Different Types of Rest and Why They Matter

Contrary to popular belief, you cannot, in fact, sleep when you’re dead. The truth is that without good sleep, your life will be considerably shorter, since research shows that sleep deprivation can shorten your lifespan. So all that work and fun you’re trying to cram in by cutting sleep? It’ll still be there after a good night’s rest… promise. Without rest, you can’t enjoy much anyway. The toll it takes on your mental health to go without rest is all too real.

From burnout to mood changes to higher blood pressure and the risk of impulsive behavior such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, a lack of rest can have a serious impact on us. Sleep is crucial to our well-being, but there are seven different types of rest we need to stay in good health. If that sounds like seven new things to add to your already too-long to-do list, take a deep breath. We’ll give you some ideas for how to start incorporating all kinds of rest into your busy schedule.

The 7 Types of Rest

There are so many ways in which you can become tired or burned out, so it makes sense that there are multiple ways you can rest and recover! Think about it: if you took a final exam, would you choose to rest afterward by starting on your summer reading list? Or would you prefer to head home, put on some comfy clothes, and catch up on the shows you missed while you were studying? The kind of rest you need, depends on the kind of tired you are, and sleep isn’t always necessarily the most effective form of rest.  Check out the seven kinds of rest below—do you already engage in some of these? Did you even know you were resting?

1. Physical Rest

Your body does a lot. From the muscles that keep you upright to the nervous system that keeps all your vital organs functional without you even thinking about it, you are physically always on the go. That’s why your sleep schedule and the quality of your sleep are so important. Without it, your brain can’t repair itself each night to keep things running smoothly tomorrow. But sleep isn’t the only way to take care of a tired body.

Exercise can be the answer when your body is tired of sitting at a desk all day or being on your feet for a work shift. Your muscles get achy after being used repetitively, and stretching can be an important way to help them rest and recover properly. A healthy snack, massage, a warm bath, plenty of fluids, etc. Anything that gives your body the nourishment and care it needs to function properly is facilitating physical rest.

Try this: pretending you have the flu. What does someone with the flu need? Vitamins, fruit, tea, soup, gentle walks, steam, deep breathing, pajamas, bed and a book or a good movie before going to sleep early. Have a “flu night” this week and give your body some rest.

2. Mental Rest

Why is rest important for mental health? No battery can last forever. Are you as good at math in the afternoons as you are in the mornings? If so, you’re amazing, but if you find yourself daydreaming more in your afternoon classes or after a particularly tough week, that may be because you’re mentally fatigued. Focusing on tasks and doing them well requires a lot of mental energy, and that energy has to be replenished with mental rest.

Mental rest can look like changing up the activity you’re focused on or it can look like taking a total mental break. Unburdening your mind by emptying all of your thoughts into a to-do list or a journal can be a huge act of rest… try giving yourself “time off” from managing everything by letting a page in your notebook hold onto all your thoughts for a few minutes or even a few days. Meeting regularly with a licensed therapist can also be a great way to keep your mind clear and help you stay aware of how your mental health is doing.

Try this: researching something fun that’s not required. If you’ve been studying for hours or just got home from a tough work shift, give yourself permission to fall all the way down into a rabbit hole looking into that thing that popped into your head randomly this morning. Sometimes the mind just needs to switch gears to feel reinvigorated. Where does the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” come from, anyway?

3. Social Rest

If you’re an introvert, you’re already sold on the idea of social rest. But calling all extroverts… you need it too. We each use up a unique combination of our faculties when we socialize vs. when we’re alone. If you’re the type of person who feels rested and energized after spending time with family and friends, make sure you take some time for yourself now and then. If you prefer your own company, you need to prioritize spending time with others routinely. It’s all about balance with this kind of rest.

Try this: ask a friend to coffee with a book. This is low pressure for both the introverts and the extroverts. You can sip your drink, chat with your friend on and off, and read your books together. Hopefully, being together as you both rest and enjoy the time will be restorative.

4. Spiritual Rest

What is spiritual rest? The answer to that lies in another question: What is spiritual burnout? We are created to crave a sense of community, belonging, passion, and purpose. When you aren’t feeling those things, or when you’ve been pouring those things into the lives of others without refilling your own cup, you might need to replenish your store of spiritual energy.

Try this: nature and music. If you’re feeling spiritually depleted, hopeless, or nothing seems “good,” it’s time to surround yourself with something you think is beautiful. Go on a hike to a beautiful view and blast your favorite music while you do. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting."

5. Sensory Rest

The five senses are constantly at work helping us navigate the world. It makes perfect sense that they would need a break now and again. Think about how amazing it feels to step into a warm room after being outside in the cold. How about the feeling of putting on sunglasses when the sun is shining in your eyes? How delicious does your favorite food taste when you haven’t had it in a while? But what about the feeling that you can’t breathe when the concert you’ve been enjoying goes on for just a bit too long? The feeling that your clothes are too tight when you’re overheated? The way a smell can remind you of a bad memory and ruin your day? Pay attention to where you might be feeling sensory overload or exhaustion and look for ways to rest that are specific to your needs.

