I’ve been finished my teaching for the winter term for about a month now. Finals are over and marked; my campus office (which is moving this summer back across the lawn to my faculty’s newly – and beautifully – restored heritage building) is packed up. The book I was writing all autumn and winter is done, dusted, and in production.
So why am I still so tired all the time?
(Peppermint Pattie, head on desk and looking glum, says: SO TIRED.)
I’m not one to give myself a break – I’m a high-functioning type-A kind of woman, and I am as productive and successful as I am professionally because of this.
But life isn’t work. And I am also 43 years old. I can’t pull all-nighters anymore. And TBH most evenings I am ready for bed by 10:30 (no more clubbing for me).
Now, sleep I get quite a lot of – and we are a blog that supports good, effective sleep habits as part of our human wellness. (Sam has written before about being a champion sleeper. I envy her ability to conk out on airplanes!)
But REST is more than only sleep. And for me rest is another matter.
I was at my friend Nat’s house for supper two weeks ago and we talked about parenting and sleep deprivation. Nat’s kids are still quite young and the 3am wake-ups are still happening. She feels insanely sleep-deprived right now, as does her partner.
We all talked about the idea that, if it’s a matter of choosing between exercise and sleeping, the sleep-deprived should hit snooze rather than clamber out of bed early to run 5 miles. (Read more here about the interrelationship of sleep and exercise.)
Similarly, I once had a cycling coach who reminded me that resting is as important as training – resting is a key part of training, in fact. And resting means resting: it doesn’t mean digging up the garden, staining the deck, cleaning all the windows upstairs, or even walking the dog for two hours in the forest.
(Emma the Dog [a black and tan collie-shepherd-lab mix] on a path in Cootes Paradise, Hamilton, Ontario, surrounded by spring greenery and pink-flowering eastern redbud trees. She says: “Whaddaya mean rest doesn’t include walkies??”)
Rest actually means sitting or lying comfortably and allowing your body to replenish itself. It means sleeping if sleep is what is required. It means eating good, healthy food in good proportions, and/or eating specific foods required for your body’s replenishment before another day of training hard. These might include proteins, or carbs, or a variety of things.
Ice cream or cake too, if you’re looking for a cheery treat! I always go for the milkshake, personally.
I have realized over the last month of being on my summer schedule (which is not a vacation, at least not yet – summer is when academics write books and present research at conferences and travel to complete field research, as well as plan autumn classes) that I’m not resting enough. I’m exhausted all the time because my brain convinces me that I need always to be working – if not tapping on my computer then digging up the garden or cleaning the windows or walking the dog. I also train a lot – riding and rowing 2-3 times a week each, with one rest day somewhere in there – and the impetus to get in the boat, or on the bike for at least 90 minutes at a shot (and usually more like 3 hours at a shot) also often feels like “work” pressure for me.
So no wonder I’m tired. I’m running on empty a lot of the time!
I woke up yesterday morning realizing that, in fact, the world would not end if I did practically nothing that day. My boyfriend was visiting; we could spend the day together being pretty chill (including lying in bed far longer than usual) and hanging out and the sky would not explode. In fact: our rest would be blissfully productive for our well-being.
But when I looked at the clock and realized it was 10am I also felt a surge of guilt.
And here’s the rub. Yes, I need to recalibrate my relationship to rest, but it’s not just a matter of me making a series of individual choices – this isn’t all about me and it is not all about my free will.
It’s also related to the way our culture moralizes movement and rest – in the same way it moralizes food, something we talk about on the blog a lot. (See here, for example, about food being beyond “good” and “evil”.)
In the so-called “West” or “Global North” many of us live in cultures that believe rising late is “lazy,” while getting up early to head off to toil at our jobs is a virtue. But why?
Research suggests this belief is not supportable: teenagers, for example, actually need up to 10 hours of sleep per night, and their shifting body rhythms are at odds with the wake-up-early-rush-to-school pace our cultures usually enforce. No wonder they are all yawning in 8:30am Bio! (See here for more on teenage sleep needs.)
My own body clock, I’ve discovered thanks to the flexibility of my job, works like this: I want to go to bed between 10 and 11:30pm (it can vary depending on when I had my last cup of coffee in the day), and I want to wake up around 9am. 8:30am is also fine. But if my alarm is set for, say, 7am, I’m usually woken in the middle of a dream (REM sleep), and I’m instantly fuzzy. The day doesn’t improve from there.
I like to sleep late. I really do. This used to drive my mother CRAZY; it seemed, well, “bad” and “lazy”.
And yet: I’m still a high-functioning professional. I was an A student. And I’m a good cyclist. And a good friend and partner and daughter and doggie guardian… and human being.
So let’s all try, together, to work on our relationship to the concept of rest. Even if you feel rested – especially if you do! – ask yourself how and why. If you don’t, or if those you love don’t, ask why. Think about the outside pressures that bear on your rest – including but not limited to your sleep patterns – and think about what among those are changeable. Can you advocate for flex time at work? A later start time or an earlier finish time, as needed? Can you advocate at your kids’ school for more flex around teenage sleep patterns – maybe with classes starting later, or more spares in the first block of the day?
Above all, on your own rest days, remember to put your feet up, grab a book or the Netflix, and don’t forget the milkshake. Not because you “deserve it” – but because you are simply human.
(A photo with two milkshakes in the foreground. On the left is a brown/chocolate one, with whipped cream and a cherry on top. On the right is a mint-coloured one with whipped cream and a mint leaf on top. In soft focus behind them and staggered to one side are two stainless steel mixing containers. I’d like the chocolate one, please!)
7 thoughts on “In praise of resting”
I love this post. I too struggle with proper rest because I tend to over schedule myself. I don’t really experience the guilt anymore though, since I read Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit as an undergrad. He is big on the idea of “guilt free play” and taking a full day off a week (and not having it be full of chores and errands!). I really appreciated that idea and more or less incorporated it into my life from my early twenties on. But I haven’t solved the over-scheduling and over-committing issue completely, and often feel overwhelmed by my workload. So the reminder about rest that isn’t sleep is welcome. I had a day on the long weekend Monday with no work and no commitments, and it felt amazing but also totally unfamiliar.
Thanks for the tip, Tracy! So helpful. Let’s build a genuine rest space in the new UC, yes?
Nicely written and timed! You might be entertained by the Twitter and IG accounts RestDayBrags and the associated hashtags. Started by two female athletes supposedly fighting the go-go-go mentality (and athletes who don’t take breaks). It’s become (IMHO) a bit competitive in its own domain, which is funny, but the intention was nice.
Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I feel like I need reminders to rest *often*. It’s so difficult to take real rest days. In any case, I totally relate and I really appreciated your post.
I’m with you, Lauren! It’s a conscious process to remember to rest. Which says a lot about where we are as a culture. Thanks for responding!
You have described exactly how I have been feeling since … I am trying to pinpoint when I last felt rested. I think it was over the Christmas holidays when I made a conscious decision to NOT WORK at all for a week and just enjoy the kids, the snow, skating, skiing etc. It is almost the end of May and I keep saying I need a week off and then each week disappears. I say: “Just finish this and THEN you can rest”, but it never happens. (And I am the worst offender for taking a “rest day” to do the garden etc.) I was actually thinking of writing something on this topic before I caw your post, but you’ve covered it! Thanks for putting into words what so many of us experience. Instead, I am going to talk about my 1/2 marathon, for which I tried to rest the week before, though not entirely successfully 🙂
Excited to hear about the 1/2 marathon!
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