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Sleep and Rest Are Not the Same

Most of us confuse rest and sleep. We think if we've slept well, we are rested, but sleep is only one small part of the bigger picture of what "rest" is. According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith (2021), in order to feel restored, it is helpful to look at 7 different areas of our well-being which also intertwine and influence each other. If one area doesn't get enough attention, it will affect other areas of our well-being leaving signs such as feeling exhausted, feeling irritable, difficulty focusing and and more stressed in social interactions. Practicing and harnessing the "power of rest" within these following areas can help us better understand where we may be feeling imbalance, and help us to better manage "rest deficit."

1. physical rest

There are two kinds of physical rest: passive which is sleeping and napping and active which is stretching, yoga, massage therapy, something we do which helps circulation, flexibility and release muscle tension. If you benefit from napping, schedule 5 to 20 minutes for a nap during the day and have the same bed time every night as much as possible. Through the day especially if sedentary for long periods of time, it's important to move, shift, get up every 20 minutes. Also, taking time off during your day to book massage therapy, acupuncture or manual osteopathy can be beneficial for your body's healing and restoration.

2. mental rest

A mental rest deficit happens when we don't take the time to schedule and take short breaks at least every 2 hours during our day in order to "get out of our head" and settle the mind. Research is clear that back-to-back meetings, go-go-going, and not taking breaks during the day lead to us being less productive, feeling tired, irritable, unfocused, and distracted. "Pushing through" has shown to be detrimental to our work effectiveness and health, especially over time, and increases the risk of chronic stress. Also, we may sleep through the night, but if we cycle thoughts and worries in our mind before bed, we won't be rested by the morning. When the mind gets busy, practice the STOP technique. Have a note pad handy at your desk when at work or by your night stand before bed to jot down thoughts and ideas. Journalling like this can help release mental pressure by slowing the mind and facilitate relaxation.

3. sensory rest

Especially in urban settings, we live in overstimulated environments such as driving in high volume traffic, high sound volumes from running equipment, the constant dings of notifications or sounds and images from elevators, radios, bulletin boards or cel phones, and many other sounds, lights or vibrations in the environment. This may be felt and experienced more adversely by some more than others. Research by Dr. Elaine Aron has shown that 15 to 20% of the population has High Sensitivity or Sensory Processing Sensitivity leaving these "survival strategy experts" at high risk of developing mental health and health problems if the stress response is not well managed. Taking what Dr. Dalton-Smith calls "intentional moments for sensory deprivation" such as frequently stepping away from computers, unplugging from devices, including at the end of the day at least 1-2 hours before going to bed, and occasionally just closing your eyes frequently through the day "can begin to undo the damage inflicted by the over-stimulating world." It can also be helpful to induce physiological soothing through gently caressing the top of the hands, gently massaging the inside of the palm of the hand and fingers, wiggling the toes, massaging the feet and toes, and using breathing imagery, such as imagining the breath moving to and softening specific tense parts of the body.

4. creative rest

Nature and the arts are ways to restore and reset which can nurture and awaken our sense of wonder such as taking the time to appreciate that walk outside, bird or wind sounds, the shapes and colours of the trees or a piece displayed in a gallery or in the community. Engaging the body senses with what nature provides us during a walk or how an artful piece speaks to us is a positive and healthy distraction, and is a no-cost strategy. Engaging with arts, nature or other spiritual activities is an act of mindfulness especially if we remove judgment with what we see, hear and sense allowing us to be more present in the now. Being mindful and in the present moment helps us come up with innovative ideas, have clarity, with problem-solving and brainstorming abilities, and to slow over-thinking.


rest is the most underused, chemical-free, safe and effective therapy available to us


5. social rest

How often do you answer: "How are you?" with "Good." A truthful, "I'm not ok" allows us to drop the pressure of pretense and release built-up mental and body tension. Mirror neurons allow us to receive and feel the emotions of others. Social rest can be being around hopeful, inspiring and positive people, releasing the pressure of obligation and reducing the urge of avoidance. Social rest can also be taking a break from people to enjoy moments of sweet solitude to recuperate energy from social interactions and to reconnect with yourself.

6. emotional rest

Positive Psychology bases its philosophy and interventions on the fact that people have improved mental and physical health when we are able to bring attention to and take opportunities to acknowledge and experience our emotions. We don't have to work at finding "negative" or unpleasant emotions. They automatically tend to show up as part of the natural evolution of our autonomic nervous system in protecting us. The working strategies include to 1. not avoid feelings; 2. recognize and identify emotions; 3. acknowledge all emotions as normal and useful messengers; 4. take the time to help the mind and the heart return to feeling safe and hopeful; and 5. create more opportunities to experience "positive" emotions.

7. spiritual rest

Spiritual does not equate to religion. Spirituality is the area in our life which is about the seeking of meaning and purpose, and interconnection. Spirituality is the sense of something that is larger than ourselves and that we are part of an interconnected system within the universe.  People are becoming naturally drawn to practices such as Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and ceremony which have been around for thousands of years. Science and the modern world is catching up to and bringing visibility to the health benefits of ancient teachings within many cultural traditions. More and more research is demonstrating the effects of these spiritual practices beyond relaxation, including less emotional reactivity to situations, feeling more connected, and a more adaptive attitude.

What are your mental barriers to rest?

grasses in snow through a long wooden fence

Dr. Dalton-Smith says "rest is the most underused, chemical-free, safe and effective...therapy available to us." Not getting sleep, not taking breaks often comes with, what cognitive psychology calls, a non-working belief. Being overwhelmed and overworked can sometimes be like a glorified "badge" (students are notorious for this) where being too busy, being sleep-deprived, consuming copious amounts of caffeine or energy drinks, consistently sacrificing healthy activities, demonstrate "working hard" and being "successful." These perceptions tied to depriving ourselves is actually innaccurate and is mis-aligned with what really happens to us when we overdo it, lack boundaries and don't take the time to attend to our well-being. In other words, living and talking about a "crazy busy life" without taking the time to have a plan and pro-active strategies to balance our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs, creates what Dr. Dalton-Smith says is "a culture of high-achieving, high-producing, chronically tired and chronically burned-out individuals."

Develop your healthy self

It is normal to have ebbs and flows as part of our lives, times when everything is going ok and times to reach out when it is not ok. If you are not feeling rested, have low energy, feel restless, or are having trouble with sleep, these could be signs of sleep deprivation and a lack of balance in your life. Wholistic counselling can help with assessing the different aspects of your physical health, mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health, and offer life balance and wellness coaching to provide a mangeable structure for your day,week, short term and long term goals. Helping you develop a tailored plan around each health aspect: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual can include:

  • identifying problematic areas and non-working strategies

  • identify strengths and working strategies

  • supporting you while you try and maintain working strategies

The wellness path is not meant to be a straight one. Humans are designed to be adaptive and it is natural to veer off and on to the path, or to surf the waves, take a spill in the water to then hop back on the surf board---all part of the adventure. We have the capacity to manage the ebbs and flows of what our environment and life situations present to us. You also need not go it alone.

Peace and well wishes for everyone.

References and Resources

Establishing routines for your best rest is vital to healthy sleep and a healthy life. Check out the tips from the National Sleep Foundation which help contribute also to your mental health.

Take Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith's free rest quiz and find out where your rest is at and watch her Ted Talk.

Canada Park Passes could be available via a prescription by your health professional who is registered with the Prescription for Nature Program who is promoting healthy lifestyle choices. I am registered with the program, and with an established counselling relationship, a prescription could be an option as part of a wholistic wellness treatment plan.

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