For peak well-being, we need to get 7 unique types of rest: Jennifer Moss

New research suggests one in three Canadians aren’t getting enough sleep. But sleep is just one of seven distinct types of rest we need, to truly feel at our best. CBC's happiness and well-being columnist, Jennifer Moss, shares how we can incorporate these various kinds of rest into our busy lives.

Sleep and rest are not the same thing and this confusion may lead us to feel chronic fatigue and burnout

New research says at least a third of Canadians aren't getting enough sleep and sleep is just one of seven distinct types of rest we need to truly feel healthy. (Getty Images)

How many of you wake up in the morning and despite believing that you got a decent sleep you still feel exhausted? If you're feeling that way, you aren't alone.

Although new research claims that one in three Canadians aren't getting enough sleep, the majority of us are. So, why are we still so tired lately?

As part of TED's "How to Be a Better Human" series, Saundra Dalton-Smith, a physician, shares that the reality is that sleep and rest are not the same thing, although many of us incorrectly confuse the two.

And as a result of this confusion, it's leading us to feel chronic fatigue and burnout. She says we're perpetually in a "rest deficit" and to remedy that, we need to understand the various and distinct types of rest required to optimize our energy. 

Seven types of rest

Dr. Dalton-Smith says that we still need sleep, but that it's categorized as passive rest.

Active rest, one of seven types of rest, is achieved through, "restorative activities such as yoga, stretching and massage therapy that help improve the body's circulation and flexibility."

Second, we need mental rest. Many of us are experiencing this need right now and it's causing burnout. How many of us are just switching on right away in the morning – flipping on our laptops, having breakfast while checking our emails in our pjs?

Even if we're sleeping eight hours a night, we still feel like we need two cups of coffee to even feel alive.

Third, we need sensory rest. Again, that's because of an over consumption of digital media. Canadians' use of social media has risen sharply again this year and we are spending more time and money online. 

Additionally, the effect of so many employees switching to working from home and kids learning virtually has played an even bigger role in that sensory rest deficit. It's causing so many more people to feel burned and exhausted by the end of the day. 

We also need creative rest. It may seem like a frivolous type of rest, but it really isn't. We require system thinking to solve basic and complex problems.

When our amygdala, the brain section responsible for detecting potential threats and prompting fear responses (fight-or-flight) is constantly triggered, it can hijack system thinking required for creativity.

This means we need to rest this part of our brain to be functionally able to create, ideate and problem solve. 

The fifth type of required rest is emotional rest, that space to express yourself authentically and not feeling like you have to please others.

Hard to do over Zoom and yet, an emotionally rested person can be more empathetic because they can hear about other people's pain without feeling overwhelmed. Something we need more of these days. 

Sixth is social rest. This occurs when are able to differentiate between those relationships that revive us from those relationships that exhaust us. 

The seventh and final type of rest we need is spiritual rest. According to Dr. Dalton-Smith, we need to, "connect beyond the physical and mental and feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose." 

Again, hard to do when we're all feeling so isolated. 

Seven types of rest? I can barely get enough sleep!

It may seem like I'm being tone-deaf here by suggesting we all need more rest — and I get it. But you'll be surprised at how easy it is to incorporate some of the small shifts require to increase our energy.

Here are some suggested tactics to help decrease your rest deficit.

Passive rest is obviously key. We do that with small tricks: 

  • Set a bedtime alarm so your phone stops pinging you after a certain time at night.
  • Put your phone to charge out of the bedroom and don't have any digital devices bedside – ever. No buts. Get an old-fashioned alarm if you need it. 
  • Don't consume alcohol or coffee too close to bedtime. Add that to active rest, like a bath or a calming ritual before bed and you can attack both types at once. 

Mental rest is extremely important for battling brain fog, a symptom of chronic stress that makes us feel foggy, unclear, demotivated. To get more mental rest try the following: 

  • For those of you working from home – I've been suggesting a fake commute. Before you start work in the morning, pretend you're taking a commute. Walk around the block, listen to a podcast, drive to get a coffee and come home then start your day. Repeat that after work is done. It can reset your brain so you know when work is over. 
  • Take mini breaks in the day every two hours. Block off time in your calendar or schedule and don't miss them. 

Sensory exhaustion is one of the most prevalent drainers thanks to the prevalence of screens, Dalton-Smith says. In her practice, she's seen it causes, "a lot of eye strain and neck tension, and a lot of divorces and broken relationships," she says.

"It becomes easier to talk to the computer ... that breaks intimacy, and over time, it breaks relationships." 

  • Do not flip on your laptop or digital device right away. Have breakfast away from your desk. Actually, don't have any meals in front of a device. Take time to enjoy your food. Use it as a time to break away. 
  • Step outside. Take some reset moments in nature. As the weather improves, listen to the sounds around you. Get present. