8, 2014

"From springtime to harvest to the following springtime season, year-after-year,
season-after-season, all is the Day of the Lord. From the Passover of our Lord's
atonement to the gathering in of our fragile souls as His earthly tabernacles (cf, sukkot)

Personal Health - The Power of Sleep

Photo-Illustration by Timothy Goodman for TIME

The Power of Sleep

September 11, 2014

New research shows a good night's rest isn't a luxury -
it's critical for your brain and for your health

When our heads hit the pillow every night, we tend to think we’re surrendering. Not just to exhaustion, though there is that. We’re also surrendering our mind, taking leave of our focus on sensory cues, like noise and smell and blinking lights. It’s as if we’re powering ourselves down like we do the electronics at our bedside–going idle for a while, only to spring back into action when the alarm blasts hours later.

That’s what we think is happening. But as scientists are now revealing, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, when the lights go out, our brains start working–but in an altogether different way than when we’re awake. At night, a legion of neurons springs into action, and like any well-trained platoon, the cells work in perfect synchrony, pulsing with electrical signals that wash over the brain with a soothing, hypnotic flow. Meanwhile, data processors sort through the reams of information that flooded the brain all day at a pace too overwhelming to handle in real time. The brain also runs checks on itself to ensure that the exquisite balance of hormones, enzymes and proteins isn’t too far off-kilter. And all the while, cleaners follow in close pursuit to sweep out the toxic detritus that the brain doesn’t need and which can cause all kinds of problems if it builds up.

This, scientists are just now learning, is the brain on sleep. It’s nature’s panacea, more powerful than any drug in its ability to restore and rejuvenate the human brain and body. Getting the recommended seven to eight hours each night can improve concentration, sharpen planning and memory skills and maintain the fat-burning systems that regulate our weight. If every one of us slept as much as we’re supposed to, we’d all be lighter, less prone to developing Type 2 diabetes and most likely better equipped to battle depression and anxiety. We might even lower our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and cancer.

The trouble is, sleep works only if we get enough of it. While plenty of pills can knock us out, none so far can replicate all of sleep’s benefits, despite decades’ worth of attempts in high-tech pharmaceutical labs.

Which is why, after long treating rest as a good-if-you-can-get-it obligation, scientists are making the case that it matters much more than we think. They’re not alone in sounding the alarm. With up to 70 million of us not getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers insufficient sleep a public-health epidemic. In fact, experts argue, sleep is emerging as so potent a factor in better health that we need a societal shift–and policies to support it–to make sleep a nonnegotiable priority.


Despite how great we feel after a night’s rest–and putting aside what we now know about sleep’s importance–we stubbornly refuse to swallow our medicine, pushing off bedtime and thinking that feeling a little drowsy during the day is an annoying but harmless consequence. It’s not. Nearly 40% of adults have nodded off unintentionally during the day in the past month, and 5% have done so while driving. Insomnia or interrupted sleep nearly doubles the chances that workers will call in sick. And half of Americans say their uneven sleep makes it harder to concentrate on tasks.

Those poor sleep habits are trickling down to the next generation: 45% of teens don’t sleep the recommended nine hours on school nights, leading 25% of them to report falling asleep in class at least once a week, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey. It’s a serious enough problem that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently endorsed the idea of starting middle and high schools later to allow for more adolescent shut-eye.

Health experts have been concerned about our sleep-deprived ways for some time, but the new insights about the role sleep plays in our overall health have brought an urgency to the message. Sleep, the experts are recognizing, is the only time the brain has to catch its breath. If it doesn’t, it may drown in its own biological debris–everything from toxic free radicals produced by hard-working fuel cells to spent molecules that have outlived their usefulness.

“We all want to push the system, to get the most out of our lives, and sleep gets in the way,” says Dr. Sigrid Veasey, a leading sleep researcher and a professor of medicine at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “But we need to know how far we can really push that system and get away with it.”

Veasey is learning that brain cells that don’t get their needed break every night are like overworked employees on consecutive double shifts–eventually, they collapse. Working with mice, she found that neurons that fire constantly to keep the brain alert spew out toxic free radicals as a by-product of making energy. During sleep, they produce antioxidants that mop up these potential poisons. But even after short periods of sleep loss, “the cells are working hard but cannot make enough antioxidants, so they progressively build up free radicals and some of the neurons die off.” Once those brain cells are gone, they’re gone for good.

