Getting enough sleep is only one crucial element to being well rested. This expert says there are six other types of rest that you might be neglecting.
Have you ever woken up from a blissful, uninterrupted eight hours of sleep and still felt exhausted? That might be because you’re only tending to your physical needs and forgetting about the other important types of rest that are needed to wake up with a spring in your step.
We work ourselves into the ground, cram in too many social outings during ‘down time’ and get sucked into the addictive blue light of our screens at night, and then think it can all be remedied with a good night’s sleep. But that’s not how it works.
Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith is a physician, work-life integration researcher and author based in Birmingham, Alabama. When her patients said they were tired all their time, but they were sleeping the recommended eight hours per night and their labs came back normal, it left her scratching her head. Then she started feeling the effects of burnout herself.
“I started off thinking, ‘If I just got enough high-quality sleep, shouldn’t I feel rested? Shouldn’t I feel energised and restored?’ At that time there was a sleep revolution that all of us were talking about. And I felt like I was sleeping exceptionally well, but I was still exhausted.”
It was at this point that Dalton-Smith started researching recuperation methods, landing on seven different types of rest that she believes helps people feel their best and work to the best of their ability (see below).
No rest for the busy
We often engage in unhealthy, busy work habits and justify it by saying “I’ll rest on the weekend”. But we need to be much more intentional about resting during the day in small ways, says Dalton-Smith (see examples in each section below).
It’s no use running your tank down to empty and then hoping it will replenish overnight or over the weekend. Instead, she suggests introducing micro acts of rest throughout the day.
“What I’m finding is that the people who are most productive are the ones who know how to rest in the middle of all their work. They’re pouring [energy] back into the places they’re taking it out from as they go. They’re not trying to push through to the end of the day [or week].”
It’s also not a great idea to rely on your bi-annual holiday for replenishment, as research shows the effects of a holiday last for only around 2-4 weeks then most people feel just as burnout as they did before. They can even make you more tired.
Dalton-Smith’s different types of rest can enable employers to craft holistic strategies that will help employees better manage stress and build resilience.
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“We have a very limited view of what rest is. We think of rest as the cessation of activity – just stopping. But it’s actually practicing restorative activities… It has to be things that are incorporated into your work day. I think it’s an HR and corporate responsibility.”
The seven different types of rest, according to Dalton-Smith, include:
1. Physical rest
This is the most obvious type of rest that most of us are doing (although, not always well).
By now, most people are aware just how critical getting enough sleep is for physical and mental health, yet when the work piles up, it’s often the first thing to go. Four in ten Australians suffer from inadequate sleep, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, and poor sleep is said to be the cause of 3,017 deaths and $17.9 billion in lost productivity in 2016-17.
Dalton-Smith encourages people to think of physical rest in both an active and a passive manner. The latter might mean taking a nap or going to sleep. This isn’t always possible in a work environment, unless you work at one of those fancy start-ups with napping pods.
Passive physical rest, however, can be adopted into what Dalton-Smith calls employees’ ‘workplace lifestyle routines’. That might be offering yoga classes or giving employees mindfulness tools as a way to help them slow down, get their blood flowing and get used to introducing small restorative practices into their work day.
2. Sensory rest
HRM has covered video call fatigue before – the phenomenon of our brains working overtime to comprehend people speaking to us on a screen versus in person. When you factor in time spent on computers during work hours, watching TV at night, checking emails and social media on our devices throughout the day (and into the night), it’s not hard to understand why so many people are experiencing sensory overload.
“In a ‘normal’ meeting, everyone would be in the same room with the same sensory input.”
But in a virtual setting, each person’s box has “its own sensory input”, says Dalton-Smith.
“If you’ve got ten people in that virtual meeting, you have ten different virtual inputs that people are visually taking in. In one room I’m looking at bookshelves trying to figure out what books someone has, in another I’m looking at their bed or what’s behind them. All of these visual inputs lead to sensory overload.”
One way to remedy this excessive output, she suggests, is to create a workplace background that everyone uses when they’re on a video call to give people the impression they’re in the same place.
“We have a very limited view of what rest is. We think of rest as the cessation of activity – just stopping. But it’s actually practicing restorative activities.” – Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith
3. Mental rest
Not attending to your sensory needs can easily lead to a mental rest deficit. Dalton-Smith describes it as “having too many tabs open in your brain”.
