The Power of Rest and Why It Can Help Employees

June 23, 2010
Sleep, rest, and body clock expert Dr. Matthew Edlund has identified an ongoing health crisis. After years of clinical research and consultations with hundreds of patients, he discovered that many people aren’t just sleep-deprived, they’re rest-deprived.

According to Edlund, this means our hearts, minds and central nervous systems are overloaded; our health is suffering; and we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be truly refreshed. Edlund says too many people accept sluggishness and fatigue as the inevitable side effects of hectic lives, and believe that there isn’t much they can do about it besides squeezing in another hour or two of sleep. Getting enough sleep is important, he says, but it’s only one part of a much larger spectrum of rest.

The benefits of making time for rest have proven extraordinary, Edlund adds; when people engage the body’s power to restore and renew itself, they look younger, heal faster, lose weight more effectively and experience greater joy in their work and their relationships. Edlund has isolated the unique benefits of four crucial types of active rest:

· Physical Rest: Sleep is one form of passive physical rest, but engaging in active forms of physical rest is also crucial. Edlund has a 30-day plan that provides a range of techniques for active physical rest, including breathing exercises, timed naps, baths and yoga poses.

· Mental Rest: While we need to rest the body, it’s equally important to learn to focus and concentrate the mind. Mental rest involves reconfiguring one’s mind to quickly and easily obtain a sense of relaxed control, and Edlund says that certain mental exercises –including self-hypnosis, relaxation, and visualization – can help maximize this process.

· Social Rest: Humans are hardwired to be extremely social; social connectedness is built into the structure of our brains. Studies show that people with strong social connections live longer, cope with stress better and are healthier.

· Spiritual Rest: Certain spiritual practices can provide a profound sense of rest, inner peace, connection and self-healing, says Edlund, and scientific studies have demonstrated that meditation actually can change the structure of the brain over time.

We wouldn’t expect our bodies to function without food, and, Edlund argues, we shouldn’t expect to feel fully fueled and alert without rest. He offers this hour-by-hour plan to combat workday exhaustion and become more productive on the job:

8:45 a.m. – Right before you arrive at work, put a happy, fast-paced song on your headphones and walk in time to the music, feeling the beat throughout your body. This can boost your energy and improve your outlook within 1 minute.

9 a.m. – When you get to your desk, take 30 seconds and breathe deeply. Breathe in to the count of four, out to the count of eight – really open up your lungs. Now, think of your first priority of the day – the task you really need to get done. Figure out a time and place in your schedule to get that one thing accomplished.

10:30 a.m. – Take your first break. Get up and move around. If possible, stop by to visit a coworker for a brief chat – short social connections help us switch gears and are a powerful rest technique. When you get back to your desk, consider your to-do list and visualize yourself accomplishing the two most important tasks on that list

Noon – Walk with a co-worker to lunch. The physical activity and exposure to sunlight will help keep your energy up, while the social interaction helps relieve stress.

1 p.m. – For most people, the early afternoon is a period of low energy. If you are feeling a bit sluggish, stand up and practice mountain pose: Align your ankle, knee, hip and shoulders along the same imaginary line, breathing in deeply and slowly.

2 p.m. – If possible, take a short nap of 15 minutes or less. Studies prove that short naps improve work performance – however, if your employer doesn’t approve, you can try a brisk walk outdoors in sunlight to help wake you up.

3:15 p.m. – Take a coffee or tea break (drink decaf if you have trouble sleeping at night). Again, try to engage with your coworkers. Not only is the social connection important, it also is better for overall productivity if colleagues have a chance to casually check in with each other and discuss any issues or challenges they might be facing in their work

5 p.m. – Before you leave the office, practice deep breathing for 15 seconds and then think of your first work priority. Did you accomplish it? If not, plan how you might get it done tomorrow. Take stock of your day and think about what you learned, perhaps a new technique from a colleague or a better way to interact with your boss. Congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished.

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