Sleep vs. Rest

Sleep vs rest – what’s the difference?

While “sleep” and “rest” are related terms, they don’t mean the same thing. However, both are important to health and wellbeing.

Humans spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping and it’s a biological function that’s critical to us functioning well and staying healthy. Sleep loss over time can cause health issues, as well as related problems. For example, lack of sleep could see you falling asleep while driving a vehicle, which could put your lives and the lives of others at risk. Sleep deprivation is dangerous.

Sleep directly impacts most of our bodies systems, from our skin to our immune systems. Rest, while related, is a much wider term. You can rest without being asleep. Rest is behaviour aimed at increasing physical and mental well-being. While being asleep is a restful state, most resting doesn’t involve the same level of disengagement as sleep.

We need rest to help us to recover from physical and mental effort. Rest can be active or passive.

Active rest could include things like:

  • Relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation
  • Gentle exercise (which can be more helpful to your body than doing nothing at all. For example, taking a walk instead of sitting at your desk is a form of rest)

Passive rest could be things like:

  • Napping
  • Lying down
  • Sitting somewhere peaceful, like a garden

Benefits of sleep

Insufficient sleep causes fatigue, irritability and an inability for our brains to recharge effectively. Brain health depends on quality sleep to remove toxins, regulate memory and enjoy optimal nerve cell communication (which you need to be able to focus and to react to things).

We also need good sleep (specifically, rapid eye movement – REM – sleep) to help us regulate our emotions, which is why you may find yourself feeling grumpy or more easily upset when you haven’t slept well.

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