The fact is, needing sleep is almost seen as a sign of weakness in our society. Sleep deprivation is a badge of honor in professions from medicine to computer programming. But here's the truth: If you exist on stolen naps at your desk, or gallons of coffee and a prayer, you may be seriously harming your health and taking years off your life.
Sleep is the loss of consciousness. You close your eyes, drift off and dream. Your breathing deepens, your body temperature drops, your heart rate slows down and your metabolism quiets. Your brain passes through five distinct stages of activity in the process. When you wake up you should feel refreshed.
Rest is like taking 10 minutes out of your day to step off the treadmill of your life and slow down. While sleep is a biological need, rest is a choice. Perhaps you stop and simply allow your body and mind to become tranquil and purposeless. It's the alter ego to activity, the balancing element to a hyperkinetic life.
It's interesting that most people consider sleep a passive activity. They believe that when you're out, nothing's going on. Actually, the opposite is true; sleep is an active process. Your body manages its repair systems, its regenerative mechanisms, its vast array of immune functions—and these are just a few of the physical activities it performs while you slumber.
That's why sleep and rest are vitally restorative acts for your body. But how much is really enough? Here's a good guideline: If you get 8 hours of sleep each night, you'll consistently feel and perform better. But the truth is, the amount you need varies based on your size and weight, how much physical activity you get and many other factors.
If you're an athlete or physically active, or if you work late nights under a lot of stress, you may need 10 hours. So start with 8, then get as much as you need until you you're feeling great the next day.
At night your body is an active system, performing all the maintenance tasks it can't do while you're awake. Here are some of the changes that take place while you're in dreamland:
As you can see, it's so easy to take sleep and rest for granted. Our culture has drilled into our heads that sleep is a waste of time, something to be gotten out of the way so we can move onto better things. But if you know how to work more sleep and rest into each day, you're going to have the advantage at work, at home and in your health.
One of the most practical ways to do this is by balancing sleep at night with rest during the day. If you need to work extra hard and go into a sleep deficit, taking short rest breaks during the day can offset some of the damage. Rest isn't a substitute for deep sleep, but it helps.