Dominique Gummelt, PhD by Dominique Gummelt, PhD
on

Several key behaviors contribute to higher levels of health, wellness and fitness, including getting enough rest. Although this behavior is critical for survival and optimal functioning, we often do not give this topic nearly enough thought. Consider these five key questions and honestly respond to each one:   

  • How much sleep did you get last night?
  • How much sleep do you usually get?
  • How often do you take a vacation?
  • Do you allow yourself daily periods of peace of mind? If so, how?
  • Do you allow yourself to have at least one day of rest per week, where your body, mind and spirit can receive rejuvenation? 

Four specific components of rest should be considered to improve one’s wellbeing: sleep, vacation, daily rest and weekly rest. Each of these elements plays an important role and can significantly impact our health, wellness and fitness. 

1. SLEEP

Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. However, only 48 percent of Americans get seven hours or more sleep per night on weekdays. Thirty to 40 percent of people sleep fewer than six hours per night. Insufficient sleep is detrimental and can contribute to a wide range of problems, including: depression, weight gain, a weaker immune system, skin aging, less sex and more disagreements within a relationship, decreased cognitive processes, serious health problems (heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, etc.), impaired judgment and many more issues. A lack of sleep impacts everything from your mood to your health and productivity. 

Three key things occur during sleep: your brain recharges, your cells repair themselves and your body releases important hormones. Your sleep cycle is comprised of four stages. If you wake up at the end of the sleep cycle, you feel most well rested. 

Stage 1: This stage may only last for five to 10 minutes and the eyes are typically closed. It is easy to be awakened from this stage and many feel like they are falling, which can create a sudden jump. 

Stage 2: This stage is the preparation stage for deep sleep. Heart rate and body temperature decrease. 

Stages 3 and 4: These are the deep sleep stages, during which rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. REM occurs approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. Brain activity is heightened and powerful dreams occur during REM sleep. Interestingly, paralysis of major voluntary muscle groups happens during REM. If a person is awakened during these stages, they may feel disoriented.   

Here are some key tips for improving your sleep: 

  • Get regular physical activity
  • Get plenty of sunlight and fresh air
  • Eat a light dinner earlier
  • Avoid consuming too many stimulants (such as caffeine)
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends
  • Develop a “go-to-sleep routine” (to settle down) before you go to bed
  • Relax early in the evening, letting go of worries and other distractions
  • Create a restful sleep environment, such as a cool temperature and a quiet and dark space
  • Have a high quality mattress
  • Remove all electronics from the bedroom and use this room only for sleep and sex 

2. VACATION 

Who doesn’t like vacation? When taking a close look at vacation statistics around the world, it is clear that nations other than the United States have realized the significance of taking regular vacations. Italy tops the charts with an average of 42 days of paid vacation; France and Germany follow closely with 37 and 35 days respectively. Japan reports an average of 25 days of paid vacation. Interestingly enough, there is no statutory minimum of vacation days in the United States, leaving this decision up to employers. 

Benefits of taking a vacation include:

  • Higher productivity
  • Feeling better
  • Decreased incidence of death from coronary causes
  • Decreased psychosomatic illnesses
  • Reduced risk of all-cause mortality 

A beneficial vacation requires taking enough time for the body to detach from work and daily life. Taking a two- to three-day vacation can be helpful, but is unlikely enough time to fully relax and rejuvenate away from regular responsibilities. Further, it is essential to disconnect from professional responsibilities, such as checking emails or messages that may continuously engage one’s mind during vacation. 

3. DAILY REST 

Does your day seem like a rat race, where you fall into bed late at night, not even knowing how exactly you got there? Research shows that there are significant benefits to planning in moments of rest into your day. Here are some ideas: 

  • Take a few minutes in a quiet space and practice deep breathing
  • Find a quiet space and meditate (on something positive) or pray
  • Take a mental vacation, imagining a place where you would like to be that is peaceful to you
  • Spend time in nature
  • Take a “power nap” (about 20 minutes only)
  • Visit with someone you enjoy being around 

4. WEEKLY REST 

Chronobiology is the study of seven-day rhythms for living beings. A number of elements and conditions seem to circulate through a seven-day rhythm, including heartbeat, blood pressure, hormone levels and more. 

Many people have implemented a day of rest, often as part of a religious or spiritual practice. Seventh-day Adventists, who celebrate a weekly Sabbath from the rigors of daily life, have been studied in great detail due to the increased levels of health and wellbeing experienced by this population. 

Consider implementing a day of rest to assist with mental, physical and spiritual rejuvenation. This may help you recharge to meet the demands of daily living.   

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