Learning how to rest: Hint, it’s not always about sleeping early

If you don’t take a rest you'll feel physically exhausted, but you can still function

David Rigby

Published: Updated:

Rest sounds like a straightforward topic. We think we know what it is. Until you start to look closely and then it's not so simple.

But what is rest? Rest is not Sleep. Sleep is a very specific state of your brain. If you don’t sleep at all, your brain will stop functioning properly and eventually makes you completely disfunctional. Rest is different in the sense that your brain is not recovering in this state. If you don’t take a rest you'll feel physically exhausted, but you can still function.

Sit down, relax and think of nothing. Struggling? There might be a good reason why your mind seems to wander even when you try very hard to switch off: your brain never really rests. And contrary to popular belief, those idle daydreams might even be beneficial. For years, neuroscientists worked on the assumption that our brains work hard when given a specific job to do, and switch off when we're not mentally stimulated. Recent research by brain scan and by interview, reveal that the brain is always active, and the ‘rest’ mode allows the brain to reorder things. One part of the brain slows down but another becomes busy.

Rest can be sitting on the couch, doing nothing or intensively reading a book. It can be going for a walk, fishing or meditating. . Your brain activity can be quite high. In music notation there is the rest, meaning silence, before moving on to the rest i.e. remainder. In art we have a blank canvas and in print we have white space. This allows us to concentrate on what else is there.

Some people find intense physical activity restful. Or anything in which the brain is totally involved. I once had a very stressful job in Rome. To relax I took lessons in Italian in jazz vocals and piano. I had to concentrate so hard, then, when I finished I was totally relaxed and also exhausted and slept well for the next day. I found step aerobics the same – except I couldn’t do them.

If we don’t get enough sleep and rest then sometimes the body forces you into it by making you ill. It’s just happened to two colleagues and of course to Hilary Clinton with her pneumonia. And you have to be fit yourself to take care of others. That is why on planes you are advised to put on your own oxygen mask first before others. Self-sacrifice is not it. And when we’re stressed, we tend not to rest, which is what our bodies and minds need most. Instead, we keep running the
race at an ever-escalating pace – trying to ‘do’ even more to alleviate those feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed out.

BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and Hubbub launched the Rest Test more than 18,000 people from 134 countries took part. The Results were released on 27th September and show that the most popular rest ‘activities were:

1. Reading
2. Being out in nature
3. Solitude
4. Listening to Music
5. Doing Nothing.
It’s notable that none of them involve other people.

As my old friend used to say “I will take a rest when I have finished x,y,z….”. and of course never did. And what do actors do? ‘Resting between parts’.

Top Content Trending