Why Your Body Needs Rest for Optimal Health

Struggling to think straight? Wondering why you can’t remember that important tidbit you heard earlier today? Feeling like your emotions are about to explode?

These are just some of the symptoms that can reveal your need for rest—that simple yet incredibly effective way to strengthen and repair your body, have a clear mind, and balance your emotions.

But simple as it may be, getting enough rest can be something we so easily set aside.

One in three Americans don’t sleep enough—much less rest in other ways.

Our phones are always pinging, crises are demanding our attention, and responsibilities keep piling higher.

The result of our hurried culture is stress. Stress, in turn, affects sleep. And because people aren’t getting proper sleep, their bodies can’t cope with the stress.1 It becomes a vicious cycle.

You may relate to this cycle. Or you’re wondering about the importance of rest as an Adventist health principle. Either way, stay with us to look at:

How a lack of rest is hurting you

Our bodies cry out when we don’t get enough rest. Those cries can show up as exhaustion, sickness, weight gain, a foggy mind, or a depressed mood.

Let’s look at them in more detail:

Exhaustion

It’s more than just being tired. It’s the feeling that you can’t go on any longer. You feel drained without an ounce of energy left to give.

SicknessA woman blowing her nose because her immune system is weakened from lack of sleep

Though the body is amazing at adapting to stress and a lack of rest, it eventually begins to break, too.

Without enough rest, the body’s immune system doesn’t function well. This puts us at greater risk of catching colds and other sicknesses.2

We also set ourselves up for chronic diseases—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.3

Weight gain

You know that food you reach for late at night? Your favorite sour cream and onion chips. Or that pint (or half-gallon?) of Rocky Road ice cream.

There’s a reason you choose those foods late at night.

When people don’t get enough sleep, they tend to have less “dietary restraint” and eat more calories than they need. As a result, they have a greater chance of becoming overweight or obese.4

Foggy mind

The frontal lobe is the part of our brain responsible for analysis, decision-making, and other high-level thought processes. But not getting enough sleep decreases the activity in this area.5 This makes us less able to focus and remember things.6

 A cut-out model of the brainWhen especially tired, the brain begins to experience “microsleeps”—moments of sleep that cause a lapse in attention.7 This is often what happens when drivers fall asleep at the wheel.

Depressive mood

Stress rewires the brain, decreasing frontal lobe activity and ramping up the emotional centers of the brain.8 It’s not surprising then that sleep deprivation and lack of rest affect mood! One study reported that people who struggled with insomnia tended to also have more depressive symptoms.9

By this point, you’re probably ready to make rest a priority in your life. Let’s talk about the benefits you’ll experience.

How rest will benefit you

When we live restful lives, our bodies thank us physically, mentally, and spiritually. We have less illness, a greater ability to cope with stress, and better weight management. We also have clearer minds to focus, make better decisions, learn, and manage moods.

And when our bodies and minds are thriving, our spiritual lives feel the benefit, too. For this reason, Seventh-day Adventists include rest as one of its eight principles of health. Rest allows us to experience the whole-person health God intends for us.

Physical benefits

Going to sleep at regular times triggers the body to produce a hormone called melatonin in response to lower levels of light. This hormone regulates the circadian rhythm.10

Melatonin also:11

  • Helps repair the body
  • Slows aging
  • Boosts the body’s ability to fight disease
  • Prevents tumor growth
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Lowers the risk of heart rhythm problems

Safety is also a major benefit of rest. A rested person will stay awake and pay better attention, preventing driving accidents or other mistakes.

And did we mention that you’ll just feel more energetic? That’s a plus, in and of itself!

Mental benefits

Proper rest is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health. During the sleep cycle, the body goes through five stages with each cycle lasting about 90 minutes. The last of these stages is REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep.12 During REM, the brain processes and consolidates memories and makes connections in the brain.13

Thus, plenty of rest results in:

  • Repaired neurons (nerve cells)
  • Better memory
  • Greater learning ability
  • Better judgment14
  • Increased focus15
  • Better moods and emotional control16

Spiritual benefits

A man reading his Bible in natureHumans are holistic beings whose physical, mental, and spiritual facets are connected. This means that the health of the body and mind affects our connection with God.

By taking time to rest, we’re able to quiet our minds for spiritual practices, such as prayer, study of the Bible, and meditation on Scripture.

Another aspect of spiritual health is self-control and choosing between right and wrong.

Rest helps with that, too. Here’s how:

Sleep deprivation causes people to have greater emotional responses, decreasing self-control. But getting enough sleep increases discernment and the ability to manage ourselves.17

Now, it’s time to get practical. What kind of rest do we need? And how can we incorporate it into our already-crazy lives?

The three types of rest you need

Getting sufficient rest means being intentional about three different types (mentioned by Dr. Neil Nedley in his book, The Lost Art of Thinking):

  1. Daily rest
  2. Weekly rest
  3. Relaxation

Daily rest

An alarm clock to help with a consistent sleep scheduleDaily rest is the one we think of first: sleep. Our bodies need to go through four to five cycles of the stages of sleep. For adults, this amounts to about 7–9 hours of sleep per night.

