Why You Still Probably Need More Rest (and 23 Ways to Get It)

Why You Still Probably Need More Rest FinalWe’re entering the lazy days of summer here, but I wonder how many people feel an increase in stress and obligations. Every year I feel like the leisure time of summer erodes at a more rapid pace. Whatever happened to summer as a time for R&R (especially for kids)? Of all our personal limited resources, I often wonder why rest gets such short shrift. Although our hunter-gatherer ancestors worked only about 12-20 hours a week, leaving virtually the whole day to rest, socialize and play, such is not the case for most of us today. We’re supposed to be busy (even on vacation). To sit in quiet or risk boredom isn’t the way of the world these days. So I’m going to venture that too many of us have forgotten what being rested actually feels like. In light of that, I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions to remedy the situation.

First, I see three primary factors at work that contribute to the chronic lack of rest we see today.

For some folks, there’s the Puritanical “no rest for the wicked” mentality that encourages compulsive business. I’ve known a lot of people in this category throughout my life. None of them were happy—or rested.

On the other hand, there’s the rise in “pseudo” restful activities. Let’s get honest here. What have you been substituting for real rest? I’m talking about those largely mindless activities that suck up every spare minute of your time. For instance, how much time do you spend on your phone? Your laptop? Watching T.V.? (Let’s face it, screens are our easiest diversion.) Living well and restfully isn’t about outlawing screen time, but getting a realistic handle on how much of our lives we give to them.

Finally, there are those who are chronically busy not really by their own choosing. Parents of very young children likely know what I’m talking about here. I knew a single dad who was sick as a dog and decided to grant himself the opportunity to rest in his bedroom for an hour while letting his three young sons enjoy a Disney movie. He came back to find one or more of them had taken a marker to the TV and a couple laptop screens. Still, even here we should feel moved to make changes that offer us even just small windows of rest. Parenthood and life are marathons, not sprints. It’s imperative to find a way to get what we truly need.

“But, seriously,” you might say. “Why does it matter anyway? If I get enough good sleep at night, why should I even need rest?” The truth is, lack of rest sabotages the best of our Primal efforts. When we shortchange rest, we risk not allowing ourselves optimal recovery from intensive exercise. Even with adequate sleep, compounded stress throughout the day and week is enough to throw off our hormonal systems, which can lead to cravings for more food than we need (or non-Primal choices). We risk the ravages of increased oxidation and the propensity for high cortisol levels, which can potentially stall our transition to (or consistent maintenance of) fat burning.

The long and short of it is that everybody needs ample rest. I’m going to call bull on the hyped up claim from some people who like to boast about their ability to go with little sleep and no breaks. These people may claim they’re the pinnacle of human productivity, but would you really ever want to be one of them?

I’m in this game of life not for breakneck speed and all-or-nothing “success” as some people define it. I want the good life, the Grok life as much as I can emulate that in the context of today’s obligations and benefits. I want a sane life and a healthy existence. I want balance, and that means rest.

I’ve always said doing the Primal Blueprint is one part understanding and following the principles and one part adapting them for your individual needs and preferences. Do you know how much rest is ideal for you? When was the last time you were in tune with that?

Not everybody feels relaxed by quite the same things after all, and I think this is exactly the kind of question where personal idiosyncrasies make or break an intention, let alone outcome. The fact is, self-attunement comes with time and practice, but it will always be the most effective means for choosing and dedicating yourself to the best rest possible.

In that spirit, I’d suggest making a simple list (because I’ve met very few people who already have one) of ways you can rest—your preferred times, places, and conditions for rest. If activities or people are part of this picture for you, include them. Make the list as long as you can. You’re not settling on a favorite here; you’re visualizing options—a plethora of choices you can work with on any given day to incorporate the most (and most meaningful) rest into your schedule.

You can also consult these choices to see what feels like a good fit.

1. Go to bed regardless of your to-do list

Life will always give you more than you’ll ever be able to do. It’s imperative to develop enough discipline to draw a line in the sand for your own well-being. Has everyone been fed? Is everyone safe—not vomiting or bleeding? Are the oven and stove burners off? If yes, go to bed. More times than not, the rest can wait.

