REST - an often overlooked aspect of health
We live in a society that emphasises ‘busyness’. It seems that success, achievement, even personal validation is measured against how hard we work, how many hours we put in. However, it can be only too easy to let ourselves get carried away with doing too much, working extra hours on a regular basis, or giving up time to yourself to ‘get more done’. When this happens, work-life balance can get upset, and things that are essential to your health and wellbeing fall by the wayside.
One very important thing that is often overlooked is rest. How many of us wake just as tired as when we went to bed, either because we were unable to get a full night of sleep, or because the sleep we had wasn’t restorative?
When we sleep, our bodies are busy repairing any cells that have been damaged, from cuts on our skin to damage in our organs from toxins. All our cells need repair or maintenance work, and while we sleep is when it all happens. This is when healing happens. Our body’s ability to fight off illness and keep well is impacted by the restoration it gets (or doesn’t get) overnight.
We also need restorative down time during our waking hours to ‘switch off’ – literally, to switch off our sympathetic nervous system (our ‘fight/flight’ mechanism). Many of us walk around in a degree of fight/flight without realising it, with to-do lists, deadlines, financial or family stresses on our minds, and maybe a few cups of adrenaline-producing coffee added into the mix. We need the time out to sever the cycle of consistent stress hormone production, and to go into our parasympathetic nervous system – our ‘rest/digest’ mode. Having a balanced nervous system ultimately supports good, restorative sleep, which in turn supports good energy levels.
Whether you have to schedule the time out into your calendar, create boundaries about when you stop working in the evening, or any other strategies that work for you, your body will reward you for your effort. As with all habit-building, it’s a process, so be patient and persistent. Every bit counts.
Remembering that our fight/flight response is directly related to our body’s perception of danger, so if we are in fight/flight when we go to bed, the chance of our getting a good rest is slim. Your body, thinking you’re in danger, will resist sleep. Therefore, any activities that reassure your body that you are safe will help switch over to ‘rest/digest’ mode, and allow you to relax and switch off. Here are some things you might like to try:
- Create a wind-down period before bed, during which you do no work-related activity
- Avoid bright lighting and back-lit devices for two hours before bed, as they disrupt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone
- Try deep breathing exercises to reassure your body it’s safe to relax
- Meditate just before sleep – I use the app ‘Insight Timer’ which is free
- Switch your phone to ‘flight mode’ overnight to avoid disruptions to your sleep
- If constant looping thoughts running through your head keep you awake, try pouring them all into a journal. Putting them on paper gets them out of your head
- Listen to relaxation music
-Ensure you are getting enough magnesium, a mineral your body needs to switch off and relax. If you are unsure if you are getting enough, consult your doctor or naturopath.
This article is for information only. For further information, please consult your healthcare professional.
Weaver, Dr Libby. (2015). Exhausted to Energized. Auckland: Little Green Frog.