Why We Need Rest

Why We Need Rest

The Importance of making time to take a breath. 

By Hannah McKimm

In a world where we seem to be busier than ever, rest doesn’t often sit very high on the list of priorities. By the time we go to work, see our friends and family, fit in our exercise and get our life admin done, there isn’t a lot of time left to stop and take a breath. You may not feel tired, our bodies get very good at running on adrenaline and cortisol, which masks the underlying fatigue. However, it is so valuable for your overall health to rest regularly and give your body and nervous system a chance to reset. 

Our nervous system is constantly seesawing between parasympathetic and sympathetic drive. When one is firing, the other takes a back seat, which is how we were designed to be active and alert in short bursts, balanced out by periods of minimal physical or mental activity. Rest is the time when our parasympathetic nervous system gets to shine. It is when our body can prioritise tissue healing, memory formation, problem solving, digestion, immunity and reproduction. Without rest, the balance is tipped heavily in the direction of the sympathetic nervous system, which puts on hold all the functions of our body that are not necessary for immediate survival. When sustained, this can cause us higher levels of stress, muscle tension, brain fog, digestive issues and cycle changes.

Benefits of rest

Reduced stress:

Stress affects people in a variety of ways and we can all feel stress differently. When your body is in a prolonged state of stress, there are higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your bloodstream. This will lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, energy levels and blood sugar levels. This is handy when required, but we do not need to function like this at all times and the effect on our body is quite detrimental. Chronic stress will suppress your immune system, digestive system and reproductive system. Over time, high levels of these stress hormones will put you at risk of general health problems including anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive issues, heart disease, stroke, sleep issues and weight gain. 

Strong immune system:

Fight, flight or freeze mode (our sympathetic nervous system) is an important system for survival to help us get away from an immediate threat or danger. In order to get us ready for action, our body cleverly suppresses some of our other systems to prioritise our energy where it is needed. Our immune system is very complex and requires energy to function, so when all of our energy is being sent to our heart, lungs and muscles, we end up at greater risk of getting sick. The quote ‘if you don’t make time for your health, you will be forced to make time for illness’ sums this up perfectly. 

Better memory, problem solving and productivity:

Adrenaline and cortisol are great for making quick decisions, but not for deeper, creative thinking and problem solving. So when you’re trying to get a project completed, or come up with new ideas, rest is vital. Giving your mind time to switch off allows you to focus more clearly on the task you are working on rather than becoming distracted and overwhelmed. 

Hormonal balance:

Similarly to the point about our immune system becoming repressed, our reproductive system becomes a low priority when our sympathetic nervous system is in charge. This can affect our normal balance of hormones which can lead to changes to our menstrual cycle and issues with fertility. Taking time to rest shows your brain and your body that you are safe and not in harm's way, allowing your hormone system to function normally. 

So how do I rest?

It’s important to differentiate sleep from rest, as they are not the same thing. Sleep, while equally as important, requires us to completely shut off from our external environment. Rest on the other hand, can be done whilst present and awake and can help to set you up for a good night of sleep. Rest could be reading a book, practising yoga, a walk outside, taking a deep breath, completing a mindfulness exercise or even a Pilates class! As long as you are feeling calm, focused and present rather than stimulated, distracted and busy. Balance is finding the harmony between our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and letting the seesaw tip back and forth over the course of a day, a week and a month. We won’t always get it right, but try to recognise when you may be better off doing something that recharges your battery rather than draining it.

Han x

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