Sleep Is Not Rest

The Difference Between Sleep/Rest and Why It Matters

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Rest is what makes sleep sweet.

Have you ever tried to fix your chronically tired self by purposely sleeping a few extra hours on the weekend, only to wake up feeling like you’ve never rested at all? You had great intentions, but missed one vital piece of the puzzle: Sleep is not rest. 

As different parts of an intricate system, sleep and rest are designed to work together to ensure every part of you has a way to regenerate and be restored.

If I were sitting across from you right now, our conversation might go something like the one I had with a friend many years ago. It was early one morning, and we were preparing to start a long shift as interns at the hospital: “I’m so tired,” lamented my red-eyed friend.

Her hair was in a messy ponytail, and her scrubs were wrinkled in all the wrong places. It looked like she had rolled out of bed and stumbled into work on accident.

“What time did you turn in last night?” I asked.

“That’s the thing!” she exclaimed. “It’s pointless! It doesn’t matter if I sleep five hours or ten. I always wake up exhausted. I need a double espresso latte. You want anything?”

Twenty minutes later she returned with two steaming cups of java goodness. I’m convinced heaven must smell like hazelnut coffee. We sipped and reenergized as we discussed each patient’s case. I don’t know what she had the barista put in those cups, but it was more like liquid octane than percolated ground beans. My heart skipped a beat trying to catch the rhythm of this potent brew. We tackled our hospital rounds that day as if our life soundtrack were shouting, “This girl is on fire!”

A few hours later, we crashed hard, and I do mean hard. I’m pretty sure I was drooling on the student-lounge couch when I awoke. I slept but woke even more drained.

“We need more coffee,” my friend declared.

I wasn’t sure I could handle another round of her coffee, so I opted to chat.

“Why do you think sleep isn’t helping our fatigue? I’m more tired now than I was before we fell asleep.”

“I wish I knew. When I was in college, I could sleep like a baby. The second my head hit the pillow I’d be out. In medical school, I started having trouble falling asleep. At first, it took five to ten minutes before I could go to sleep. Now it can take up to an hour when I lie down at night.”

“Wow, an hour. As tired as you are at the end of a shift, I would have thought you’d fall asleep quickly,” I mused.

“I know, right? But that’s the thing; good sleep is gentle. It comes in quietly, descends upon you, and replenishes you. Bad sleep comes in like a flood, overtakes you, and leaves you feeling spent. It’s the good I’m missing.”

Sleep is a biological necessity. Trying to omit it will slow your productivity and eventually kill you. In an attempt to check this life function off our to‑do list every night, many of us have settled for sleep at any cost and of any quality. Our problem isn’t simply a need for more sleep. Our problem is that we are missing the good.

Sleep is different from rest, but good-quality sleep trickles down from a life well rested. We may sleep in response to rest, but resting doesn’t require us to be in a state of sleep. Sometimes as my friend confessed, sleep is not restful at all. Then there are also those times when even with a lack of sleep, we surprisingly feel rested and ready to tackle the day. The deciding factor is the difference between good sleep and bad sleep.

Nightly we attempt to enter into the five stages of sleep, non-REM stages one to four and stage-five REM. High-quality sleep begins in stage three of non-REM sleep when your brain ceases active processing.

You lose your conscious awareness about your surroundings. Your brain and body both enter a quiet state. Bad sleep is fitful and devoid of calm. The mind may wander sporadically over the events of the day, and you may find your legs restlessly moving in response to the pent‑up tension in your muscles.

There has to be a bridge between good and bad sleep, and that bridge is rest. Sleep is solely a physical activity. Rest, however, penetrates into the spiritual. Rest speaks peace into the daily storms your mind, body, and spirit encounter. Rest is what makes sleep sweet.

You may pride yourself on your ability to accomplish much each day, but when your natural strengths are taken to the extreme, they can become a liability. Sadly, many of us spend too much of our days doing and not enough of our days being. We have decided rest is not necessary and replaced it with even more activity. I don’t have a problem with productive people. I have a problem with worn-out productive people. These are the majority of the faces that grace my medical office, including homeschooling moms, business executives, shift workers, and young professionals. They present me with a list of symptoms, demanding answers and wanting quick fixes to problems that require slowing down.

It may sound like I’m judging, but be assured I am not. I’m part of the same tribe. I’ve burned the candle at both ends enough for us both and have seen its destructive effects in my life as well as that of thousands of others.

Can you be 100 percent honest with me? With yourself? How is your maxed-out, stressed-out, multitasking life working for you? Is all your activity getting the results you desire?

Since you picked up this book, I would guess your answer to my last question is a resounding no. Let me share a little medical secret with you. The most underused chemical-free, safe, effective, alternative medicine is spelled R‑E‑S‑T.

Chapter 1 excerpt from Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity (FaithWords/Hachette Book Group)

“In SACRED REST, Dr. Dalton-Smith takes readers on a restorative journey. It’s a roadmap to healing that you never knew you needed…and a pathway to the serenity you’ve been longing for.” — Marsha DuCille, editorial director, CALLED Magazine

Originally published at on January 2, 2018.

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