The best cure for the body is a quiet mind Napoleon BonaparteEverybody would accept that after a long run you need to sit down and rest your leg muscles. But when it comes to the brain – the hardest working muscle in the body – we never consider resting. Our poor brains are always ‘on’. Remembering, learning, sorting, controlling all processes of the body. Even during the night, our brain is sorting through experiences of the last waking period, sorting and filing problems and memories away. That is why we often have such weird dreams.
Lack of sleep
With all these activities, it is no wonder that on average the brain consumes around a fifth of our daily calorie intake.During sleep, the brain instructs the organs to get rid of toxins that have built up during the day. However, a lack of sleep means that some toxins will remain trapped in the organs and over time this can cause harm. If you suffer from sleep deprivation for a few days or even weeks, the body is able to compensate. But if you consistently deprive yourself of well-needed sleep it can come to health problems. Think of the brain as it was a big computer. Without rest, the brain gets clogged up and static, sometimes it is just time ‘to pull the plug’ and let the brain reset itself.Here is an article of what happens if the brain does not get enough sleepYour body clock is the deciding factor if you are a night owl or an early riser and how much sleep you need. In essence, it does not matter when you get up or go to sleep, as long as you keep to a steady rhythm. Everybody has their own personal sleep target. When you don’t get enough sleep your brain will find it harder to retain memory and handle information. In severe cases, the brain can even restrict the way the body functions. Over a long time this can lead to illness. Until not so long ago sleep torture was a common way to ‘break spies’ and enemies of the state.But in most cases, a slight sleep deprivation will lead to crankiness, irrational emotional responses (like misinterpreting social situations) and lack of concentration.
Is rest and sleep the same?
No, there is a difference – rest means being idle, but not asleep. If you had a bad night, small periods of resting can help to compensate for some sleep deficit, but effectively rest and sleep are like apples and pears- you can’t substitute one with the other.Sleep is vital to reset the body – like clean out toxins and build memory. Rest is also vital, but more complementary. Over time the right amount of rest can provide ample health benefits like helping with hypertension, relaxing muscle tension and increased creativity.
How did people rest in the past?
Only 100 years ago one of the most commonly prescribed ‘medicine’ was bed rest. We don’t hear of this prescription anymore, but sometimes this is exactly what the patient would need. But with every employee being squeezed for more and more productivity, the world has become faster and faster and often it would be unthinkable that an employee just rests for a few days. But the increasing amount of ‘sick day’ shows that people still need this rest.But why prescribe rest – that surely is what the holidays are for! But are we really resting in the few weeks of holiday or free time most of us have? And if you are free-lance – when do you rest then?I would argue not many people really rest these days, – at least not in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Usually, during our holidays we go on a foreign trip with lots of added stress, or a staycation with kids off from school and don’t forget what are you doing in your downtime, holiday or not. Self-checkout at the supermarket, self-service in the restaurant, booking your flight online and wasting hours doing so, etc. This does not count as rest! This is stress!In earlier centuries a successful person was somebody who had ample time to ponder about life, art, and philosophy. The poor had no such luxury as they had to work all day, often seven days per week. The only exception was Sunday prayer.These days the trend almost seems to have reversed. Being busy has become a badge of honor. Just look at modern-day celebrities. They attend every event going, have perfect children and a perfect house. And of course, have highflying careers on top of all that, not to mention the work for charity, teach/partake in a course/TV show, run a marathon and the list goes on and on.Social media promotes an ever-acute sense of permanently missing out. I am not anti-social media, it has its uses. But we must accept that we can’t be superhuman and have to make choices. Therefore we should put quality way above quantity. I know, easier said than done.
In 2016 the university of Durham, UK, did a survey about ‘resting’ – guess what the top 5 resting activities are – I list them here.
Reading (58 per cent)
Being in the natural environment (53.1 per cent)
Being on their own (52.1 per cent)
Listening to music (40.6 per cent)
Doing nothing in particular (40 per cent)
What all these resting activities show is that people crave occasionally solitude. We need to get away from the world around us. No interactions with others, no stress, no communication, not thinking about others’ problems, wants and needs – just being in and enjoying the moment, daydreaming and no care in the world. This is rest – without guilt!The good news is that ‘resting’ can be learned. There is no use of spending days in bed without any conscious benefits – that is not resting, this is lazying around. Resting only works when you are otherwise busy. The main objectives are to ease muscle tension and to lower your heart rate. Take a deep breath, exhale and think calming, pleasant thoughts and relax.
How do you successfully ‘rest’?
