This article first appeared on Happify
If you’ve raised kids, you’re likely well acquainted with that burst of energy that they seem to have first thing in the morning. I would often wake up to the sound of my babies cooing and gurgling in their cots, or my toddlers waiting to be let loose from their cribs. They had slept well and were ready for the day.
But when is the last time you felt so restored after a night’s sleep? As we grow older, we lose touch with our natural sleep cycles. The stresses and constant distractions of the world, not to mention the interpretation of events by our own minds, can mean that we never wind down enough to fully experience that beneficial, restful sleep.
Millions of us struggle with the very common issue to waking up as though we never really went to bed. And then we zombie around during the day feeling tired, in pain, ready to snap, or unable to be present with our lives.
For a long time now, I’ve certainly been one of those millions. In my efforts to put an end to the agonizing loop of feeling too tired to fall asleep, I came across the work of Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., a physician, researcher, and author of the book Sacred Rest. Her way of reframing what respite truly means made all the difference to me. Sleep, she says, is but one of many forms of rest. To experience restorative sleep, we need to pay attention to all the other forms during the day.
If you relate to any of this, here are four “buckets” of rest you may want to consider. Within each, you may stop activity—sleep, for example, is cessation of activity in the bucket of physical rest. Or, you may initiate activity; doing something creative, in the spiritual bucket, can feel restful if your intention is to let your creative energies flow.
Physical rest isn’t limited to napping and sleeping. It also includes turning the volume down on sensory input, especially nowadays when we’re bombarded with incessant external stimuli. During the pandemic, this bombardment likely worsened as we became glued to our devices to keep on top of the news. To access this form of rest, intentionally disconnect every few hours. Close your eyes, put on soothing sounds, and give your senses a break.
This is one I personally struggle with a lot, the inability to switch off my mind. I’ve learned that taking short breaks of mindful silence, or creating lists that I dump all my thoughts and tasks onto regularly during the day helps me unwind for a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, I do this at night, as well, if I’m unable to drift off. It reassures me that I won’t forget my ideas come morning.
This is the kind of rest we need to get in touch with our feelings. Otherwise, they bother us all day, and certainly become loud at night, transforming into catastrophic scenarios that make it impossible to get the Zzzs we need. Body scan meditations are really helpful, where you shine the light of your awareness on different parts of your body to undo tension, and to understand what your emotions may be asking of you.
The sources of spiritual rest vary depending on our beliefs and what we find uplifting. For some of us, it comes from religion and prayer. For others, it comes from song, dance, walking in nature, or pursuing a passion. It can certainly come from community, or from making a difference in someone else’s life. In essence, it’s anything that makes us feel part of something larger than ourselves.
I can’t guarantee that any of these strategies will give you a quick fix. But what I can say from my personal experience nurturing all four types of rest is that not only is my sleep far more restful, but I also feel transformed as a person. I’m far more present with the people I love and lead. My focus and creativity has never been better. And I feel a sense of belonging with the world that makes me deeply grateful to be alive.