Try this: ice, earplugs, baths, and candles. When your senses are exhausted, give them a reset by changing things up. Shock your system with a super cold drink, put in earplugs or wear noise-canceling headphones to reduce the amount of auditory input you’re getting, take a bath and focus on how it feels for your body to be submerged under the water, and light candles so you can turn out all the artificial lights (including screens *ahem*) and give your eyes a break for the evening.

6. Emotional Rest

Life is a rollercoaster. In the span of two minutes, we can get a cute “good morning” text from our crush, take a bite of burned toast, choke on our coffee, trip on an uneven sidewalk, spill everything we’re carrying, and then get an email that we got the scholarship or made the team. That’s a lot of feelings to feel. The best way to know if you’re in need of emotional rest is to take notice of emotional changes. Have you stopped enjoying something you used to? Have you been short-tempered or crying more easily than usual? As with mental health, it’s a good idea to meet regularly with a licensed therapist who can help you learn how to manage your emotional health, including ways you can find emotional rest.

Try this: a day of favorites. Wear your favorite clothes, talk to your favorite people (and pets!), eat your favorite foods, and go to your favorite places. Treating yourself to things you enjoy makes you feel good! That’s a much needed act of rest in the midst of a life that often has our emotions working overtime.

7. Creative Rest

Creative burnout is a tough hole to dig yourself out of, so stay on top of creative rest and avoid that in the first place. Especially if you’re in a creative industry, it’s important to stay connected to why you started creating art in the first place. If you’ve only been practicing the music for an upcoming show or concert, take a break and play something easy or something you just love… let yourself enjoy that creative time without the pressure of performance.

Creative rest can also help with mental, spiritual, and emotional health in many cases. When you’re feeling low, sign up for a pottery painting class. When you’re struggling with a homework assignment, take a break and bake something you haven’t made before. If you’re looking for hope, rearrange all the books on your shelf by color, and allow yourself to enjoy the simple pleasure of how cool it looks. Creating something helps you feel capable, proud, and at ease when you allow yourself the time to do it in a restful way.

Try this: making special playlists for very specific situations. You know that weird feeling you’re forgetting something important? Make a playlist for it. That awkward 45-minute break you have between school and work? Make a playlist for it. Those mornings when you’re running too late to stop for your iced latte? Make a playlist.

Rest can look different for you than it looks for anyone else, and it’s important to note that one activity may serve as multiple kinds of rest for you! If you enjoy taking bubble baths in candlelight while listening to music, that could be fulfilling the categories of mental rest, social rest, physical rest, sensory rest, and emotional rest all at once. On the other hand, maybe it takes a lot of mental effort for you to take a shower, so choosing that activity of physical rest for yourself may mean you have to spend a bit of time on mental rest afterward. It’s a careful balance that you can play with as you learn your unique self-care needs. Think about how you can build more types of rest into your life, starting today.

How Can Your Faith Help You Rest?

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

—Genesis 2:2

One of the very first things God does in the Bible is rest, and later He commands us to do the same in honor of His seventh day of rest. It’s called “Sabbath,” and though some denominations still observe it, it may not be a big part of your personal religious practice. Traditionally, the Sabbath started as an entire day, during which the Israelites were commanded to do no work, even to the point that they were supposed to make all their food the day before—#mealprep, anyone? It may not be feasible these days to build a whole day of rest into your weekly schedule, but what about one per month? What about a restful morning, afternoon, or evening each week? Even an hour of “sabbath” could be a useful way to use your faith to build more rest into your life.

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.

—Matthew 8:24

Jesus knew His body needed sleep, even and especially in times of crisis. The story goes that Jesus’ disciples woke Him up from this nap, and He calmed the storm with his words. Can you imagine being calm on a fishing boat being rocked by a storm? It’s a lot easier to do when you’re well-rested…

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

—Matthew 11:28

If life is starting to feel overwhelming, and you don’t even know how to start resting, lean into your faith and ask Jesus for help. Pray. Ask Him to give you rest, whether that means helping you fall asleep in the face of insomnia or helping you find the right doctor or therapist to treat a sleep disorder or build healthy coping skills.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

—Mark 6:31

Jesus is mostly surrounded by people who need things from Him in the stories we read in the Bible, but He’s also very intentional about taking time alone and encouraging others to do the same. Try to be mindful of when it’s time for you to step away and have some quiet time to yourself. FOMO is real, but be wary of keeping yourself so busy that you get burned out.

If you want to chat more about how your faith can help you rest, or need help finding resources and mental health help, please chat with one of our Hope Coaches today. We’re here to listen without judgment and will do all we can to meet you where you are.

For more on self-care, watch this video: "What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important?".

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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