2. Earth yourself

The science might seem complicated, but the feeling isn’t. Make time every day to put your feet in the grass or sand or dirt. Even better, lie down and let your whole body feel connected to its Primal roots through an earthing-style reset.

3. Meditate

It’s not just for those who sit on a cushion for hours (although that can work, too). The idea is to get space between you and your thoughts and come back to center. The benefits to brain and body are impressive, but you’ll experience the difference that first day. Life feels much more restful when we understand we’re not the crazed conversation going in our heads.

4. Use sound to reset

Sound has a measured effect on several markers of health, and we show a definite response when exposed to certain kinds of sound. While music itself is largely a matter of individual taste, there’s apparently one universal soundtrack research shows we’re all wired to respond to: birdsong.

5. Take yourself outside

On that note, you have another reason to stop imprisoning yourself within four walls. I’ve written many times on the physical, psychological and even “spiritual” benefits of being outdoors (the wilder the setting, the better). Your Primal self knows when it’s home, and nothing feels more restful than that.

6. Develop a rest-focused ritual

This can be a restful way to ease into the morning, a restorative nighttime routine or something else entirely, but the power will be in the practice itself. Research tells us that ritual creates feelings of safety and well-being—two key components of rest (the ability to rest or feel rested).

7. Avail yourself of recordings

This, like music, is definitely a personal choice, but these days there’s something for everyone. Here’s where that phone can actually help your efforts toward rest. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of apps with everything from guided meditations to visualization exercises to chime/bell “therapy.”

8. Seek out silence

Perhaps the greatest rest is quiet on all levels—at home, in the wilderness, in a house of worship or meditation hall, etc.

9. Make sure you’re giving yourself enough solitude

Here’s where the power of knowing yourself comes into play. I’d argue that all of us require alone time to be our sanest, best behaved selves, but some of us need frankly more than others. The more attuned we are to our needs, the more we’ll feel when it’s time to withdraw for a while. When you have that jangled or fried sensation, sometimes alone time is the prescribed rest.

10. Pamper yourself

Consider it an upgraded form of rest—when you need something more than the usual but you can’t get away for a while. Whether you’re a Primal man or woman, there’s nothing but wise indulgence in the likes of massages, dry brushes, foot spas, bath salts, rice socks or high thread count sheets. Grok, if he’d had the luxury, would approve.

11. Observe a sabbath

No matter what your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), a sabbath day can still be sacred time. Choose a day you can regularly stick to, and set consistent boundaries around your activities, barring those that deplete you or interfere with enjoying a peaceful, unbroken flow to the day. Typically, errands, significant chores, and work of any kind are put aside, but you can be more selective by eschewing socializing, travel, or technology.

12. Take a minute (or more) to breathe deeply

Consider deep breathing an all-occasion option. Step out of the chaos or just tune it out while you bring your mind to your breath. Stay with it while you continue to release any other thought that comes up.

13. Make sure your “after hours” are truly off the clock

Unless you’re in the business of handling emergencies, leave your work at work whenever possible.

14. And make that day off a real day off

It used to be a vacation day was a vacation day—whether you were out of town or not. These days people bring their laptops on trips and, of course, their smart phone everywhere. As a result, they’re checking email and voicemail constantly. Their families or traveling companions get annoyed, and they stay almost as wound up as they were when they left for their “R&R.”

15. Embrace active means of rest

Rest doesn’t just mean laying on the couch. Yoga or Tai Chi are excellent choices, but for some people running, hiking, or contemplative walks help them clear their heads and come back rested and recharged.

And let me add what might be the most important and potent option to rest actively—play! Kids know it. Your Primal self knows it.

16. Laugh as much as you can

There’s nothing like a good, long bout of crying laughter to make you feel like the stress got exorcised from your body. Hitting a comedy club can fit the bill as can getting together with the friends that make you laugh the most. But these days, relief can be as easy as watching your favorite comedian on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Or hook up with a laughter yoga session for something new.

