Resting vs. Sleeping


We often use the terms “sleep” and “rest” in similar ways. Both have important influences on the mind and body and are crucial for maintaining one’s well-being. However, sleep and rest play different roles and have different purposes for our health.

We can’t underestimate the importance of sleep, as we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is a body-mind state in which we experience sensory detachment from our surroundings. More and more research is uncovering what happens when we sleep. Sleep loss over time can lead to many harmful outcomes. In fact, sleep directly impacts almost every bodily system, ranging from the skin to the immune system. Despite advances in science, the full range of benefits related to sleep still remains unknown.

Rest has a broader definition than sleep. In medical care, rest is defined as behavior aimed at increasing physical and mental well-being, which usually involves stopping activity. While sleep is certainly a restful state, most resting doesn’t involve the same level of disengagement as sleep.

Rest helps us recover from physical and mental effort and can be either active or passive. Relaxation techniques like mindfulness are active forms of rest since we have to practice them. Moderate exercise is sometimes considered active rest, as it can be more restorative than reclining or doing nothing at all. Passive forms of rest like napping or lying down also come to mind when we think of rest.

What Are the Benefits of Sleep?

Anyone who’s spent a night tossing and turning can attest to the negative effects of insufficient sleep, which range from fatigue to irritability. Without sleep, our bodies and brains can’t recover and recharge as effectively.

Our brain health is dependent on quality sleep, which helps remove toxins that accumulate during the day. Sleep plays a critical role in nerve cell communication, allowing us to focus and react quickly. Sleep is also essential to memory formation.

In addition to optimizing cognitive functions, sleep greatly influences our emotional health. A specific type of deep sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep helps us regulate our emotions during the day. Inadequate sleep is associated with increased moodiness, as well as greater susceptibility to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

Sleep is essential to our immune system health and can help protect us from disease. Sleep deprivation is linked to lower immunity and increased inflammation, which makes us more susceptible to common colds and other infectious diseases.

Sleep also has important effects on weight and heart health. Getting enough sleep helps regulate appetite, making you less prone to overeating and weight gain. Chronic insufficient sleep is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

What Are the Benefits of Rest?

Much like sleep, rest has positive outcomes for our physical, mental, and emotional health. By relaxing muscles and quieting the brain, rest can help restore a sense of calm during times of exhaustion, illness, or overexertion. Normal daily stress and fatigue also require periods of rest and relaxation, acting as a reset button for the mind and body.  Rest can also pave the way to a better night’s sleep.

Relaxation techniques are a specific type of rest that have been shown to reduce stress. Symptoms of stress include shallow breath, increased heart rate, anxiety, and muscle tension. Examples of relaxation techniques include meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and guided imagery. These practices may minimize stress-related symptoms and help with health conditions as diverse as rheumatoid arthritic, depression, and epilepsy.

While rest has countless benefits, a number of complex, restorative processes are unique to sleeping and cannot be achieved through napping or other resting behavior.

How Can You Get More Sleep?

Practicing good sleep hygiene is one of the best ways to improve sleep quality and duration. The following lifestyle and behavioral shifts can help you get the most out of your slumber routine.

  • Avoid using computers, phones, and other devices right before bed
  • Adopt a relaxing nightly ritual, such as meditation or a bath
  • Exercise daily, but refrain from rigorous physical activity in the evening
  • Avoid caffeine and tobacco products late in the day
  • Minimize alcohol intake, especially before bed
  • Don’t rely too heavily on naps, which can interfere with your sleep cycle
  • Try to reserve your bed for sleeping and sex only

How Can You Get More Rest?

It can be tricky to find time for rest in our hectic, plugged-in lives. However, if you think of rest as just as essential as sleeping, then you’re more likely to prioritize behaviors that promote relaxation. Adopting a “rest” routine around the same time each day can lead to consistent, positive results. Many people find that evening rituals like listening to music, reading, or a bath helps them sleep better, which in turn allows you to feel more relaxed during the day.

The workplace is a source of stress for many people, but taking a break to rest may actually increase productivity. Going for a walk or listening to calming music on your lunch break can improve your mood and interactions with co-workers. Even just 10 minutes of exercise during a work shift can positively influence physical and psychological health.

Both sleep and rest are integral to maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health. Practicing good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques can reduce stress and improve sleep. Quality sleep allows us to feel like our best selves.


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