People who have mastered the art form of ‘resting’ can do this in ‘micro resting breaks’. Here is an example. You are driving through town, it is a stressful morning, everybody is in a rush, beeping horns, etc. At the next red traffic lights, relax your hands holding the steering wheel. Roll your shoulders back a few times and take a few really deep breaths and exhale long and hard. Make sure you pay attention to relax all the muscles in your body and release all angry thoughts from your brain.These are all little exercises, but over a day they can have a big impact – as they get rid of rising tensions as it happens. So there is never a big build-up and you will stay in a good mood (at least most days!)Whenever you have the chance to a 5minute ‘shut-down phase’ please take it! Sit still with your eyes closed and banish every thought. You can call it meditation, mindfulness or else. There are now many apps available to guide you. But you could just close your eyes and simply have a rest.Think Hercule Poirot before he solves another complex case – he rests and lets his mind unfold. With all these benefits I would not be surprised if employers finally see the light and offer resting booths for hard pushed employees – to offer small power windows to boost their health, happiness and ultimately their productivity with much less sick days!
25% of the population are early risers and 25% of the population are night owls, the rest lie somewhere in-between.
We are all different and we all have our unique body clocks. Some of us function better in the morning, others peak late at night. That in itself is no problem. It only becomes one if we are out of sync with what society tells us to do or if our partners have different sleep patterns which means waking each other up.
What happens during a normal day?
How does the body clock work?
The centre of our body clock lies deep inside our brains, in the hypothalamus to be precise. This is a small region located near the base of the brain and crucial for releasing hormones and regulating our body’s temperature. It is here that a release of hormones make us wake up and go to sleep. In controlled experiments, where contestants were kept in a darkened room with no fluctuation in temperature, the body would make up its own rhythmic clock which follows a roughly 24 hour day. But as we live in an environment that is regulated by day and night, our body clock resets each day to stay in sync with the path of the sun and the moon.
Our eyes filter the intensity of the surrounding sunlight and tell the brain if it is day or night. Bright blue light mimics daylight and orange/yellow candlelight sends us to sleep.
What happens on a daily basis?
A gene called ‘period’ is responsible for our waking and sleeping process. Inside the nucleus copies of this gene’s protein are made and transported to the outer cell. There they swivel around and we are awake. Later in the day a second protein is produced which has the sole function to bring the first protein back into the cell again. Once the concentration of the 2nd protein has reached a certain level it shuts down the copying process of the first protein. As a consequence, we start to feel tired and both proteins break fully down.
Then we go sleep and the next morning it happens all over again. As mentioned before this copying and breaking down process keeps roughly to a 24-hour rhythm.
But nobody is the same. It all depends on the individual’s efficiency of this copying and breaking down process. This means some people need more sleep than others. Also, the timing of these ‘protein clocks’ are not the same but vary from person to person.
When it comes to optimum concentration, reaction and physical peak times, we all act as individuals. It actually does not matter when your peak performance is, as long as you keep to a steady rhythm. The problem arises when you keep on shifting your circadian rhythm (as your inner body clock is better known).
Latest scientific tests have shown that shift workers who permanently change their sleep pattern have an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
Sometimes you can’t help these changes, for example when the clocks go forward or backward or you travel to another time-zone.
However, there are tips that you can employ to improve your health should you be forced to change your rhythm on an occasional basis.
Social jet lag:
This usually affects night owls. They go later to bed than the rest of the population, but due to work commitments, they have to rise much earlier than their body clock is ready for. It gets worse when their partner is a normal sleeper or even an early-riser, as both spouses will naturally disrupt each other’s sleep pattern.
If this happens to you, here are some solutions: 1) Separate bedrooms 2) Ear plugs and eye masks for each person, so that sleep is not interrupted by the other person’s sleep pattern. Additionally, each person should change to a job that suits their own personal rhythm. Like free-lance work or even evening work for night owls, early shifts for early-risers. 3) Change your sleep pattern. If you are a night owl, expose yourself to a lot of daylight during the morning and stay off tablets and phones (blue light) during the evening. If you still need to work on the computer or use your tablet/phone make sure you have a ‘night mode’ option switched on. If you are an early riser, seek more daylight during the afternoon and working on the computer in the evening won’t be a problem for you, in fact, it would keep you awake longer.
Here are some tips to combat jetlag. If you travel east expose yourself to more sunlight in the morning that will shift your body clock to the earlier timezone. Go west and do the opposite. If you only go on a short business trip try to stay as much as you can within your ‘own time zone’.
If you need to work shifts then try to opt for work that keeps to a similar pattern. If you work continually nights, then try to keep to that pattern and crucially do not change the habit when you are off work. If you come home and it is already daylight, wear special glasses that mimic evening light to block out the blue daylight and when you go to sleep wearing an eye mask that blocks out the blue daylight.
I hope that in the not too distant future employers will be made aware of how damaging varying shift patterns are for their workforce and once fully understood will change work arrangements to suit individuals rhythm. This would make for a more productive and happy workforce.