17. Take a tech holiday

Our devices zap our energy more than we know. Give yourself a regular break (say, one full day each week). You’ll notice the compulsion right away, but once that eases you’ll appreciate the lack of continual distraction and its drain on your cognitive resources.

18. Nap often

I’ve written about the benefits of napping, and I’m convinced we should all be doing daily siesta. I’ve known people who are such devotees that they allocate part of their lunch hour to napping in their car or in a discrete spot of the building or grounds. Those who work at/from home typically have an easier time of it.

19. Take back those “found” minutes

A 20-minute wait for an appointment. An hour’s delay at the airport. A cancelled morning meeting or soccer practice. Consider these like found money, and grab hold. Before you pull out your phone to “kill time,” consider what it would be like to use it—to rest.

Likewise, resist the urge to simply use it as an excuse to get more done and take a more abundance-focused mindset. Make a point of treating these surprises as gifts. Even if it’s just five minutes in line at the store, use it to practice deep breathing. Got a longer window? Pull out that novel, or go for a relaxing stroll. Keep a list of options just for these unexpected breaks, and use it to make sure you’re making the most out of your “bonus” time.

20. Use your vacation time—every last grubby hour of it

Almost half of us don’t use our full allotment of vacation time, and we’re doing ourselves a disservice from the standpoint of health and rest.

It’s a real shame that some companies out there are so short-sighted that taking one’s full vacation time is frowned upon. I know they exist, and it’s too bad they can’t see what they lose in employee morale, retention, and productivity. Hopefully you don’t work for one of them. If you do, you might find that it’s time to buck the system (or start working for a new one).

Once you’ve secured the time, don’t waste the opportunity by overloading yourself. I don’t know anyone who really benefits from full throttle sightseeing bookended by the usual hours or days of actual transportation headaches. You shouldn’t come back from vacation needing another one. If that’s the case, I’d suggest you need to rethink your approach and honor your needs more than others’ whims or expectations. Take the vacation that works for you.

21. Take a retreat at least once a year

Consider the power of retreats for a deep recharge. A solo retreat will be the most rejuvenating for many people. For others, going with a group might be preferable. Whatever company you decide to keep (if any), keep the commitment to rest, embrace ease and have fun. There’s no right time frame and little if any hard itinerary. For more on the Primal practice of retreats, check out this post or this one.

Finally, keep in mind some big picture ideas…

22. Learn to read (and even live by) your own barometer

This is such a foreign concept in our society and yet key to living a happy, healthy life that feels like your own.

Most of us move through our days with a total outward focus. What do others expect of me right now? What am I supposed to be handling, producing, and managing in the next hour? What do other people need from me? These are all fair and necessary enough questions. Many of these answers need to drive a good portion of our days. And yet…

I think it’s an important point that we rarely mirror the questions back to ourselves. What does my body expect of me right now? What would help me feel balanced in the next hour? What do I need from myself? Make a place for these questions in your day. This doesn’t mean you drop out of society or stop working or let the kids parent themselves. Use them as a tool for self-awareness. Helpful actions or changes (e.g. organizing your breaks differently at work, hiring additional help, simplifying tasks at home) will come to mind as you consistently maintain that awareness.

23. Monitor your calendar accordingly

Just because there’s an empty space in your calendar doesn’t mean it should be given away. Learn to get selfish with your time. By that I mean understanding that you need and deserve time for you. (As a result, you’ll be of better love and service to others when you’re parenting/managing/meeting/tending from a better, more rested place.)

Some of us, as I mentioned earlier, might need more time and rest than others, but err on the side of generosity—to yourself—when you can. This is especially true before and after big events or extended obligations. Learn to offer yourself buffer zones leading up to and following vacations, house guests, family celebrations, or any other event that requires more of you than a regular day/week. Anticipating your need to rest and making plans for it will always be the best approach. Living Primally means living well—and well-balanced.

