The Benefits of Rest

Written by Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC

 

In our very fast-paced, technologically-networked world, we all seem to be expected to be available, "on" and plugged in at every moment. With smart phones in our pockets, it appears as if we're headed in the direction of being connected 24 hours per day without a break of any kind. 

Beyond the technological aspects of 21st-century life, we can also find ourselves juggling multiple jobs, social relationships, career, education, running a household, managing vehicles and properties, and perhaps raising children or caring for ageing parents. 

If you have a chronic illness like diabetes, pain, respiratory disease, AIDS, hepatitis, kidney disease, or any other condition that requires constant vigilance and attention, that can in and of itself seem like a full time job. 

The Issue of Rest

Taking into consideration the content of the previous paragraphs, this post could focus simply on sleep, but I actually want to address a more generic issue, and that is rest. 

Resting is one of the ways in which we recharge our batteries so that we don't run out of steam, get sick, or otherwise run ourselves into the ground. It's easy to allow ourselves to run on empty pretty much every day, but can you imagine the consequences if you never took time for your body and mind to let their guard down and relax? 

There Are Different Kinds of Rest

When I say the word "rest", what image comes to mind? Sleeping in a hammock under a tall oak tree? Lying on the beach in the sun? Curled up in front of a fireplace on a cold winter night? 

Rest can mean many things to many people, and it can be anything you want it to be. Rest does not have to be synonymous with sleep, and there are many ways to get the rest you need without ever entering the netherworld of dreams and sleep (although sleep is a wonderful way to recharge your batteries, and I recommend 7 to 8 hours per night for most people). 

For some people, rest can mean sitting in the shade and reading a good book. For another, resting might mean meditating for five minutes three times per day, and for someone else, it might mean a nap! 

Sometimes just shutting your eyes is restful, allowing your mind to rest, wander freely, and go its merry way without visual input and stimulation. Some researchers and scientists even refer to rest as "waking sleep". 

We all need rest, but what it looks like to you will be different from what it looks like for someone else. 

The Benefits of Rest

So, what are the benefits of rest? How does it help you to live better and be healthier? 

As I said, rest can "recharge your batteries" on physical, spiritual, mental and emotional levels. Rest also provides your brain and mind with moments (or even hours!) of time where computation, thinking, strategizing and planning takes a back seat and the unconscious is allowed to roam and play. 

Physiologically, the so-called "relaxation response" (as coined by Dr. Herbert Benson), induces calm, reverses inflammatory processes, and can lower the heart rate and blood sugar significantly. Rest can improve oxygenation and alleviate symptoms of pain, stress and other conditions. 

Practice, Practice, Practice!

It may seem strange, but many of us actually need to practice learning to rest! One hard-working single mother that I know told me that she hasn't had a nap in 15 years, and this underscores the fact that many people don't make choices that allow them to rest and restore themselves amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life. 

If resting is new to you, then this might be your opportunity to make a plan for incorporating rest into your daily routine. Whether it's meditation, relaxation, listening to a recording of nature sounds on your iPod, or sitting under your favorite tree, see what might be the ticket for you. 

Resting will restore you physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, so why not make rest part of your self-care practice? The benefits are numerous, and the risks are non-existent--unless you end up sleeping through your workday!