After several weeks of restricted sleep, says Veasey, the mice she studied–whose brains are considered a good proxy for human brains in lab research–“are more likely to be sleepy when they are supposed to be active and have more difficulty consolidating [the benefits of] sleep during their sleep period.”

It’s the same thing that happens in aging brains, she says, as nerve cells get less efficient at clearing away their garbage. “The real question is: What are we doing to our brains if we don’t get enough sleep? If we chronically sleep-deprive ourselves, are we really aging our brains?” she asks. Ultimately, the research suggests, it’s possible that a sleep-deprived brain belonging to a teen or a 20-year-old will start to look like that of a much older person.

“Chronic sleep restriction is a stress on the body,” says Dr. Peter Liu, professor of medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and L.A. Biomedical Research Institute. And the cause of that sleep deprivation doesn’t always originate in family strife, financial concerns or job-related problems. The way we live now–checking our phones every minute, hyperscheduling our days or our kids’ days, not taking time to relax without a screen in front of our faces–contributes to a regular flow of stress hormones like cortisol, and all that artificial light and screen time is disrupting our internal clocks. Simply put, our bodies don’t know when to go to sleep naturally anymore.

This is why researchers hope their new discoveries will change once and for all the way we think about–and prioritize–those 40 winks.


“I was nervous when I went to my first sleep conference,” says Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, the chatty and inquisitive co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester. “I was not trained in sleep, and I came to it from the outside.” In fact, as a busy mother and career woman, she saw sleep the way most of us probably do: as a bother. “Every single night, I wanted to accomplish more and enjoy time with my family, and I was annoyed to have to go to bed.”

Because she’s a neuroscientist, however, Nedergaard was inclined to ask a seemingly basic question: Why do our brains need sleep at all? There are two competing evolutionary theories. One is that sleeping organisms are immobile and therefore less likely to be easy targets, so perhaps sleep provided some protection from prey. The time slumbering, however, took away from time spent finding food and reproducing. Another points out that sleeping organisms are oblivious to creeping predators, making them ripe for attack. Since both theories seem to put us at a disadvantage, Nedergaard thought there had to be some other reason the brain needs those hours offline.

All organs in the body use energy, and in the process, they spew out waste. Most take care of their garbage with an efficient local system, recruiting immune cells like macrophages to gobble up the garbage and break it down or linking up to the network of vessels that make up the lymph system, the body’s drainage pipes.

The brain is a tremendous consumer of energy, but it’s not blanketed in lymph vessels. So how does it get rid of its trash? “If the brain is not functioning optimally, you’re dead evolutionarily, so there must be an advantage to exporting the garbage to a less critical organ like the liver to take care of it,” says Nedergaard.

Indeed, that’s what her research shows. She found that an army of previously ignored cells in the brain, called glial cells, turn into a massive pump when the body sleeps. During the day, glial cells are the unsung personal assistants of the brain. They cannot conduct electrical impulses like other neurons, but they support them as they send signals zipping along nerve networks to register a smell here and an emotion there. For decades, they were dismissed by neuroscientists because they weren’t the actual drivers of neural connections.

But Nedergaard found in clinical trials on mice that glial cells change as soon as organisms fall asleep. The difference between the waking and sleeping brain is dramatic. When the brain is awake, it resembles a busy airport, swelling with the cumulative activity of individual messages traveling from one neuron to another. The activity inflates the size of brain cells until they take up 86% of the brain’s volume.

When daylight wanes and we eventually fall asleep, however, those glial cells kick into action, slowing the brain’s electrical activity to about a third of its peak frequency. During those first stages of sleep, called non-REM (rapid eye movement), the firing becomes more synchronized rather than haphazard. The repetitive cycle lulls the nerves into a state of quiet, so in the next stage, known as REM, the firing becomes almost nonexistent. The brain continues to toggle back and forth between non-REM and REM sleep throughout the night, once every hour and a half.

At the same time, the sleeping brain’s cells shrink, making more room for the brain and spinal cord’s fluid to slosh back and forth between them. “It’s like a dishwasher that keeps flushing through to wash the dirt away,” says Nedergaard. This cleansing also occurs in the brain when we are awake, but it’s reduced by about 15%, since the glial cells have less fluid space to work with when the neurons expand.

This means that when we don’t get enough sleep, the glial cells aren’t as efficient at clearing the brain’s garbage. That may push certain degenerative brain disorders that are typical of later life to appear much earlier.

Both Nedergaard’s and Veasey’s work also hint at why older brains are more prone to developing Alzheimer’s, which is caused by a buildup of amyloid protein that isn’t cleared quickly enough.

