Why our brain needs rest

July 2, 2021

Rest is one of our most basic human needs. There is no healing without rest, there is no recovery without rest and yet many of us still do not prioritise it during the daytime. Our lives are so busy, we fill up our diaries without even considering time for rest and recovery. 

We live in a busy world, where stress is worn as a badge of honour. Perhaps we think that we can wait for bed time to take care of our human need for rest and relaxation, that if we rest during the day this will be seen as idle or unproductive.  Our brain requires rest to function properly, judgement, memory and reaction time can all be impaired when the brain is not receiving enough rest, but the problem is that the current speed of our life does not allow our minds to rest during the day. 

Our brains were not built for this constant onslaught of information overload, the modern-day world of technology, social media, news feeds and constant mental stimulation often leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Eventually many people experience feelings of ovewhelm or even ‘burnout’

Dozens of studies have confirmed that memory depends on sleep, however memory also benefits from unconscious mental activity during the day too.

In fact, our brains need rest to consolidate new information, not to over think but to settle and absorb. This is why many people who regularly practice mindfulness become more creative, have better and more considered responses and reactions and make better decisions

How often have you thought about a problem, over and over, searching for the answer or a solution and then whilst doing an un-related activity like taking a shower or brushing your teeth the answer comes to you, from seemingly nowhere.

The science:

Far from being purposeless or unproductive during mental resting we are experiencing the default mode network (DMN) or ‘daydreaming state’ this is where unconscious mental activity is at work. According to [1]Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California when people wakefully rest, they engage in the so-called default mode of neural processing that is relatively supressed when attention is focused on the outside world. This downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of new learning.

Not getting enough rest can impact our mental wellbeing, our mood, immune system, memory and stress level. In short, your brain just doesn’t work as efficiently. 

Rest rejuvenates our body and mind it regulates our mood and is linked to learning and memory function. Taking time to practice mindfulness meditation every day can provide the brain with the rest it needs, leaving you feeling re-energised, rejuvenated and better equipped to deal with whatever life throws your way.

[1] SAGE journal: Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education

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