Have you ever wondered what the difference between sleep and rest is? While they are sometimes used interchangeably, there is an important distinction between them. Sleep is part of the holy trinity of health: nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Yet, some would make a case that this triumvirate should include waking rest and function as a quadrumvirate (1) . In this blog post, we’ll explore the difference between sleep and rest and discuss the various health benefits that each brings to your body. We’ll also explore which benefits apply to both sleep and rest and which are unique to either sleep or rest. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of how to optimize your sleep and rest routine to keep your body healthy and strong.

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the definition and importance of sleep

Sleep is a natural and essential state of rest for the body and mind. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, one of the defining characteristics of sleep is a loss of consciousness in which both brain activity and physiological functioning differ from wakefulness (2). It is during this time that our bodies work to repair and rejuvenate cells, replenish energy stores, and consolidate memories.

Getting sufficient sleep is critical for maintaining good physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a host of health problems, including weight gain, depression, a weakened immune system, and a higher risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease (3).

>>8 Surprising Reasons Why Sleep Is Good For You

The Definition and Importance of Rest

Rest refers to any activity that gives your mind and body a break from the stress and demands of everyday life. This can include taking a leisurely walk, reading a book, or simply sitting quietly and breathing deeply.

Rest is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, and it’s just as important as getting enough sleep. When we rest, our bodies have a chance to recharge, repair, and rejuvenate. It also gives our minds a chance to relax and recover from the constant stimulation and demands of modern life.

The Cognitive Differences Between Sleep and Rest

Your brain waves are different when you’re active, in a state of waking rest, or asleep. When you relax and your brain is taking in minimal input, your brain waves are called alpha waves. As you fall asleep, these brain waves change to sleep spindles, k-complexes, and eventually delta waves which are the slowest brain waves. When your brain experiences these brain waves, it carries out restorative work and consolidates memories (4).

Benefits Shared by Sleep and Rest

While sleep and rest are not the same thing, they both provide essential benefits for our health and well-being. Here are some benefits that are shared by both:

  1. Reduces stress levels: Our bodies have a natural rhythm and even our stress levels have a natural ebb and flow. Proper sleep allows cortisol levels to cycle regularly while sleep disturbances or sleep deprivation cause an increase in cortisol levels during the day (5). On the other hand, relaxation, such as focusing on breathing, meditation, or yoga, can actually lower cortisol levels (6). While sleep and rest both affect stress levels, rest plays a more active role.
  2. Boosts mood: Adequate sleep and rest both play a role in regulating our emotions and improving our mood. When we are well-rested and relaxed, we are better equipped to handle stress and stay positive. And the reverse is also true: when we aren’t well-rested, we have more difficulty with mood regulation (7). 
  3. Enhances memory and cognition: Both sleep and rest are critical for optimal brain function. When we sleep, our brains have the chance to consolidate memories and process information (8). Studies have shown that resting after learning helps to consolidate new memories (9).
  4. Increases energy: When we sleep or rest, our bodies have a chance to recharge and replenish energy stores (10, 11). This helps us to feel more alert and energized throughout the day.
  5. Improves physical health: During periods of relaxation, including sleep, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This system is what controls rest and repair functions throughout the body. Both sleep and meditation (which is a form of rest) have been linked to a range of physical health benefits, including improved heart health, lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation, and improved immune function (12, 13, 14, 15). Meditation and yoga have even been found to help improve blood sugar regulation – a role that proper sleep also shares (16, 17).

Overall, getting enough sleep and rest are essential components of a healthy lifestyle. While they are not the same thing, both sleep and rest provide important benefits to our mental and physical well-being. 

>>8 Surprising Reasons Why Sleep Is Good For You

Benefits unique to sleep

Because the ideas of ‘rest’ and ‘sleep’ are often used interchangeably, few studies are done to differentiate the two. However, while many of the benefits of one seem to apply to the other, there are a few benefits unique to sleep. It has long been known that sleep is beneficial for the entire body. During sleep, your body devotes energy to optimizing and repairing systems throughout the body such as the immune, metabolic, and endocrine systems (4). Insufficient sleep has been found to increase appetite and may lead to weight gain, therefore, it can be said that appetite regulation is a unique benefits of sleep (18).

How Much Sleep and Rest Do We Need?

Getting enough sleep and rest is essential to maintaining good health and well-being. However, how much sleep and rest we need can vary from person to person and is also influenced by factors such as age, lifestyle, and health conditions.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18-64 should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while those over 65 may need slightly less, around 7-8 hours per night (19). However, it is important to note that some individuals may function well on less sleep or require more than the recommended amount.

As for rest, there is no set amount of time that is required. Rest can be taken in various forms, such as meditation, napping, or simply taking breaks throughout the day. The important thing is to make sure that you are giving yourself adequate breaks to recharge and relax.

It is also worth noting that quality of sleep and rest is just as important as the quantity. If you are constantly waking up throughout the night or feeling restless during your rest periods, it may be worth speaking to a healthcare professional to address any underlying sleep or anxiety disorders.

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Emily Anderson is a nutrition writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania. As a member of the 5 a.m. club, she does most of her writing before the sun comes up. When not writing, Emily enjoys spending time with her family and scouring the latest self-help books for pearls of wisdom she can share with others.

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