The importance of a good night’s rest is often talked about but can be very elusive. Why do we talk about the benefits of rest, but refuse to reserve time in our busy lives to actually get enough? Why is it so critical if we never practice it?
Getting enough rest is important to the body, both mentally and physically. All too often, we know we would benefit from having more downtime, but it seems impossible to make time for this in our hectic schedules.
Sleep not only allows us to feel more mentally alert and stay strong enough to meet our daily demands, but it actually helps to keep the body working as it should. It helps the body heal and repair itself, ensuring your heart and blood vessels continue to work properly. Sleep and mood go hand in hand and getting enough rest at night is associated with lower levels of irritability and stress.
When we don’t get enough sleep, we begin to suffer from sleep deprivation that takes a toll on the entire body. It keeps the immune system from functioning as it should, so we become worn down and more susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections. Over time, lack of sleep can also lead to heart disease, kidney dysfunction, high blood pressure, diabetes, and strokes. Getting only limited amounts of rest and sleep can also cause anxiety and depression, both of which do a number on our health.
So, why is sleep so elusive? Primarily because it’s countercultural. We live in a world in which we are brainwashed from an early age to produce. Everything we do from the time we wake up to when our head hits our pillow again is centered on this goal—to be productive. We take pride in being self-made, and often must work long hours to be successful.
Therefore, we are taught that to get an inadequate amount of sleep night after night is really no big deal. It’s the ‘everyone is doing it’ mentality. Everywhere we look, people are talking about rest, but never actually accounting for it in their schedules. In order to keep pace, therefore, we must follow suit.
Introducing more rest into our lives may actually take a whole shift in perspective. We may have to actively welcome it by beginning to practice techniques that induce calmness. If we decide to begin practicing mindfulness, for instance, our minds naturally begin to welcome rest instead of continuing to reject it.
At the heart of mindfulness is the ability to focus only on the present and to release any worry associated with the past or future. By taking life one day at a time and refusing to allow it to overwhelm us, the mind, body, and soul can naturally relax. Rest is, first and foremost, a state of mind. Our bodies will continue to refuse a retreat if our minds do.
It’s not easy to go against our intuition and against the grain. It’s not easy to take the path less traveled—practically when others start to notice our transformation. Because it’s so countercultural to welcome a more restful life, to choose to do so will cause us to stand out. Others might begin to ask questions or even choose to turn away. People are often afraid of change and of the unknown.
We must stay the course, regardless of opposition. After all, the only reason we face any is because what we’re doing is different, not wrong. In fact, those who ask questions are probably self-aware enough to realize that mindfulness techniques would also help them to live more fully. And we can share our experiences with them.
Once we begin to understand how to welcome rest into our lives and our thought processes transform and become more positive, sleep will come naturally. Instead of having our thoughts race the minute we are alone with them, they will be beautifully still. When our thoughts are still, we will realize that we have progressed along our journey and we are able to self-heal. We cannot reasonably expect this transformation to happen overnight, but we cannot become frustrated and deterred along the way—especially amid setbacks and nay-saying.
A completely stress-free life is likely not plausible. Sometimes we cannot stop stressfulness from affecting us, but we can control the way we react. When we begin to focus on controlling only ourselves and the way we respond to stress, peace will naturally follow.