Thanks for reading, everyone. How do you fit in rest, and what have you learned about your need for it over time? Share your thoughts and tips below.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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38 thoughts on “Why You Still Probably Need More Rest (and 23 Ways to Get It)”

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  1. Really need to hear this, over and over. Hard not to obsess about current events. I do many of these things but don’t really rest enough while doing them.

  2. Very very good reminder list, my immediate to-do: implement the no tech day!

  3. Great tips, and ones I hope to be able to incorporate into my (frantic) life. I live 20 minutes from the beach, it’s my happy place, and I NEVER get there. Shame, Shame, Shame!

  4. All great advice but I don’t buy our ancestors only worked 12-20 hours per week. You mean at a coffee shop or a factory? Staying alive, fighting off threats, getting food, raising kids, tending wounds, making weapons and tools, curing meat and hides…this is full time stuff. They were on the clock from the minute they woke up to the time they went to bed.

    Sorry dude, can’t help you take down that mastodon, I already put in my 12 hours this week. Go talk to the Union And I don’t make spears, only clubs. It’s in my contract. Spears are time and half.

  5. I’m not sure if it affects sleep quality or not but I tend to do best when I have white noise in the background while I sleep. A fan does the trick most of the time. I always wake up refreshed feeling. I think the most important thing about correcting disturbed sleep cycles is getting away from electronics at least an hour before bed. In the past I have battled with poor sleep and I’ve found omitting blue light about 30 minutes to an hour(preferably an hour) before bed really helps.

    1. If I don’t have some kind of white noise, every other little sound on the planet jolts me awake when in that twilight zone (not asleep, but not awake.) It’s a guaranteed pisser offer. White noise can be a life saver.

  6. Thank you Mark. I really appreciate this post, and all that you do to encourage us to create happier, healthier lives.

  7. I loathe loud music. I am surprised I have not committed murder over loud music, or been murdered complaining about loud music (that did happen in Daytona Beach over a loud car stereo.) Execute loud musicateurs.

  8. These are great reminders – all 23 of them! I already have a “no-tech” day, which is Sunday. No iphone, no computer, no facebook, etc. I just hate that people I work with spend Sunday afternoons “getting ready for the week.” Oh, you have not heard about this? “Sunday is the new Monday.” Well, I hear it and I tune it out. I already struggle to feel rested for most of the reasons Mark listed in his article. It’s a daily battle to hold onto self-supporting boundaries in work and at home.

  9. By the way, even the Puritans with their famous work ethic had a Sabbath.

  10. Great advice. I would like to add that possibly it’s not the work but how it is done. There must be a difference between unhurried and hurried work. The psychology and inner dialogue count. Also, when I practice guitar, I feel engaged but it’s not physical.

  11. I’m at least eight hours a night of sleep every night no exceptions. Me loves a good nap too. 🙂

  12. It took me a long time to give into nap-taking. The roots of my resistance to napping were a “lack” perception of time. I realized that I could only nap if, in my heart of hearts, I truly believed how rejuvenating it could be. I value sleep so highly now.

    1. During my young adult years, dozing off during the day at any time meant you were lazy. Taking a nap (unless you had a high fever or were flat-on-your-back sick) was looked down upon. Sleeping in was no better. This has been a tremendous thing for me to overcome; like you, in my adult life I’ve found it rejuvenating and good for the body, mind, and soul. While I don’t sleep in, resting when I need it can be the difference between a cold or the feeling of a flu onset lasting 12-24 hours, or a week. An M.D even told me that if someone feels as though they need to rest, and they don’t and they get sick, they’re idiots and have no one to blame but themselves. (I sure wish he’d never retired…)
      On crappy days, where it’s rainy or snowy and windy, I’ll curl up on the couch and “cocoon”; or just wrap myself up in a blanket, close my eyes, and let my mind wander without really ever needing to sleep. Mentally, it’s restful.

