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Give it a Rest

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Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

Are you getting enough sleep these days? If not, you probably recognize right away how that manifests in your body and your mind. Maybe you’re irritable, you struggle to concentrate, you feel heavy and slow, or perhaps you just don’t have the energy to sit through another mud-slinging podcast about misinformation.

Sleep is important!

Without sleep the body cannot perform certain crucial functions…

Sleep is essential to many physical and mental functions, and when it is poor, many systems suffer…so we have learned to make sleep a priority when we can. Lack of sleep may make you non-functional and virtually lifeless if it goes on too long, and experiments in animals have shown that it could eventually kill you.

Long term chronic sleep deprivation is associated with higher risk of heart attack, hypertension, and stroke. Behavioral symptoms include severe lethargy, apathy, social withdrawal, and hallucinations. Sleep deprivation has been abandoned as a method of torture precisely because information a prisoner provides in their impaired state has been proven to be unreliable.

Without sleep the body cannot perform certain crucial functions necessary to a strong immune system. The brain does not get its chance to restore and organize new information while getting rid of waste. Certain hormones and proteins are only released to do their essential jobs while you sleep, and the body can repair cells and restore energy as you make z’s.

“Rest” is different from “sleep”.

…many health benefits of giving yourself a break every day.

Rest, however, is something we don’t necessarily see as essential, although we’ll sometimes misuse it by thinking it can substitute for the good longtime slumber most take at night. The kind of rest that breaks up a work day or inserts an interval amidst tasks or experiences that we find demanding, or just gives us some moments of relief from being a human in the 21st century with its kaleidoscope of pandemic, war, and social upheaval is under-appreciated as a factor of health.

Many of us think napping is just for babies, so we tend to power through our days, regardless of ebb and flow, whether or not we slept well the previous night, or what our personal stress levels are.

However, more and more evidence, as well as a casual look around at many populations in the world where something like an afternoon siesta is the norm, points to many health benefits of giving yourself a break every day.

Rest can take many different forms, some of them even as active as a brisk walk. Often, just stopping to pause in the middle of a long workday or even a weekend task can revitalize the mind and body. That walk might make more sense on a long day of study, whereas a chance to sit down and take some deep breaths might give you the boost you need to finish strong on a day of physical labor. Both strategies lessen the stress of a long period of sustained effort and give the body and mind a boost in energy and ability to concentrate.

If you are working on lowering your stress levels, making space for some kind of rest every day will give you time to use the tools you have chosen such as deep breathing, stretching, light movement, getting away from screens, going outside, reading a book, etc. Carving away that special time is a form of self care that can make a big difference in your sense of depletion.

But I work.

Napping per se may not be available to people who work 8-hour shifts, but it is not advisable to skip breaks, especially as the evidence shows that productivity actually drops in workers who do not get adequate rest and detachment from performance.

Interestingly, the “coffee break” came about when the metabolic boost of caffeine was new to humans as a way for tyrannical bosses to get more out of workers adjusting to the drudgery of factory work during the industrial revolution. So maybe skip the caffeine on your breaks and take a few deep breaths in some fresh air instead for a less oppressed form of restoration.

For those who can do it, making a true nap a daily habit can have many of the same benefits as a good night’s sleep. Stress levels are lowered, the nervous system gets a reset, metabolism slows down, concentration and mood improve, and energy is restored.

There is no set time or duration that works for everyone, so if you take up napping, be prepared to experiment to find what works for you. Generally the sleep experts recommend less than 30 minutes is best to avoid the grogginess that slipping into deeper sleep states can produce upon awakening. More than 30 minutes can make falling asleep at night more difficult for some people.

How about a power nap!

Have you ever lain down just to close your eyes for a moment and then awakened to feel completely refreshed as if you’ve had a solid eight hours’ slumber, but when you check the time, it’s only been ten minutes since you closed your eyes? Called “power naps” that type of rest is tremendously refreshing and improves alertness for up to 6 hours, long enough that you’ll probably need another rest break!

If you get the afternoon blahs most days, consider getting into the power nap habit. Make a ritual out of it. Be in a quiet darkish space. Take off your shoes and glasses, loosen tight clothing, maybe even get under some covers to simulate all the signals that tell the body it’s time to sleep. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it and the more benefit you will reap.

Keeping up with the pace of modern life is a challenge. Taking the time to recharge will make your energy levels more sustainable and reduce the ill effects of stress. Rest improves your perspective and your mood, and can even relieve pain. Since we are all in this together, why not take some rest for yourself whenever possible so you can be there for someone else who has not been able to?

Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.