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

We’re entering the lazy days of summer [1] 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 [2], 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 [3] 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 [4] 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 [5].

“But, seriously,” you might say. “Why does it matter anyway? If I get enough good sleep [6] 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 [7].

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 [8], 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 [9] 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 [10], 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 [11] 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 [12].

3. Meditate

It’s not just for those who sit [13] 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 [14] 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 [15], 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 [16] and even “spiritual” benefits [17] 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 [18], a restorative nighttime routine [19] 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 [20]—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 [21]—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 [22] comes into play. I’d argue that all of us require alone time [23] 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 [24] 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 [25] 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 [26]—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 [27]! 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 [28] for something new.

17. Take a tech holiday

Our devices zap our energy more than we know. Give yourself a regular break [29] (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 [30], 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 [31]. 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 [32]. 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 [33] or this one [34].

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 [35] 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 [36]. 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 [37].