Often, we equate healthy rest with getting a good night’s sleep. But in reality, that’s just one factor of the overall rest that the mind and body needs. Multiple studies concur that regular periods of rest — not just sleep — are essential for biological repair, mental health, increased productivity, optimal creativity, and much more.
That should come as no surprise to believers. After all, the multi-faceted nature of rest is biblical. In Hebrews 4:1-13 we’re reminded of three different types of rest that God has given or promised throughout scripture.
- Physical rest from work was modeled by God on the seventh day of creation.
- Peaceful rest was given to the Israelites when Joshua led them into the promised land.
- Promised rest will be given to faithful believers for eternity.
With those ideas in mind, let’s consider a few ways that we might weave healthy rest into our lives in intentional ways.
Practicing Physical Rest During the Day
A recent study out of the University of Guelph focused on the benefits of rest in cardiac patients. Researchers primarily studied wakeful rest, stating this distinction: “There’s no ‘sleep’ in your heart or other body organs. Sleep is in the brain, but rest is in the body.” As such, resting during the day is important to the body’s functionality.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a prolific writer on the topic of rest, points out the mental benefits to daily rest as well. By compiling the findings of numerous rest studies, he concludes that “rest helps us to think, innovate, and increase our productivity.”
Here are some ways that we might practice intentional daytime rest, and thus improve our overall health and output.
Take a walk, preferably outside.
Walking may not seem like rest since the body is in motion, but a slower-paced walk can help muscles recover from more strenuous activity or help prevent stiffness if you’ve been working at a desk. In addition, research shows that both walking and being outside can help infuse new creativity into problem-solving processes.
Vary your chores.
Again, this may seem counterintuitive, but healthy rest doesn’t have to look like lying around or sitting still. It can actually just be a shift in the type of work you’re doing; this intentional variation gives the brain and/or body a necessary break while still “getting things done.” When looking at the practices of well-known scientists and novelists, Soojung-Kim Pang found that the hours devoted to their field of work were often interspersed with other tasks, thus allowing for cognitive rest.
In a work-from-home setting, that might mean getting up from your desk after a while (research suggests 90 minutes) to start the laundry or do the breakfast dishes. For the stay-at-home mom, that could look like paying the bills while toddlers nap. For the office worker, it could look like interspersing phone calls with paperwork, and for the contractor, it might mean switching between two projects throughout the day.
Pause to breathe.
Periodically, it may be helpful to pause for a few deep belly breaths, shown to calm the amygdala and help the nervous system rest. To do this, close your eyes, breathe in through the nose to the count of six, pause for one or two seconds to feel the expansion in your core and chest, then exhale through the mouth to the count of seven or eight.
Practicing Peaceful Rest During the Night
It’s no secret that good sleep is essential to health. Good nighttime sleep rejuvenates the mind and body; without sleep both would eventually cease to function. During nighttime sleep, our body’s “rest genes” help us heal and our brains have a chance to sort out the day’s memories.
Yet Americans tend to struggle with sleep, with 30% to 40% of adults reporting insomnia symptoms. In an effort to achieve peaceful nighttime rest, consider the following practices.
Set the stage for sleep.
Sometimes small changes can make a big impact on getting better sleep. Some recommendations include:
* Purchase darkening curtains or an eye mask.
* Drink a calming herbal tea as you wind down.
* Decrease “blue light” or screen time before bed.
* Read for a little while in bed to “turn off” the brain’s ruminations.
* Rotate your mattress to optimize cushioning and support.
* Exercise earlier in the day to create muscle fatigue.
Non-sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) is a term for mind-body techniques where one is conscious and aware but deeply relaxed. NSDR practices have been correlated with numerous health and wellness benefits, including stress relief, anxiety reduction, increased neuroplasticity, reduced cortisol production, pain relief, and much more.
You can do things like lie down with a weighted blanket, flip on a fragrance diffuser, dim the lights, and turn on some soft music to help your mind relax and recharge. It’s the new “power nap,” without actually sleeping, to help refuel your day!
Consult a professional.
There are two types of insomnia: acute, which is usually short-term and situational, and chronic, which can continue for quite a while. If you struggle with sleep, don’t take sleep aids without the guidance of a doctor — otherwise acute insomnia could progress into chronic insomnia. You may also want to look into a sleep study or ask your dentist about the possibility of nighttime teeth grinding.
Practicing Promised Rest Within Longer Periods
Harvard reports that taking longer periods of rest is imperative to our well-being. It’s during those scheduled rest periods when we have the opportunity to catch up on sleep deficits, we allow innovative ideas to emerge, and we increase positive moods. Without intentional long-term rest, the body is susceptible to compromised immune functions, hormone imbalance, and heart damage.
Here are a few ways that you might promise yourself some longer periods of intentional rest.
Keep the Sabbath.
God knew we needed rest, that’s why He commanded us to keep practicing Sabbath rest. Set aside one day each week to recharge spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally. While taking Sunday as a day of rest might be ideal, don’t worry so much about which day it is; the fact is that some people simply have to work on Sunday. (Thank you, hospital staff, first responders, law enforcement, pastors, church custodians, etc.!) The point is to practice a day of rest each week.
Take your vacation time.
Vacation helps to recharge your relationships, refresh your spirit, and renew your wellness. Plus, it’s actually good for your work team too. In this fascinating study about corporate vacation structures, Harvard reports that in a mandatory time-off experiment “creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%.” It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; the point is to take an extended period of time away to rest.
Rest can come in many forms, and it’s important to choose rest as part of a balanced lifestyle. What are some of your favorite ways to pursue the health and wellness aspects of good rest? Comment below for the benefit of the Medi-Share community.
As seen on The Christian Post.