There Are 7 Different Types of Rest. Are You Getting the Right Kind?

types of rest

You get at least seven hours of sleep every night. (Most nights. OK, some nights.) You do yoga twice a week. You spent all of Sunday on the couch, binge-watching Bridgerton. So why are you still feeling…blah? According to a now-viral TED Talk by Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D., it’s because you’re not getting all of the seven types of rest your body needs. Even if you’re getting enough sleep, you’re probably feeling drained and tired if you’ve spent ten of your waking hours staring at screens, sitting in meetings and tackling your to-do list. “Rest is the most underused, chemical-free, safe and effective alternative therapy available to us,” Dalton-Smith tells us. So if sleep alone just isn’t cutting it, it’s time to incorporate these seven types of rest into your routine. 

1. Physical Rest

Dalton-Smith explains that physical rest can be either active or passive. Passive physical rest is when your body is actually asleep, like when we’re sleeping at night. But even if you spent the night tossing and turning, it’s not too late to add some passive physical rest to your day. “If we have a bad night of sleep, taking a nap during the day can have restorative effects on our alertness and performance,” adds Frida Rångtell, PhD and sleep expert at Sleep Cycle. Active physical rest, on the other hand, is an activity that restores the body, like yoga, massage therapy or stretching. While this type of rest isn’t as crucial as passive physical rest to your daily functioning, it is still extremely important to get some form of physical rest at least two or three times a week.

2. Mental Rest

Call it brain fog. The post-lunch haze. The 2 p.m. slump. This sudden whoosh of exhaustion is your body telling you that it’s time for a mental rest ASAP. One set-it-and-forget-it way to take effective mental breaks? Get your technology to work for you, instead of the other way around, says Dalton-Smith. Use your phone or computer to schedule a ten-minute break every two hours. During that break, take a quick walk, grab a snack, take deep breaths and use it as your time to rest and reset, so you’ll be ready for another two hours of productive work. And if you’re having an extra stressful day, it may be beneficial to pull the plug on technology entirely. “We can also rest our minds by being unavailable for some time and disconnecting from the internet, social media and our emails,” Rångtell explains. Even a 15-minute break can make a huge difference.

3. Sensory Rest

Take a look around for a second. How many lights are on in your room right now? Are there any screens in your view? What about noise—from the street, your dog or your toddler, crunching crackers with his mouth open? Whether you notice it or not, your senses are being overwhelmed with tons of stimuli all day long. “The bright lights, computer screens, the background noise of phones ringing and multiple conversations going on in the office can all cause our senses to be overwhelmed,” Dalton-Smith says. “If left unchecked, this can lead to sensory overload syndrome.” This calls for a sensory rest: Unplug your electronics, turn the lights off if possible and shut your eyes for a few minutes to recharge. And if you’re feeling seriously depleted, consider a one-day (or one-week, if you’re really up for the challenge) vacation from all unnecessary electronics. It’s as restful as a week at the beach. (Well, almost.)

4. Creative Rest

If your job requires a creative component (Pitch meetings? Brainstorming sessions? Devising ways to one-up your work wife’s desk plant collection?), it’s especially important to schedule in time for creative rest. If you’re feeling creatively drained, take a walk where you go nowhere in particular…and don’t bring your phone. Rångtell loves to turn on some music and sing and dance in the kitchen to get her creative juices flowing. Or you might want to sit and read a book or watch a movie that you find particularly inspiring. And if you’re extremely artistically pooped, check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for a creative jumpstart. (We personally love morning pages.)

5. Emotional Rest

For people pleasers, “yes” is a dangerous word. Whenever someone asks you for a favor, you find the word sneaking out of your mouth before you’ve even had a chance to think through what they’re actually asking. (“Sure, I’ll help you move, even though we only met two weeks ago! Sounds like a blast!” Wait...) If this is you, you’re in need of emotional rest, Dalton-Smith advises. It’s time to take a “yes” vacation. The same goes for folks who do lots of emotional work on a daily basis. Activists, teachers, caretakers, parents—your emotional brain could probably use a pause. For the next week, instead of saying “yes” to everything, try, “I need to think about it,” instead. Give yourself a moment to weigh the pros and cons of each decision and don’t agree to do it just because someone else wants you to (unless that person is you).

6. Social Rest

Whether you’re an introvert or just feeling weighed down by the expectations of people in your life, it’s time for a rejuvenating social rest. On one side of a sheet of paper, make a list of people in your life that you find enthusiastically supportive, kind and easy to be around. On the other side, make a list of people you find draining, demanding and exhausting to hang out with. It’s time to spend more time with the first group, and as little time with the latter group as possible.

7. Spiritual Rest

You’ve just accomplished a huge personal goal—go you! But whether you lost 25 pounds, got a promotion after working your butt off at work or moved to a bigger house, all the focus on you and your goals has left you feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. It’s time to start meditating, check out a new church or spiritual center, or schedule some time on your calendar to volunteer at the soup kitchen around the corner, Dalton-Smith suggests.

Wait, How Do I Know What Type of Rest I Need?

At one point or another, you’re going to need every type of rest on this list. You probably need more than one type of rest right this second. But depending on what you’re currently spending your day doing, and how you’ve been feeling about what’s on your plate is a huge clue. Do you dread going to work, because you feel like a zombie all day? It’s time for a mental or sensory rest. Are you procrastinating finishing your screenplay because negative thoughts keep creeping in? Creative rest time. Did you just spend eight months planning your wedding and never want to hear the word “catering” ever again? A spiritual rest is calling. 

And How Much of These Types of Rest Do I Need, Anyway?

While you should get seven-to-nine hours of passive physical rest (in the form of napping or sleeping) every day, there is no cut-and-dry answer for the other six types of rest. If you work in an office, mental and sensory rest should be a daily part of your workday routine, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes every few hours. If you frequently do creative projects, whenever you’re feeling blocked would be a great time to take a creative rest. And whenever you find yourself frustrated with yourself or other people, it’s a great time to step back and incorporate an emotional, social or spiritual rest into your day. Ahh, we’re feeling more rested already.

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Freelance Editor

From 2015-2020 Lindsay Champion held the role of Food and Wellness Director. She continues to write for PureWow as a Freelance Editor.