“We’ve got to a place where multitasking is the norm. When you lay down at night, if your head has multiple tabs open, you’re thinking and processing all of these different things [and] running background mental functioning, so it could be very difficult to get to a quiet, cerebral space where you can get into deeper REM sleep.”
She suggests ‘brain dumping’ to combat mental deficit. That might be creating a physical to-do list throughout your day so things don’t have to live in your head alone, or keeping a notebook next to your bed at night to jot down any thoughts you might be dwelling on.
“It’s about closing the dialogue in your brain. You’re taking something out of your memory and putting it somewhere safe so you don’t have to keep processing it.”
4. Emotional rest
This is an important one for those in employee or customer-facing roles. They often have to deal with people’s problems or engage with others in a highly empathic manner from the moment they walk through the door until they leave for the day. They are literally soaking up the emotions of others.
“A lot of the time people can’t get to sleep because they might have had to fire someone, for example. They might be worried about that person’s wellbeing or how they’re going to support their kids, but it was a reality of the job.”
Again, Dalton-Smith suggests brain dumping before bed as a way to release yourself of the weight of these emotionally draining situations.
She also says to never underestimate the power of a good debrief. If you had to deal with a difficult situation, schedule in some time to talk about it with a colleague, supervisor or friend, she suggests, as this will likely give you the perspective and closure you were unable to give to yourself.
“Emotional labour is often part of the job. It’s what you’re getting paid for. So it’s often not about how to get rid of it but how to manage it.”
5. Creative rest
Creative rest is when we allow ourselves time to feel inspired, be that by nature, art or visually pleasing stimuli. You need your creative reserves to be full in order to draw on your best ideas.
This isn’t just for those who think of themselves as artistically creative, says Dalton-Smith. It’s important for anyone who is solving problems and brainstorming solutions – that’s most of us.
“People [experience] this all the time, often without realising. They’ll be in a meeting and someone will say, ‘Let’s take a break’, and they’ll go outside for a quick walk and then it’s almost as if the idea drops into their head from nowhere. They’ve got themselves into a place to receive creative rest… they’re subconsciously inspired [by the world around them].”
To try and mimic these benefits, Dalton-Smith suggests bringing some of the outdoors in. Filling an office with plants, fresh flowers, artwork, employee’s work etcetera, is a fantastic way to “awaken creativity” she says.
6. Social rest
Paying attention to your social rest needs can be an effective way of combating a deficit in the other five types of rest mentioned above. To do this, Dalton-Smith says to think of the people in your life who pour energy back into you.
“These are usually your adult friends because they’re not asking a lot of you,” she says. “The people who are negatively pulling from you could be your family, your kids or spouse, parents, clients, colleagues, managers.”
That’s not to say these relationships are negative, just that you can experience negative social impacts when you engage in relationships that require lots of your emotional energy.
Carve out ample time to be with the people who energise you and you’ll feel that social cup filling up.
7. Spiritual rest
This final type of rest will differ from person to person, says Dalton-Smith. It can be faith-based or it can be community-based.
“This is the rest we feel when we’re appreciated and feel as if we belong to something bigger than ourselves… we feel like we’re contributing to the greater good.”
Feeling part of the bigger picture at work is incredibly important – it’s what makes us feel as if we truly belong. Equally important is the sense of purpose and meaning we derive from our work itself.
Discussing different types of rest at work
Talking about rest at work might feel like you’re overstepping the bounds of an employee’s private lives. But as HRM has covered before, it’s an incredibly important conversation to have as sleep problems often stem from workplace stress.
“These rest deficits affect how people function at work. It affects employee engagement, it affects their ability to adapt to change, it affects their ability to [offer good] customer service.
It’s extremely hard to be an engaged employee if you’re exhausted or don’t have the energy or capacity to be engaged at the level of productivity your employer wants.”
And while most employers wouldn’t ever intentionally force employees onto the hamster wheel of productivity, by not actively inviting employees to rest, you could be inadvertently telling them that results trump rest. The irony, of course, is that you can never achieve the former without the latter.
Interested in knowing the types of rest you need to focus on? Take Dr Dalton-Smith’s free quiz here.
Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith is a physician, researcher and author of the book ‘Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity.’