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by Health By Principle

Seven Types of Rest and Why You Need Them


By Rachel Welch 

There’s a funny video circulating on TikTok that shows its creator popping up to share that he got only four hours of sleep last night, and guess what? He’s fatigued.  

Another frame shows someone who got a full 13 hours of sleep last night, and guess what? He’s also exhausted.  

Finally, the third frame shows a person who got the recommended 8 hours of sleep last night, and you know what? He’s still tired.  

While this video is humorous, it is, sadly, also incredibly relatable to many of us.  

If you can sleep for 13 hours or more and still wake up weary and exhausted, and you can’t figure out what’s happening, then this article is for you.   

Sleepy Society 

We live in a society where the idea of hard work reigns supreme. People brag about working overtime, missing out on sleep, and going the extra mile, and seem to forget that rest is a fundamental human need. Let’s take a brief journey back to Psychology 101, where we have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.   

Hierarchy of Needs 

 Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology that categorizes human needs into five distinct levels. These needs are often depicted as a pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom and the highest needs at the top. The levels of needs are physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. 

  1. Physiological needs: These are the foundational/most basic needs, such as food, water, air, and shelter. These needs must be met before any others can be fulfilled. Examples of ways to meet these needs include eating healthy foods, drinking water regularly, taking your vitamins, getting enough sleep, and having a safe place to live.
  1. Safety needs: People require safety and security after meeting physiological needs. This includes physical safety, emotional safety, financial security, and job security. Examples of ways to meet these needs include locking doors and windows, having health insurance, and having a stable job.
  1. Love/belonging needs: Once safety needs are fulfilled, people require social interaction and a sense of belonging. This includes the need for friendships, family, and romantic relationships. Some ways to meet these needs include spending time with loved ones, joining clubs or organizations, and volunteering in the community.
  1. Esteem needs: Esteem needs are divided into self-esteem and esteem from others. These needs are met by feeling confident, capable, and respected by others. Examples of ways to meet these needs include setting and achieving goals, receiving recognition for accomplishments, and engaging in activities that boost self-confidence.
  1. Self-actualization needs: Self-actualization encompasses the highest level of needs. These needs include realizing one's potential, achieving personal growth, and fulfilling one's dreams. Some ways to meet these needs include pursuing hobbies and passions, volunteering, and setting meaningful goals.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides a framework for understanding human motivation and behavior. It suggests that people must fulfill their basic needs before pursuing higher-level needs. This theory works with the seven types of rest but may not always mesh well with our society’s expectations.  

Cultural Challenges 

In America and many cultures worldwide, ideologies like hustle culture do not promote guilt-free rest.  

There is almost an intrinsic fear of ceasing productivity because if we do, we’re failing or under-contributing.  

Even when resting at home, you may feel compelled to put away laundry, tackle the dishes, or finish that painting project you put off because sitting and doing nothing when there is so much to do, feels out of the question.  

It may seem dramatic, but resting guilt is a common conundrum. A study published in the Journal of Leisure Research found that guilt was a common emotion experienced by participants when engaging in leisure activities.  

The study surveyed 400 adults and found that guilt was the second most frequently reported emotion experienced during leisure activities, after happiness.  

The researchers suggest that guilt may arise because people feel they should be doing something more productive or that leisure activities are selfish. 

Another study looked at 85 individuals and assessed overall well-being levels related to the employee’s amount of workaholism. They found that employees who worked overtime into the evening (after the typical workday) had lower levels of well-being.  

They found that low workaholism resulted in higher employee well-being and overall happiness.  

Overall, it is clear that some people may experience guilt when engaging in rest or leisure activities, but it is wise to recognize that rest and leisure activities are essential for physical and mental health and well-being.  

So, say you’ve achieved guilt-free rest and reached a harmonious balance. Why, then, can you often get the proper amount of sleep, eat well, hydrate adequately, and remain exhausted?  

According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, you need to reframe how you look at and practice rest.  

Rest = Restoration 

Dr. Dalton-Smith is a board-certified internal medicine physician and author of the book "Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity," which outlines the seven types of rest that she believes are crucial for overall well-being.  

Her curiosity about rest began when she experienced relentless fatigue, despite “doing all of the right things.”  

She realized that something needed to change. 

This led to a discovery she outlines in her book.  

The difference is that rest is often thought of as the cessation of activity and the abrupt halt of effort. For instance, if we come home after a long day at work, we might flop onto the couch and rest to recharge.  