  13. Love all of these tips! I know I need more sleep and more rest! A few days ago I took a nap that was truly restorative…mostly because I didn’t need to set an alarm and didn’t need to go anywhere else. I slept for two solid hours in the late afternoon, and still had no problem going to sleep at night. Lately I am noticing myself picking up my phone mindlessly, and end up wasting time on Instagram and FB. I’m trying to be more mindful of this, Having a good morning routine is definitely restful for me and helps me ease into the day.

  14. Interesting how so many of us clutter up our lives and calendars with activities, to-do’s, events, social media, commitments, etc., in order to prove to ourselves and others how important and indispensable we are. Then all of a sudden we find that it’s gotten totally out of hand and we are no longer in control of our own lives. #23 touches on this. Better to figure out what’s really important and discard or drastically limit the rest.

    1. You’re spot on, Shary. The saddest part, for me, has been realizing that the activities, social media, and commitments is meant to make me feel more connected to others, but at the end of the day I feel more isolated. If the activities and commitments are based on social standings and nothing else, it’s the most empty, worthless experience I’ve ever wasted my time on. Finding the time to TRULY connect with others, without anyone feeling the need to absentmindedly scan through their phone while the other party is speaking, is the way to go for me. I’m sure everyone is different, but my time is worth more than rushing around to meet others for a social event, only to be ignored in favor of social media and smart phones. No thanks.

  15. Hello Mark and visitors,

    I’m trying to incorporate more veggies into my diet, but cannot always do it. Do you use any green powders? I’m looking for a product with fewer ingredients. Like maybe just broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts.

    Any suggestions? Do you rely on these powders or use occasionally? I personally can’t eat raw veggies, juicing helps, but not always available to juice myself.

    Thank you

  16. I’ve rediscovered sensory deprivation tanks. What a way to de-stimulate your brain for about 90 minutes. Creativity soars.

    1. I’ve found that floating in a sensory deprivation tank for an hour before bedtime really helps with getting restful sleep. It’s worth checking Google to see if any businesses near your home offer it. It’s typically not very expensive, either.

      1. I’ve heard of the floating salt pools. We have one business that I know of in the local Boston area and I will be trying it as soon as I’m sure it won’t disrupt my hair dye. It seems extremely affordable. I can’t wait to try it.

  17. Great blog, the tips are really obvious yet something we shy away from. I’m going to implement the no-tech day, also the nap somewhere in the day. Thanks for the nudge!

  18. Never got into having naps, perhaps I should. Don’t check my emails every day unless I’m expecting a reply from someone and don’t do Facebook etc. I do have a Sabbath day which means going to church, followed by tea and chat, then to a friends flat for a while and then we join two others for a leisurely lunch. I then go home and don’t do much for the rest of the day. Maybe read a book. Do watch some TV in the evening. Perhaps I should stay off the computer that day. Wednesday is also a very relaxing day, I go to a craft group where we chat, then I get round to doing some spinning on my wheel which I find very relaxing. I come away with some lovely yarn and feel refreshed.

  19. The greatest disappearing act known to mankind……those 8 hours of play we are meant to have between the 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep.

  20. I suffer from #1, but on a personal level. Even as a little kid, I hated going to bed. I love to sleep, mind you, but I always felt I was going to miss out on the day. I still have a remnant of that as an adult and it makes it hard to go to sleep at a reasonable time unless I’m exhausted.

  21. I walked the beach at a local lake recently and the only sounds were the scree of a red-tailed hawk, the honking of Canada geese and the waves lapping against the shore. It was better than any tranquilizer the pharmacy provides.

  22. Lots of great ideas here. I really like my quiet time before the kids get up. I make a bulletproof coffee, do a Headspace meditation,as well as some yoga if there’s time. It really sets me up for the day.

    Getting enough sleep is always challenging for me, I think it’s something I have to continually check. I do feel so much better when I do, so I try my best to either have a nap or go to bed early when I’ve had a bad night.

