You Need More Than Sleep to Feel Rested

4 min read  |  March 08, 2021  | 
Disponible en Español |

You’re healthy, you’re getting enough Zzz’s, but somehow you feel unusually tired.

Morning wake-ups are a struggle, afternoons a slog. You even drag through dinner, eager to crawl back into bed, figuring a good night’s sleep will magically restore your pep.

If this describes your behavior, more sleep may not be the only medicine you need. The prescription may also call for rest and relaxation — a concerted effort to step back and do nothing.

What’s the difference between rest and sleep?

Rest and sleep are related but not synonymous, says Firdaus Dhabhar, Ph.D., expert in psychiatry, microbiology, and immunology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“Rest is different from sleep because you can be at rest, and get rest, without being asleep,” Dr. Dhabhar adds.

It’s easy to confuse the two, of course, because when we don’t get enough of either. The end result is the same: exhaustion.

In fact, restless sleep is often the culprit of our lethargy. “It is possible that you might sleep for a long or reasonable amount of time, but if your sleep is disturbed and if you don’t have sufficient periods of deep sleep and REM sleep, then you might not feel rested even though the quantity of sleep seems like it should have been enough,’” he says.

Let’s assume, however, that good, deep slumber hasn’t fixed your fatigue.

You’re chronically tired, maybe even burned out. Job pressures, family demands, and financial worries weigh heavily, disturbing your every waking moment. Throw in the societal expectations of being plugged in 24/7 and it turns into the perfect recipe for bone-deep weariness.

Dr. Dhabhar recommends tuning out and shutting off. In short, trying for “a state where one is largely free of stress and strenuous mental or physical activity.”

This, however, may be easier said than done. Also, COVID-19 has made true rest and good sleep that much more difficult. As Dr. Dhabhar acknowledges, “Unfortunately, the pandemic has increased the levels of “bad” stress for many, if not most of us.”

The weary and the exhausted shouldn’t despair, however.

Dr. Dhabhar has several suggestions:

  • Start by thinking of rest as essential. “A good amount of rest is critical for health and healing,” he says.
  • Don’t worry about not having a particular hour or a set number of minutes to unwind and tune out. You can always start slow and build up. “How much time depends on what you need and what the demands on your life will allow. However, even if you don’t have the “ideal” amount of time, it is likely to be helpful if you can take some time off to just let yourself BE in a stress-free state.”
  • Give your mind and body time off from strenuous activity. “Physical activity and exercise have many benefits, but these active states are different from being at rest,” he adds. In other words, your morning mile may release wonderful endorphins, but it won’t necessarily offset your rest deficit.
  • Relax while reading a pleasant book or article. Watch a nature documentary. Complicated and/or controversial are out of bounds during rest time.
  • Tune into your environment. “Sitting by the ocean and watching the waves, feeling the breeze, taking in the mountains, or the birds, bees, and trees, and even admiring the people-made beauty of an urban setting in a stress-free state is another way to get rest,” Dr. Dhabhar says.
  • Hang out with a close friend or family member, but make sure that it’s in “a non-judgmental, non-critical, non-competitive, loving, caring, stress-free manner.”
  • Slow down, listen to music you like, take regular breaks from your desk, and turn off the electronics at the end of the workday.
  • Take a nap. Sleep is always restorative.

Ana Veciana-Suarez, Guest Columnist

Ana Veciana author

Ana is a regular contributor to the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author who has worked at The Miami Herald, The Miami News, and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.

Tags: bienestar mental, descanso, Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar, Sueño

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