The Seven Types of Rest

By Kayleigh S

The 7 Types of Rest
Pre-COVID, my idea of R&R was having a long bath (the kind where you get out an hour later all pruney) and getting a good eight hours sleep.  Now however, I do those things and find I'm STILL exhausted when I wake up in the morning. 
Here's something I've learned recently: sleep and rest aren't necessarily the same thing.  Or rather, sleep is only one kind of rest we actually need to feel restored and rejuvenated. 
We go through life thinking we’re rested because we've had enough sleep — but in reality we are missing out on the other types of rest we desperately need. The result is a culture of chronically tired and chronically burned-out individuals. We’re suffering from a rest deficit because we often don't make time for other types of rest, and certainly over the last year with the monotony of being at home and constantly plugged into Zoom, it's not surprising we've struggled to find other meaningful ways to give ourselves a break and we're now all just a bit exhausted.
“If you're waking up (after sleeping) and still exhausted, the issue probably isn’t sleep. It’s likely a rest deficit." - Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D.
According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, there are seven types of rest we need: physical, mental, spiritual, sensory, social, creative and emotional.   Getting the proper type of rest requires figuring out exactly what kind of rest you're lacking.
The seven types of rest you need: physical, mental, spiritual, creative, social, sensory and emotional

“For a lot of people, if you have a deficit in an area, you’re likely to experience specific symptoms,” Dalton-Smith says. “If your deficit is in mental rest, you might have trouble with concentration. If you have an emotional deficit, you may find you're snapping at your spouse and they haven’t done anything".

Once you’ve figured out the type of rest you need, it’s time to adapt your rest to fit that specific need.


1. Physical Rest

You’ll know if you’re physically exhausted: you’re struggling to keep your eyes open and even going upstairs to bed feels like climbing a mountain.

Physical rest can be active or passive. Active rest could mean taking deep breaths during the workday, or squeezing in a slow yoga class to give your body some time to stretch.  The most common form of passive physical rest is sleep, so consider heading to bed a little earlier or allowing yourself an extra half hour snoozing at the weekend. 


2. Mental Rest

Ever felt like your brain’s turned to mush?  Or you go to bed and your head feels like it's never going to stop whirring? Then you know what it’s like to need mental rest.

You may realise you’ve been staring at the same page of a book for 10 minutes, or just sent a barely-comprehensible email. 

The next time you need a mental break, turn off your screens and take a few moments to ground yourself - think about scheduling a 10minute break every two hours to step away from your desk and make yourself a cup of tea.  Keep a notebook by your bed to make a note of any nagging thoughts that are keeping you awake at night (once it's written down you don't have to try and remember it because it's written down!).  Practicing meditation can also really help to give yourself some brain space.


3. Spiritual Rest

Feel afloat, unanchored, alone? You’re likely in need of some spiritual rest. That could mean practicing your religion if you have one, but it could also mean seeking out a sense of purpose, something to ground you and provide a little context.   Volunteering however you can might help you find that spark, as could chatting with a friend about the current state of the world.  Again, meditation can really help here.


4. Social Rest

If you're an introvert like me, socialising can be exhausting, but balancing draining encounters with restorative ones with people who are supportive and positive can help bring balance.  

For you, social rest might mean catching up with an old friend who knows the way you think and feel without any lengthy explanation. Perhaps it’s just trying to block out some Zoom-free calendar space in your working day, or deciding you'd rather not go to the pub this evening and spend some time reconnecting with yourself.   Social rest is something to be particularly mindful of as everything starts to open back up - we've all spent months away from our friends and family, and are keen to see them again, but remember it's still fine to say you're having a night in if you feel you need some time on your own.


5. Emotional Rest

People pleasers - this one's for you!  If you're the friend or colleague who everyone depends on, the one they call when they need a favour because even if you don't have the headspace, they know you're more likely to give a reluctant "yes" than a truthful "no", which can leave you feeling un-seen and taken advantage of.   

Emotional rest also requires the courage to be authentic. An emotionally rested person can answer the question “How are you today?” with a truthful “I’m not okay” — and then go on to share some hard things that otherwise go unsaid.

That could mean scheduling regular therapy sessions or finding people with whom you can be 100% yourself.


6. Creative Rest

Chances are, you use your creativity more than you think. If you spend your workday problem solving and brainstorming new ideas, you’re tapping into creative thinking—and putting yourself in need of creative rest.

Give yourself a creative break by going on a walk to your local park or sitting in your back garden for half an hour.   Surrounding yourself with inspiration in a museum or art gallery can help replenish your drained resources too —and take the pressure to create off your mind.  Turn your workspace into a place of inspiration by displaying images of places you love and works of art that speak to you. You can’t spend 40 hours a week staring at blank or jumbled surroundings and expect to feel passionate about anything, much less come up with innovative ideas.


7. Sensory Rest

Endlessly staring a computer screens, or your phone can leave you feeling fried at the end of the day.

Catch up on sensory rest by putting aside the technology and stepping outside for fresh air if you're able to do so.  As a minimum consider looking away from your screen and out the window once an hour.  Check in with yourself before reaching for the remote on nights “off”—is staring at another screen really the rest you need?

Intentional moments of sensory deprivation can begin to undo the damage inflicted by the over-stimulating world.

 Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. 

To learn more about Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith and her work, visit her website or watch her TEDX talk here




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