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The Wisdom of Rest

Today I'd like to share a little more of what I learned from Emily and Amelia Nagoski's book Burnout. (see video below if you'd prefer to listen rather than read!) A lot of times we feel guilty when we take a break. Self-destruction is not a virtue. Our bodies were created to go back and forth between working and rest. Rest is vital. Studies show when we take a break we become more persistent and productive on a task when we return to it. So when you're working on something and getting tired, you may say to yourself, "I've just gotta get this done; I'm going to push through to the end." Nope. Stop. Walk away and take a 15 minute break. Get a drink of water, chat with a friend, stretch. Even switching to a different type of task counts as a break. When you return to the first task, you'll do a better job of it. We need rest to recoup attention. Our brains can only attend for so long. When it's gone, it's gone. Resting reenergizes our ability to focus on the thing we want to do. Which we probably want to do well. And if your focus is depleted, you're not going to do it as well as you could.

Mental rest is not idleness. It is time needed for your brain to process on whatever it is you've been working. We've become a society that tends to congratulate itself for running on minimal hours of sleep. "I only got 3 hours last night and here I am, doing my thing!" It's like a badge of honor. Sometimes people even look down their noses at others who actually get 8-9 hours of sleep. Who do they think they are? Getting all that rest? They should be more productive. That's our engrained pilgrim work ethic rearing its not very helpful self. That's not how our bodies were designed.

Our brains need us to be unconscious 25% of our lives. We need to be completely out for our brain to accomplish what it needs to get done. We get in our own brain's way if we are awake. The benefits of sleep outweigh any productivity we think may happen by staying awake into the wee hours. Our whole body is working hard while we sleep. Sleep is medicine. While we sleep, our bones, blood vessels, and tissues heal. Memories consolidate. So if you have a big test coming up, study right before bed. While you sleep, your brain will do its thing - storing away what you've learned, tucking that info into its equivalent of a folder in a properly labeled filing cabinet. For athletes, whatever skill you've been practicing, your muscles soak that into its memory while you sleep. Sleep is linked to improved emotional self-control. So when you wake up after a full night's rest, you are better able to cope with the stressors of the day ahead.

Inadequate sleep is a better predictor of a person getting Type 2 diabetes than any other factor. 20% of car crashes are due to lack of sleep. Lack of sleep increases the risk of heartattack, immune dysfunction, cancer, and Alzheimer's by up to 45%. It impairs our memory, coordination, creativity, reasoning - that all hinges on getting enough sleep. Someone who has been awake for 19 hours is as impaired as someone who is legally intoxicated. Same goes for someone who has only slept 4 hours and also for someone who has only slept 6 hours every night for the past 2 weeks. All those sleep deprived people are equivalent to someone who is intoxicated. So think of all the things you wouldn't do while drunk, like go to work, drive,'s the same if you are sleep deprived.

Sleep is medicine for mental health as well. Insomnia predicts suicidal thoughts, even for those people without depression.

But!! "I don't have enough time. Or when I take a nap, I feel like crap." There's a reason you may feel worse after a nap. When you are sleep deprived, your adrenaline kicks in to get you through. That adrenaline is masking your body's ability to read its own signals. When you take a nap, you're moving enough in the right direction that the adrenaline levels go down. That icky post-nap feeling you may experience is actually how your body is truly feeling. By getting that quick nap, your body chemistry changes and you're feeling how you should be feeling.

If you are sleeping 9 hours a night, but waking up feeling unrested, call your doctor.

42% of our day should be spent in rest. That's about 10 hours. Sleep is not the only way we can rest. So let's say you make it a goal to sleep 7-8 hours a night because your body needs to do all that hard work while you're blissfully out. It is not a weakness to sleep. You are healing yourself while you sleep. That means throughout your waking day, you need to find 2-3 hours of restful activity. That can be doing the dishes, listening to music, chatting with a friend, eating a mindful meal, reading a book, watching a show. Yoga! (wink, wink) It just means not doing something so cognitively demanding that you are stressing out your brain.

Do yourself a kindness and carve out time to rest. Heal thyself. I'd be curious to know how you find restful moments in your day. Drop a comment below. Read Burnout if you want to learn more; I highly recommend it.

Namaste! - Lauren


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