Sleep Is Not Enough: Getting the Rest You Need
BY: Stacey Colino
Sure, we all need our z’s, but sleep isn’t the only kind of rest we need. In his recent book, The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough, Dr. Matthew Edlund points to physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional rest -- all of which are active forms of rest compared with sleep. Without these different kinds of rest, your heart, mind and central nervous system may work far below their optimum levels and become overloaded, which can cause your health to suffer or lead to feelings of depression or depletion, says Edlund, who is also director of the Sleep Institute of the Gulf Coast and the Center for Circadian Medicine in Sarasota, Fla. What do these other types of rest entail -- and how do you get them?
Yes, sleep counts as physical rest, but it’s passive. More active forms use your body’s basic processes to calm and restore your body and mind -- through deep breathing, muscle relaxation exercises or certain yoga poses (such as the mountain pose, in which you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and align your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and head in an imaginary straight line). “Physical rest makes both your body and mind more relaxed and better able to concentrate,” says Edlund.
Mental rest is really about learning to calm and focus your mind by becoming aware of your external and internal environments in a way that’s rejuvenating. You can do this through self-hypnosis, visualization exercises, meditation, or interaction with nature. “Using the mind to concentrate on a single image or sound can powerfully affect the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, changing blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature in a way that affects mood and creativity positively,” says Edlund.
Think of harnessing the power of social connection in the best, most restorative ways by talking with interesting people, going for relaxing or invigorating walks with a pleasant colleague, having lunch with friends whose company you enjoy, and so on. “Social engagement has a surprisingly huge effect on our health,” says Edlund. “The more connected we feel to people, the less heart disease, cancer and depression we’re likely to get. Plus, it’s fun.”
Whether you engage in prayer, meditation or contemplative thought about your place in the universe across time, this type of rest “gives you a profound sense of connection to something larger than yourself, along with feelings of internal balance and personal security,” explains Edlund. These perks can in turn give you greater perspective and meaning in your life. Meanwhile, there’s good evidence that trained conscious thought (such as meditation) can help the brain expand areas that are involved in concentration, attention, planning and analysis, as well as breathing and muscle coordination, he adds. “There’s even evidence that the lifespan is enhanced.”
All forms of rest can help you get an emotional break from your troubles. But you can also engage directly in emotional rest by swinging into problem-solving mode when something bothers you, instead of ruminating about it, says Edlund. If you can’t do anything to solve or change the problem, consciously give yourself an emotional vacation from it by simply choosing not to think about it right now. Later, write down your problems and how you intend to solve them, perhaps with help from other people.
“Rest is a biological need -- a process for restoration, regeneration and renewal -- and if you actively rest, you’ll be able to rewire and rebuild your body, brain and spirit more effectively,” explains Edlund.
Ultimately, the benefits of treating yourself to these different forms of active rest include improved health, a better ability to cope with stress, a boost in energy, and a greater sense of control and vitality in your life.
Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.