As our society has determined that rest is often practiced passively, with the only intent being to do nothing, in many cases.  

However, being still, doing nothing, and sleeping enough, often leaves us still wanting energy and motivation. This is where Dr. Dalton-Smith suggests a potential game-changer when she suggests that rest should instead mean active restoration.  

Rest as restoration involves actively pursuing activities that will renew, refuel, and rejuvenate you and your energy supply.  

This brings us to one of the key takeaways: our bodies and minds require different types of rest to function optimally.  

Dr. Dalton-Smith explains that physical rest, for example, isn't just about sleep and involves activities such as stretching and massage.  

Mental rest is about giving our minds a break from constant stimulation, while emotional rest involves acknowledging and processing our feelings, like through journaling or meditation.  

Social rest is about having meaningful connections with others, and sensory rest is about reducing the amount of external stimulation we are exposed to.  

Finally, creative rest is about engaging in activities that bring us joy, and spiritual rest is about finding purpose and meaning in our lives.  

The 7 Types of Rest 

To embrace Dr. Dalton-Smith’s idea, rest is not just about getting enough sleep. Rest also includes activities and practices that are essential for overall well-being. 

  1. Physical rest: This type of rest is all about allowing your body to recover from physical exertion. It involves getting enough sleep, taking breaks from work, and engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.  

For instance, this type of rest would be helpful after a physically demanding or stressful day. Examples of physical rest include taking a nap, going for a leisurely walk, or taking a hot bath. 

  1. Mental rest:  

This type of rest focuses on giving your mind a break from constant stimulation and overthinking. Mental rest can involve turning off your phone or computer, spending time in nature, or engaging in mindfulness practices.   

Examples of mental rest include reading a book, taking a break from social media, or practicing deep breathing exercises. 

  1. Sensory rest: Sensory rest is about reducing the amount of sensory input you receive from your environment. It involves avoiding loud noises, bright lights, and other stimuli that can be overwhelming.  

 Examples of sensory rest include taking a break from electronic devices, spending time in a quiet room, or wearing earplugs or an eye mask.  

 This form of rest is vital if you consider the large quantity of sensory input we are exposed to daily due to technology. Phones, televisions, computers, and even work colleagues or your family can all contribute to sensory fatigue. 

  1. Creative rest: This type of rest is all about engaging in activities that allow your mind to wander and your imagination to flourish. We’ve talked previously about the benefits of mentally doing nothing and why it is so healthy for the brain. Creative rest can involve doing something artistic or taking a break from routine tasks to allow for new ideas to develop.  

 Examples of creative rest include drawing, writing, or listening to music. Think the consumption or practice of art but with relaxed and easy breezy thoughts.  

  1. Emotional rest: Emotional rest is about taking care of your emotional needs and addressing any underlying feelings of stress or anxiety. Emotional rest can involve talking to a friend or therapist, practicing self-care, or engaging in activities that bring you joy.  

Examples of emotional rest include journaling, taking a warm bath, or spending time in nature. 

  1. Social rest: This type focuses on taking a break from social interactions and allowing yourself time to recharge. Social rest can involve spending time alone or with a small group of close friends or family members.  

Examples of social rest include reading a book, taking a solo hike, or having a quiet dinner with loved ones. Introverts, this one is crucial for you! 

  1. Spiritual rest: This type of rest is about connecting with your spiritual self and finding meaning and purpose in life. Spiritual rest can involve practicing gratitude, meditation, prayer, or engaging in activities that give you purpose.  

Examples of spiritual rest include attending a religious service, volunteering, or spending time in nature. 

Reaching Restoration 

To embrace the culmination of both Maslow’s and Dr. Dalton-Smith’s work, we can conclude that the human body has basic needs, and that the priority of those needs is relevant. Without addressing your physical needs, emotional and social will be out of reach.  

Once your physical needs have been cared for, it is essential to acknowledge that – regardless of what society may demand – you are entitled to rest of all kinds.  

Physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, and spiritual rest all have their place in your life and may be best accomplished by actively pursuing relevant activities.  

 Remember that rest does not always mean stop. Sometimes it means providing a particular fuel, fun, or function. This all adds to the fact that sleep, nutrition, and exercise are indeed crucial for optimal health. 

Overall, it is important to recognize that rest is about getting enough sleep and engaging in activities that allow the mind and body to relax and recharge.  

By incorporating each type of rest into our lives, we can create a more balanced and fulfilling life. 




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