  23. This is very powerful stuff especially coming to a contemporary culture that lionizes the virtues of sleep deprivation. Our captains of industry and financial wizards brag about their need for little sleep. The disproportionate financial remuneration of CEOs almost seems to be predicated on the concept. And this extends to some of our political class. One recalls Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, “Sleep is for wimps.” Hypnos and Somnus (so important they were gods lol) don’t seem to respond too favorably to such hubris. Dementia much? For my part, sleep deprivation has me dropping stuff and making questionable, maybe just foggy, decisions. This, as many things, seems to get worse with age. I would imagine that such behavior in financial leaders could lead to a global economic meltdown. (Oh wait….) Just as important as the mind, the active body rebounds so well with full, indulgent sleep. As do immune systems compromised by the latest bug. I have to subscribe to the comments about white noise in this regard. I remember fondly, in my college days in Texas, a huge and noisy window AC that would quickly paralyze me into a deep sleep. At the moment, I’m doing an AC free experiment in a hot and humid environment, and the noise of fans has had a similar effect. (Wish I had that attic fan from my house in Texas now.) This effect was compounded recently when I added a small but gloriously noisy second fan to only cool my body. (Turns out, in my experience, fans directed at your face dry out your air passages and inhibit breathing. Not so good for sleep.) Beyond sleep, the broader issue of rest seems equally crucial in a socially networked world that never seems to turn off. Unless, of course, you choose to.

  24. You just inspired me to actually take my morning break, and go outside and lie down on a park bench for 10 minutes. Thank you 🙂

  25. This is for all those moms out there, especially the new ones. I have two young kids with special needs (i.e. I have one seriously busy and stressful life). One has autism-adhd and the other has nvld-adhd. Some may think it’s just two kids but my MIL who raised 6 kids compares my two to at least 4 typical developing kids. We are a single income family and my husband is self employed so I’m on my own until dinner 6 days a week. That’s a partial picture of my life. It’s a lot. I have had to find ways of relieving stress quickly throughout the day. My most effective strategy is mindful meditation in short bursts of 10-20 min while doing things like washing dishes, folding laundry, working in the garden. Yes I rest my mind while I work! Allowing myself to focus on sensations of the present (the feel of the clothing sliding through my fingers, sounds of bubbles popping on the dishes, the smell of the dirt in my garden, the way the light shines through trees) while allowing thoughts to simply pass through my mind nonjudgmentally IS incredibly rejuvenating even while getting some chores done at the same time! Sometimes I have to give my kids iPads (aka “kid crack” in our house) while I take my time to ensure their safety while unsupervised but in the end they have a calmer mom. I also try to spend as much time outdoors with them in quiet places like the beach, woods, and our yard. There I try to teach them mindful meditation -guiding them to notice the sights, smells, and touch of the environment and to notice how it makes them feel mentally. Its just as important for us adults to find ways to rest our stressed minds as it is for us to teach our kids to do the same. I know playing for most kids is ‘rest’ but for mine play can often be stressful when they don’t understand social interactions and become confused. So I feel it’s especially important for them to briefly escape to calm down without fully withdrawing from the world. i do have other methods for resting both physically and mentally, such as getting alone time to do nothing, but mindful meditation has been the easiest and most convenient strategy for me in the life of a mom.

  26. I’ve just thought about what I’ve written and realised I have a great morning routine, but maybe need to work on my bedtime routine (I don’t really have one).

    I absolutely agree with what people say about living in a culture that promotes sleep deprivation, we just don’t take it seriously enough.

  27. Creating a buffer before and after big events is a great idea for me. I merchant at re-enactment events that last 5-10 days and return home so emotionally exhausted it takes a few days to get myself together again. Could use some ideas if any one has any. Perhaps Mark could elaborate?

  28. “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let others spend it for you.” (Carl Sandburg)

  29. Fear of Boredom is such a big factor in people’s inability to rest. Kids, too. Seems that the expectation of having some sort of entertainment before one’s face all the time starts during infancy and never wears off. But a painting starts with a blank canvas, music starts and ends with silence. Everyone needs that empty space in order for ideas and creativity to flow, but we’re now conditioned to camouflage the Void with Anything. It can take days and days to unwind. I wonder if any of us could go a week or ten days with no technology to distract us?