To Sleep or To Rest?

As a frequent traveler, I sometimes find myself so time-shifted that I can’t sleep even though it’s late at night. During a recent episode, I wondered whether lying in bed with my eyes closed has the same benefits as actual sleep. Doesn’t my brain and body still get some rest?

Not surprisingly, the answer isn’t clear cut.

Brian Fung (@B_Fung), an associate editor at The Atlantic, asks exactly this question in “When you can’t sleep, how good is lying in bed with your eyes closed?”  He concludes that actual sleep is significantly superior to simply resting. According to Dr. Chiara Cirelli, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, there’s a unique benefit to sleep you don’t get with “quiet wakefulness, microsleep, or unihemispheric sleep.” Lying down might help the body relax but it doesn’t support the cognitive recovery needed by the brain.

A Daily Mail article titled “Why a rest is as good for you as a sleep” seemingly takes the opposite point of view. According to sleep specialist Dr. Matthew Edlund, rest is as important as sleep to our long-term health. Dr. Edlund feels rest is usually neglected and prescribes four kinds of rest: social, mental, physical and spiritual.

Many of us are so busy we see rest as a weakness – a waste of precious time, but rest is, in fact, a biological need. All the science shows we need rest to live, just like we need food.

I interpret this to mean that we need both sleep and rest.

So what can you do to get to sleep? The research is fairly consistent on this one. Take your mind off of the fact that you can’t sleep – worrying about it will only make it worse. Don’t watch TV – blue-colored lights trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime so that it doesn’t release melatonin. Instead, get out of bed and do an activity which uses low light and doesn’t require a lot of activity – reading is a good choice.

I recommend reading this blog. If it doesn’t put you to sleep, nothing will.

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7 Responses to To Sleep or To Rest?

  1. Anonymous November 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    I am already yawning. May be I am time-shifted :)

  2. James November 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    When I was a young kid, my dad told me that the human brain is amazing in its ability to get out of work. So, when I can’t sleep, I try to do something mentally tasking. It is amazing at how this can put me to sleep as it gives my brain an alternative to work.

    Though on the other side, I have become quite focused in the early a.m. hours & sometimes take a nap at the office after lunch when there are no appointments, but quotes to figure.

  3. Christopher Powell November 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    And yet, with all this knowledge, the TV still seems to be the method of choice. Go figure.

  4. Aiaz Kazi November 21, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I’ve tried reading this blog a few times but fell off to sleep ;) Machines try to mimic human behavior they say – in their case it is very clear – “reboot” is better than “sleep”.

    Another nugget/myth that I’ve been meaning to look into – “A 22 min power nap is equal to 4 hours of sleep” Is this true? So instead of 8 hrs of sleep would we be ok with 2 power naps instead?

  5. Michelle November 29, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Nothing replaces actual sleep to reset all of your metabolic processes, but try meditation! As a busy insomniac-entrepreneur myself, I find that this is a great way to help gain some real rest even though I’m still conscious. The idea is to clear your mind so that you can regroup, relax, and improve creativity.

  6. kerrplunks November 29, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    don’t under estimate the sleep benefits that a steady Yoga practice can provide…

  7. Carol Stephen (@Carol_Stephen) January 18, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    This post didn’t put me to sleep at all. In fact, it had the opposite effect–it made me laugh and now I’m more awake than ever!

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