Follow these steps to get restful sleep and better sleep quality: 

  1. Be consistent with your sleep schedule. Decide on your bedtime and count forward eight hours to determine your wake-up time. 
  2. Catch the hours before midnight. These hours of rest will ensure that you get plenty of deep sleep. 
  3. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol may have a relaxing effect, but it actually disrupts sleep quality. Caffeine is a stimulant that could hinder you from sleeping well too, especially if consumed within six hours of bedtime.
  4. Get daylight and exercise, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime or you may feel wound up.
  5. Avoid eating less than three hours before bedtime. Your stomach won’t be able to rest during the night if it’s also trying to digest food! 
  6. Turn off bright lights and blue light from screens, as they may affect melatonin production. 
  7. Unwind with a bedtime routine. This can include deep breathing techniques, herbal tea, prayer, stretching, or a warm shower.
  8. Make your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Bright lights and noise can disrupt sleep, while being too warm can prevent you from sleeping deeply.   
  9.  

Weekly rest

Another type of rest our bodies need is a 24-hour period every week to come apart from the daily humdrum. It’s a time to focus on what’s most important in life.

A woman resting in nature on SabbathThe body runs on a seven-day cycle, as shown by medical research. Certain conditions—like swelling after surgery and chances of organ transplants being rejected—are heightened on the 7th and 14th days.18

But where did this cycle come from?

It comes from Creation week. When God finished making the earth, He rested on the seventh day, known as the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2–3; Exodus 20:8–11). He gave this day for us to turn away from secular activity and draw closer to Him and others. It’s for our benefit (Mark 2:28).

Studies of Seventh-day Adventists, who believe in keeping the Sabbath, found that those who didn’t perform secular activities on that day experienced greater mental health.

And even the non-religious tout the value of having one day to disconnect from technology and the demands of society.19

Relaxation

Taking time to relax may seem counterproductive. But it’s not. Even when we take a break from work, the brain is unconsciously working and solving problems.

An article in Scientific American describes it like this:

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

 

A family strolling through a field to relaxHere are some relaxation ideas:

  • Unplug from technology for a planned amount of time. 
  • Take a short nap (10–20 minutes).
  • Spend time outdoors (e.g. exercising, strolling in nature, picnicking, or hiking).
  • Go out to lunch with a friend and have a quality conversation. 
  • Take a restful vacation (meaning don’t cram it too full of activities!).

The key is to find an activity that rejuvenates you.

Going to the source of true rest

If you’re finding yourself fatigued, burnt out, or struggling with other health challenges, rest may be the key to restoring you on every front—body, mind, and spirit.

So, take a look at the three different types of rest again. Which ones do you need to add into your life?

As you do so, your body will thank you. And you’ll be able to face each day with strength, clarity, and peace.

But above all, remember, God is the giver of true rest. Out of love, He gave us the Sabbath for weekly rest, but He also invites us each day:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NASB).

  1. Nedley, Neil, The Lost Art of Thinking (Nedley Publishing, Ardmore, OK, 2011), p. 260. []
  2. Ibid., p. 261. []
  3. “Sleep and Chronic Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 8, 2018. []
  4. Markwald et al., “Impact of Insufficient Sleep on Total Daily Energy Expenditure, Food Intake, and Weight Gain,” PNAS, vol. 110(14), 2013, pp. 5695–5700. []
  5. Nedley, pp. 258–259. []
  6. P. Alhola and P. Polo-Kantola, “Sleep Deprivation: Impact on Cognitive Performance,” Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat., vol. 3(5), 2007, pp. 553–567. []
  7. Krause et al., “The Sleep-Deprived Human Brain,” Nat Rev Neurosci, vol. 18(7), 2017, pp. 404–407. []\
  8. “Protect Your Brain from Stress,” Harvard Health Publishing, health.harvard.edu, Feb. 15, 2021. []
  9. Hayley et al., “The Relationships Between Insomnia, Sleep Apnoea and Depression,” Aust N Z J Psychiatry, vol. 49(2), 2015, pp. 156–70. []
  10. Nedley, p. 262. []
  11. Ibid., p. 262. []
  12. “Natural Patterns of Sleep,” Harvard Medical School. []
  13. Nedley, p. 258 []
  14. Ibid., p. 258 []
  15. A. Krause et al., “The Sleep-Deprived Human Brain,” Nat Rev Neurosci, vol. 18(7), 2017, pp. 404–407. []
  16. See reference 9. []
  17. Gujar et al., “Sleep Deprivation Amplifies Reactivity of Brain Reward Networks,” The Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 31(12), 2011, pp. 4466–4474. []
  18. Nedley, p. 264. []
  19. Miller, Emily, “The Science of Sabbath,” Religion News Service, Sept. 25, 2019. []

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