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What’s the Difference Between Sleep and Rest?

By: Zana Van Der Smissen

Feeling tired is one of the most common things that come up in the therapy space whether or not that means you are physically or emotionally tired, it happens to all of us. So how do we restore and recharge when we feel that way? In this blog, I will be talking through the difference between sleep and rest and how to establish what you might be needing. There are a lot of different components that go into our sleep but hopefully by opening up this conversation, we can all learn the first steps in feeling more rested! 

So what is the difference between sleep and rest? According to the American Sleep Association, what sets sleep apart from rest is that in rest periods we are still conscious and there are no hormonal changes that are occurring. While sleeping, our hormones are allowing our bodies to generate new cells, grow during puberty and create new pathways to develop new skills and store memories (American Sleep Association, 2021). 

Since we know the benefits of sleep, it is important to highlight the positives of incorporating rest into our routine. When resting, our body can restore a sense of calmness, relax muscles and quiet our brain from how loud and frequent thoughts are. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health described that the techniques related to rest also help with symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and pain (NIH, 2021). That being said, rest is not nearly as prioritized in our lives despite it being beneficial for getting more quality sleep. So how do we improve our rest? 

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith goes through the seven types of rest that every person needs in all areas of their life. Dr. Dalton-Smith talks about how physical rest is needed but can show up in two different forms, passive and active physical rest. Active physical rest is what we spoke to earlier of actively seeking rest through relaxation, yoga, and other activities while passive physical rest is sleeping. (Dalton-Smith, 2021)

Another type of rest that is needed is emotional rest where we need to find time to feel our emotions and share in safe spaces such as in therapy. Dr. Dalton-Smith connects this type of rest with needing social rest. Social rest talks about being more in the moment with the people you are talking to and being selective around the people you are expending energy on as it can become exhausting if spread too thin. (Dalton-Smith, 2021). 

Mental rest is what I believe comes to mind when most people think of rest. Dr. Dalton-Smith talks about how mental rest is vital to have a successful workday that doesn’t cause you to take your work home with you, mentally. Mental rest can look like writing down a to-do list before going to bed or using the Pomodoro technique to get things done but also having those mental breaks throughout the day (25 mins work, 5 mins break technique). On the same wave as taking mental rest during the workday, it is important to take sensory rest. Sensory rest is defined as giving ourselves a break from multiple sensory stimulants such as various screens and multiple noises that we hear throughout the day. So in order to do so, we can try to unplug as much as we can, read a book instead of being on our phone or try to go for a walk without any electronics and listen to nature.  (Dalton-Smith, 2021). 

The final two types of rest that Dr. Dalton-Smith addresses are creative rest and spiritual rest. Creative rest is described through different examples by Dr. Dalton-Smith who focuses on trying to incorporate time where you can replenish your creative juices by going to places that inspire you, incorporating little things into your life that you enjoy, and being outdoors. Related to replenishment, the spiritual rest that is mentioned speaks towards connecting with your purpose on this planet and your sense of belonging. This can be beneficial to reflect on as a way to discover your identity and values moving forward in your life. (Dalton-Smith, 2021). 

As we all explore how to feel less tired, knowing the difference between sleep and rest as well as the various types of rest, we can start taking the steps to navigate what we might be needing more of in the future.

American Sleep Association. (2021). Sleep vs. Rest: What’s the Difference? ASA. 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2021). Relaxation Techniques: What You Need To Know. NIH. 

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith. (2021). The 7 types of rest that every person needs. TED. 

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