Getting enough rest should be the most natural thing in the world, right? Not so much—at least in our fast-paced culture. We want to feel productive, make the most out of our days. In winter, this means less daylight to get things done. Something like getting adequate rest shouldn’t be so complicated, yet many Americans are perpetually overworked, under-rested, and their health is suffering.
All living organisms have an internal biological clock. For many mammals, this means that winter is a time for hibernation. Hibernating animals conserve energy throughout the winter, slowing their metabolism and even reducing their body temperature to minimize output. While humans do not hibernate, many of us go through periods of lower activity as the days get shorter and colder. Increased rest with reduced daylight hours is natural, although many of us still don’t get enough of it.
Our need to rest—and the tendency to not get enough of it—has been a popular topic in the past few years. In fact, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was presented jointly to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young for their studies on the human biological clock.
Their work continues to unravel how our biological clock relates to the earth’s rotations—i.e. changing seasons. When we get out of synch with the natural rhythms of our environment and the earth’s rotations, our bodies can be thrown out of whack. Our biological clock wants to be adapting to changes in our daily environment, and this can mean needing more rest as the days get shorter.
Type of Rest I: Sleep
Most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night, along with periods of rest during the day. Too much stress or stimulation during our waking hours can make us irritable, overworked, and cause us to underperform, all made worse with inadequate sleep. Much of the science of sleep remains elusive, but we do know that human bodies require sleep to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. Sleep also helps solidify memories from the huge amount of information taken in throughout the day. This includes “scraps” of information being transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory, a process called consolidation (National Sleep Foundation).
Having trouble getting enough sleep? You aren’t the only one.
In Ariana Huffington’s 2016 book The Sleep Revolution, she discusses the myriad effects of sleep deprivation, which can include weight gain, diabetes, even an increase in instances of Alzheimer’s. Huffington was inspired to write the book after a 2007 collapse following a sustained period of sleeping barely four hours per night. Her doctors informed her that sleep deprivation and her unmanageable schedule had caught up with her, so she worked to rehabilitate her sleep pattern to get at least the recommended amount per night. Like anyone making a lifestyle change, she began small… adding a half-hour to her sleep allotment, and removing electronics from her bedroom. Little by little she saw her mood, focus, and reactions improving. The quality of her life was enhanced immeasurably, leading her to write the bestselling book.
Different apps and sleep trackers have been rising in popularity within the last few years, but the jury’s out on whether or not they work. Fitness trackers and sleep apps aren’t necessarily accurate, especially when it comes to differentiating between light sleep and deep sleep. Instead of relying on a device like a sleep tracker to gauge the duration and quality of your sleep, assess how you feel throughout the day and make changes from there.
While you might be in bed/asleep for the recommended amount of time, interrupted or low-quality sleep won’t do as much to help you feel rested and alert the next day. Researchers suggest setting aside a regular time for going to bed and waking up, and trying to stick with that schedule as much as day-to-day life allows. This will help regulate your body’s readiness for sleep and will make it easier to fall asleep faster and wake up refreshed.
Type of Rest II: Rest During the Day
Nap pods aren’t just for preschoolers and worn-out college students. There’s a reason that some of the biggest names in the corporate industry—like Google, Uber, and HootSuite—have designated nap pods for their employees. They know that resetting throughout the day—even with a 20-minute nap—makes their employees more alert, focused, and helps avoid that 2 p.m. slump or dependence on afternoon caffeine.
Work in a place without a nap room? Make an effort to rest your eyes throughout the day with the 20/20/20 trick. Every 20 minutes, push back from your computer and look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This short break will refocus your eyes, give you something to look at that isn’t an eye-straining screen, and force a scheduled break that won’t impact productivity. If you have the time, brief periods of stretching or meditation can increase positive thoughts, reduce stress, and help you focus on the rest of your day.
Though it sounds counterintuitive, rest can also include exercise, in that it provides a break in the day from your typical routine. Already exercising regularly? That’s great, but be aware of how your exercise schedule might impact your sleep. Studies have shown that exercising after work or at night can hinder sleep for many people. The endorphins flooding your body after a long day of work feel great, but can inhibit your ability to get to sleep. Try working out in the morning instead. Not a morning person? Give it a try for a few weeks. You might find that exercising in the morning—and unwinding after work—helps you settle down for the night earlier.
Tips For A Better Nights Sleep
• If you must keep your phone in the bedroom at night, set the screen light to change when the sun goes down. Smartphone screens emanate blue wavelengths, which elevate attention and mood but can negatively affect your ability to fall asleep at night. Many smartphones come with the option to remove the blue light from phone screens and can be set to automatically change with the sunset hours.
• Try having a no-screen time in the 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Read, journal, or relax and let your brain shut off without the bright light and stimulation of a phone, tablet, or television.
• Do your best to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, especially if you’re sensitive to it. Weaning off that afternoon coffee or energy drink might be challenging at first, but you’ll see benefits in the long run.
• Try to avoid looking at the clock, even if you’re having trouble falling asleep. It will restart activity in your brain and could cause stress.
Tips to Incorporate Rest Into Your Day
• You don’t necessarily need to halt all productivity. Even closing your eyes and backing away from your computer for a few minutes will do wonders to reset your focus. Not lucky enough to work in an office with nap pods? Try these tricks, and slowly start incorporating periods of meditation into your day.
• If you have 60 seconds: Push back from your chair, close your eyes, take five deep breaths. Aim to focus on your breathing for a solid minute.
• If you have five minutes: Stand up and stretch. If you’re inside, walk outside the building, even if it’s around the parking lot and back. Take this time to drink a glass of water.
• If you have 20 minutes: Try a combination of meditation, stretching, and yoga. It can be challenging to ease your mind into a state of meditation if you aren’t used to it, and starting with a few stretches or yoga poses can help. A wide variety of guided meditations can be found online.