My last post, No Sleep is No Joke, I invited you to join me as I give myself permission to be still and rest well in the new year. While everyone hustles off to the gym, makes ambitious to-do lists, tries to fit in that new hobby, I challenge us to question our motives and rest as hard as we plan to play. This post builds on my invitation and unpacks replicable steps you might take to improve your quality of rest.
“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.”-Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Science Says, Rest (Take a Break)
Lack of adequate rest can lead to high levels of stress and fatigue. In addition, inflammation rises, mental capacity decreases, immunity drops, and metabolism and mood suffer. The distracted, moody monster we become desperately reaches for sugar and caffeine rather than taking the break required. Sound like 10am or 3pm, anyone?
The Living Experiment, a must-listen podcast, features an episode called “Pause.” In this episode, hosts, Dallas and Pilar, explain how to recognize the body’s signals for when a break is needed. Our bodies respond to circadian rhythms– patterns related to 24-hour, night-and-day cycles and they also respond to ultradian rhythms– patterns that occur many times throughout the day. The hosts reveal, “the science is clear: taking brief, periodic … breaks improves not just your health and happiness, but also your productivity, creativity, energy and mood.”
Put simply, our bodies and minds require quiet time to repair and re-energize. Stephen Covey, best known for his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses “sharpening the saw” as the last habit, suggesting that a consistent, continuous dedication to self-renewal (i.e. rest, play, exercise, personal exploration) can empower us to maintain sharp mental and physical edge. Covey notes, “…you can renew and better yourself through appropriate rest and relaxation or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything”. (https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits).
So how do we build more rest into our day? And what benefits can we expect if we do invest energy into powering down, chilling out, and most importantly having a little fun?
3 Forms of Rest: Total, Active and Passive
Total rest: Complete, utter, thorough, absolute, out-and-out rest! This form is exactly what it sounds like. It means eliminating everyday stressors (i.e. work, working out, errands) for an entire 24 hours. Periods of total rest are the very foundation of the recovery and repair cycles. There should be one day of total rest built into each week.
Active rest: is a reduction in workload. Active rest may include putting effort towards daily engagements, but at a less intense level. By decreasing our workload intensity, we give our mind and body the chance to re-energize itself so that we are re-focused and recovered when we return to full involvement.
Passive rest: is a short-term break from the work tasks or projects. There are all sorts of ways to get passive rest including: meditation (Headspace –a favorite app!), light reading, listening to music, a short walk (sans technology), restorative yoga, or have a healthy snack with a cup of tea or water.
Plan your rest, just as you would plan any other appointment. Your body and mind will thank you for it and you’ll work, perform and play more efficiently.
Now, Let’s Improve Your Sleep!
Light Exposure: Preparing for good sleep starts first thing in the morning. Bright, natural light exposure, direct to the eyes is needed. This exposure creates balanced rhythms between the hormones that put you to sleep and those which wake you. To follow this rhythm, dim the lights in your home after dark and maybe even get yourself a pair of blue blocking glasses.
Eat!: Start with a protein rich breakfast and continue to meet the nutritional demands of your body throughout each day. Research suggests sleep deprivation interferes with hunger and satiety hormones crucial to regulating appetite. Inadequate and inconsistent food intake can make or break quality of sleep. Getting ample sleep and nourishing thoroughly go hand in hand.
Unplug: Eliminate exposure to all technology for 30-60 minutes before bed. Create headspace to fall asleep more easily with meditation, deep breathing, or light reading (avoid heavy or intense content).
Wind Down Routine: Take a bath, get into pajamas, brush your teeth, read a book and lights out—sound familiar? For some, this was the consistent childhood bedtime routine. Our brain would recognize the habitual series of events and signal that it’s time to rest. We need to borrow this old habit and recreate it as adults, or invent it, if it was never instilled. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time consistently (even on weekends!) will get our brain and body in healthy rhythm.
Magnesium: Essential for more than 300 enzymatic processes in your body, magnesium calms the central nervous system helping to quiet a racing mind and relax muscles. My favorite kind is PurePharma M3.
Sleep Environment: Sleep in a dark, cool room. Being too hot or too cold can disrupt sleep. Conceal light that may beam from your digital devices (i.e. alarm clock, TV) and minimize extra noise with earplugs or a white noise machine. Leave electronics out and save your bedroom for two things. (Hint: one of them is sleep).
Ditch caffeine and alcohol: Research reveals that any significant amount of alcohol or caffeine within a couple hours of going to bed negatively impacts sleep. This results in abnormal sleeping patterns. Being asleep is not the same as being in a deep sleep. Caffeine is expert at interrupting, and alcohol is pro at destroying our quality of sleep. You might ditch caffeine after noon, and experiment with ditching alcohol completely.
Train smarter, not harder: High intensity training, especially in the evening, can interfere with sleep. If you prefer to get in some pre-bedtime movement, try yoga or simple stretching– both can help you unwind and relax into a restful night. Continuing to think about our health as a bank account, we need to manage withdrawals so we don’t end up bankrupt– overtrained, under recovered and sleep deprived.
Clear the Commotion: Save the intense TV dramas, work emails, heavy reading material, or bone-to-pick for daytime. All of the above stimulate the stress response and make it harder to wind down.
Bottom Line: Adequate rest and sleep are essential to our health. Both improve the quality of our life and allow us to operate at our best. Rest is a skill and an artform. It’s vital to our wellbeing. Give yourself a break!
The Power of Rest, Matthew Edlund, MD