Getting a healthy dose of rest every day is vital to health and happiness. That’s a big claim, because this is a big deal. And did you know that there are different types of rest? Most people get just one type of rest, or maybe two. But there is a third, absolutely necessary type of rest that we often discount. If you’re feeling fatigued, worn out, or even exhausted despite getting enough sleep, it’s likely you’re missing out on this third type of rest.
Rest is more than just sleep!
We all know about sleep. But there are two other types of wakeful rest that every person needs on a regular basis to feel well. These are active rest and passive rest, and because many people consider engaging in these types of rest to be self-indulgent, most of us aren’t getting enough of them or any at all!
But taking care of yourself when it comes to rest doesn’t mean you are selfish or lazy. It means that you understand your own rest needs—how much of each type of rest you need and how often—and have decided that meeting those needs is up there with diet, fitness, and other self-care practices as a top priority in your life.
Here are the three types of rest that we should all be making a priority in our lives:
1. Sleep: providing what your body needs, with love
How much sleep do you actually need? And I’m not talking about how much you currently allow yourself, how much the doctor says you should get, or not how much you get on vacation when you’re catching up from being sleep-deprived the rest of the year. The question is: How much sleep would you get if sleeping the right amount were your highest priority?
Right now, because my brain is still recovering from an injury and I live with chronic pain (which is very draining for the body), I need about 11 hours of sleep per night. Is that convenient? No, but it’s even less convenient to be sick all the time or be so exhausted that I can’t function. Lack of sleep can lead to the development of serious, long-term health problems and a low, unpredictable mood. So, make sleep a priority. If you struggle with insomnia, take a look at your sleep hygiene and start taking responsibility for sleeping better. If you’ve already tried that and it hasn’t worked, keep upping the ante until you find something that does. So sleep. Do it with love—because you are worthy of getting enough sleep.
2. Passive rest: relaxation
The word relaxation comes with a whole lot of baggage, from “that’s just being lazy” to “oh, I could never afford to spend time doing that.” So, let’s start to look at relaxation as a rest requirement in order to bypass whatever story your inner saboteur is telling you.
Passive rest is what you need when you’ve had a long, hard day at work. Passive rest is when you’re quietly resting but still awake. It’s different for everyone; it could be a few minutes of looking out the window or an hour of lying on your bed and staring at the ceiling. It could even be reading a great book, taking a bath, knitting, or snuggling with a loved one.
It’s very easy to ignore this type of rest. Because when we’re stressed, exhausted, or feeling down, our brains become committed to feeling better right away. It’s urgent, so things that promise reward—like eating an entire cake or watching hours of TV—are the things that seem like they will help us feel better immediately. Unfortunately, they rarely do the job of nurturing our bodies and minds for the long run.
The need for passive rest is the need to unwind, process stress, give your mind a break, and allow your body to get into parasympathetic mode. This is when digestion happens, healing happens, and feelings of well-being increase. To actually meet this need, we must do things that help us feel comfortable and safe, enjoyable things that are easy, familiar, quiet, and nourishing. If you’re not sure what your most satisfying passive rest would look like, ask yourself what would cause you to feel peaceful, at ease, and to let out a big sigh of contentment.
You can experiment with this all you want; don’t feel that you’re wasting time—the opposite it true! People who engage in relaxation are healthier, happier, and more productive. It’s easy to try to rationalize skimping on passive rest. So, remember that it is a gift to yourself, and you are worth it.
3. Active rest: rejuvenation and fun
It’s easy to overlook the need for fun when we are tired; the truth is that if we only engage in passive rest, we will start to feel drained and worn out. We all need to have fun to feel our best! And only you know what’s fun to you.
Imagine that part of you—the part that experiences fun—is the happy little child version of you, pure and perfect and worthy in every way. Your job as the adult is to provide them with the fun, stimulating, enjoyable, and life-giving activities. So, whether that’s swimming, taking a pottery class or going skydiving, you want to connect that little part of you with feelings of pure joy.
Active rest is rest because it’s rejuvenating. And because without it, life will feel exhausting, even if you’re doing everything else right. Sometimes rest is not enough. If you are getting each type of rest and you are still fatigued, it’s possible that you have a chronic illness, vitamin deficiency, or food sensitivity. But before you go to the doctor, please honestly answer this question: Are you pushing yourself to do too much?
Sometimes we forget that life itself can take a lot out of us. If you are someone who says “All I do is work, exercise, take care of my home, have a partner, socialize, and cook. I shouldn’t be tired!” pause and think about how long that list really is and give yourself a break. If you allowed yourself to truly listen to your body, would it be begging you to slow down and do less? Then you’re pushing too much. You’re pushing past your healthy limits. And that is why you’re tired.
We all deserve to feel rested, refreshed, and ready for life. By listening to our body’s needs for the three types of rest, we can create a much more energized, enjoyable life!