“There is much less flow to clear away things in the aging brain,” says Nedergaard. “The garbage system picks up every three weeks instead of every week.” And like any growing pile of trash, the molecular garbage starts to affect nearby healthy cells, interfering with their ability to form and recall memories or plan even the simplest tasks.

The consequences of deprived sleep, says Dr. Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, are “scary, really scary.”


All this isn’t actually so alarming, since there’s a simple fix that can stop this nerve die-off and slow the brain’s accelerated ride toward aging. What’s needed, says Carskadon, is a rebranding of sleep that strips away any hint of its being on the sidelines of our health.

As it is, sleep is so undervalued that getting by on fewer hours has become a badge of honor. Plus, we live in a culture that caters to the late-nighter, from 24-hour grocery stores to online shopping sites that never close. It’s no surprise, then, that more than half of American adults don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye every night.

Whether or not we can catch up on sleep–on the weekend, say–is a hotly debated topic among sleep researchers; the latest evidence suggests that while it isn’t ideal, it might help. When Liu, the UCLA sleep researcher and professor of medicine, brought chronically sleep-restricted people into the lab for a weekend of sleep during which they logged about 10 hours per night, they showed improvements in the ability of insulin to process blood sugar. That suggests that catch-up sleep may undo some but not all of the damage that sleep deprivation causes, which is encouraging given how many adults don’t get the hours they need each night. Still, Liu isn’t ready to endorse the habit of sleeping less and making up for it later. “It’s like telling people you only need to eat healthy during the weekends, but during the week you can eat whatever you like,” he says. “It’s not the right health message.”

Sleeping pills, while helpful for some, are not necessarily a silver bullet either. “A sleeping pill will target one area of the brain, but there’s never going to be a perfect sleeping pill, because you couldn’t really replicate the different chemicals moving in and out of different parts of the brain to go through the different stages of sleep,” says Dr. Nancy Collop, director of the Emory University Sleep Center. Still, for the 4% of Americans who rely on prescription sleep aids, the slumber they get with the help of a pill is better than not sleeping at all or getting interrupted sleep. At this point, it’s not clear whether the brain completes the same crucial housekeeping duties during medicated sleep as it does during natural sleep, and the long-term effects on the brain of relying on sleeping pills aren’t known either.

Making things trickier is the fact that we are unaware of the toll sleep deprivation takes on us. Studies consistently show that people who sleep less than eight hours a night don’t perform as well on concentration and memory tests but report feeling no deficits in their thinking skills. That just perpetuates the tendency to dismiss sleep and its critical role in everything from our mental faculties to our metabolic health.

The ideal is to reset the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, a matter of training our bodies to sleep similar amounts every night and wake up at roughly the same time each day. An even better way to rediscover our natural cycle is to get as much exposure to natural light as possible during the day, while limiting how much indoor lighting, including from computer and television screens, we see at night. And of course, the best way to accomplish that is by making those seven to nine hours of sleep a must–not a luxury.

“I am now looking at and thinking of sleep as an ‘environmental exposure,'” says Brown University’s Carskadon–which means we should look at sleep similarly to how we view air-pollution exposure, secondhand smoke or toxins in our drinking water. If she and other researchers have their way, checking up on sleep would be a routine part of any physical exam, and doctors would ask about our sleep habits in the same way they query us about diet, stress, exercise, our sex life, our eyesight–you name it. And if we aren’t sleeping enough, they might prescribe a change, just as they would for any other bad health habit.

Some physicians are already taking the initiative, but no prescription works unless we actually take it. If our work schedule cuts into our sleep time, we need to make the sleep we get count by avoiding naps and exercising when we can during the day; feeling tired will get us to fall asleep sooner. If we need help dozing off, gentle exercises or yoga-type stretching can also help. Creating a sleep ritual can make sleep something we look forward to rather than something we feel obligated to do, so we’re more likely to get our allotted time instead of skipping it. A favorite book, a warm bath or other ways to get drowsy might prompt us to actually look forward to unwinding at the end of the day.

Given what scientists are learning about how much the body–and especially the brain–needs a solid and consistent amount of sleep, in-the-know doctors aren’t waiting for more studies to prove what we as a species know intuitively: that cheating ourselves of sleep is depriving us from taking advantage of one of nature’s most powerful drugs.

“We now know that there is a lasting price to pay for sleep loss,” says Veasey. “We used to think that if you don’t sleep enough, you can sleep more and you’ll be fine tomorrow. We now know if you push the system enough, that’s simply not true.”