The words “rest” and “sleep” are often used synonymously, but they are two very different words, each with their own importance. Sleep is an act that involves your entire body entering into a state that is no longer awake. Rest is ceasing movement in order to relax, refresh, and recover strength.
Both words can have the same end result, but rest is a mindful and voluntary act that is done while you are awake. It involves being still while the world around you is not.
The words of the day are: rest + being still.
“If you’re not too bothered by being awake, I recommend simply lying there and resting. It’s important to remember that resting without sleeping is good for you too.”
(Dr. Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution.)
The struggle that consumes a person with insomnia and bedtime anxiety is that they can’t sleep. Sleep is the ultimate goal, and yet every effort they make only places sleep on a pedestal, and pushes it further away. Get sleep as the goal out of your head, and focus instead on rest.
BE STILL AND REST.
This is your new mantra. Say it to yourself often.
WHAT RESTING ISN'T:
Tossing and turning, flailing angrily, punching your pillow, wrestling with your bedsheets, getting up to pace around the room, and other agitated movement.
I don’t mean to assume that everyone who has insomnia or bedtime anxiety flops around angrily when they can’t sleep, but something happens in your brain when sleep doesn’t come when you want or expect it.
I still wrestle with sleeplessness from time to time, especially when I have a lot going on in my brain. On nights when I’m thinking, instead of sleeping, I start to get restless. I notice my thoughts and get annoyed that I can’t stop them. I turn my pillow over, thinking that must be the problem. I grab my phone to make a note of something I need to remember to do tomorrow.
NONE of these things are resting! I have to catch myself in the act and tell myself,
“BETH! STOP! You’re making it worse. Now be still and rest.”
WHEN YOU CAN'T SLEEP
If you’re going to bed, lying there resting, and can’t fall asleep for a while (let’s say more than 30 minutes), perhaps you’re going to bed too early. It should take you around 10-15 minutes to fall asleep. If it’s taking longer, try moving your bedtime back a half an hour. The goal is to go to bed feeling tired.
If it takes you less than 10-15 to fall asleep, you might want to try going to bed earlier. The goal is tired, not exhausted. Falling asleep within seconds of your head hitting the pillow is a great party trick, especially if you can fall asleep anywhere, but most likely it’s a sign that you need more sleep.
I hear many insomniacs say when they can’t sleep, they get out of bed and do something else for a while, like read a newspaper, or watch TV. I’ll refrain from having a meltdown over the thought of you sitting in the dark in front of a giant blue screen when you’re already having sleep issues, and instead ask you sweetly to NOT watch television if you can’t sleep. You are sending mixed signals to your brain.
And if we’ve learned anything from our exes, it’s that mixed signals are NOT a good thing.
SHOULD YOU GET OUT OF BED?
I will argue that getting out of bed and engaging in any other activity besides resting is counter-productive. You’re saying one thing but doing another.
If you want to fall asleep, walking around the house eating cold pizza is not going to make it happen. Go lie down in your bed, and be still.
Getting out of bed and doing something else takes your mind off sleep for a while, right? But when you go back to bed, you’re starting from scratch again, AND you’re starting off with the expectation that sleep WILL happen now. It can also distract you from feeling tired if you’re engaging in mentally stimulating activities. Even checking your email can get you thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow, or reading a newspaper can get you thinking about negative topics… staying in bed keeps you from getting distracted or taking on any extra life stressors.
Stop thinking about sleep as the goal, and focus on resting your body. Be okay with resting without sleeping. Your body needs it. Your brain needs it. This is not sleep or die. Rest is amazing too!
A normal sleeper doesn’t go to bed thinking, “I MUST fall asleep!” They just go to bed and lie down with their eyes closed until they fall asleep.
Don’t hit me, but the key to falling asleep involves not obsessing about falling asleep. Unfortunately, the pressure you put on yourself, and the struggle to control your sleep is keeping you awake.
If you can put your focus on rest, which is attainable, sleep will inevitably happen.
Be still and rest.
This post is an edited version of my CALM+COZY Podcast episode #6, "Focusing on Rest." You can listen to it HERE. You can also subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.