Busy day today, so I’m reaching back to a favorite recent Science Wednesday post on the true power of restorative rest. Enjoy…and then get out there and get your workout on, and after that, your restorative rest.
Science Wednesday: That brilliant New York Times article on the power of restorative rest.
[Originally published on August 13, 2014]
Hi there. This is your fearless Every48 captain, sheepishly admitting that she has not always gotten enough rest. And sometimes – once in a great while – her body has let her know the score.
Take this past Monday, for example. I was sitting there innocently enough on my spin bike, kicking butt (I thought), but feeling strangely tired. And then I was overcome by fatigue all of a sudden, of the “hey, you don’t have to kick butt in every workout” sort. I just sensed that Monday wasn’t the day to push it hard. So I eased up – a LOT – and finished the class going at about 50% capacity instead of the 95% I’m used to giving in there.
And you know what? It was okay, because it was a good reminder that we need rest.
Someone said recently that if human beings didn’t need to sleep, we would have evolved not to need it a very long time ago – because, well, if we’re sleeping, how are we going to not get caught by all those cheetahs on the savannah? Sleep must be essential – and indeed, it is.
(This is one of the many reasons I decided against going to school for an M.D., by the way. I’m still blown away that medical students are routinely expected to put in such long hours that their cognitive abilities get compromised. Why does traditional American medical education make its practitioners sick?)
Anyway, I digress. There was an excellent article in Sunday’s New York Times about the value of rest and renewal. In Hit the Reset Button in your Brain, author Daniel J. Levitin talks about the importance of renewal in all of its aspects: taking real vacations, limiting the amount of time we spend surfing the Internet aimlessly, and getting real rest. The payoff? Way, way better decision making.
Levitin, by the way, officially has one of the coolest job titles I’ve ever seen: “Director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise” at McGill University. He’s also written several books. His latest is “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.” (Order it via the links below to support Every48 through the Amazon Affiliates program.)
Here are just a few of my favorite quotes from this quite brilliant piece:
[T]he daydreaming mode…marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable. You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly – boom – the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears. This is the mind-wandering mode, making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected.
And more on creativity:
Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment. Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.
And on the oh-so-important concept of sleep:
Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better. In several studies, a nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigor, and decreased sleepiness and fatigue. If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations – true vacations without work – and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems. And to be happier and well rested while we’re doing it.
So, this blog entry is turning out to be a love letter to the idea of restoration. I can’t get over just how important it is for us to honor how we are actually biologically wired, instead of trying to upend nature and attempt to do things we’re not meant to be doing (like all-nighters and full days of work without restorative breaks). Rest is so, so important. And so are walks, and music…like the walk I’m about to take after finishing this blog entry, happily snapping my fingers to Coldplay.
Life is good. Remember to rest, so that you can take it all in.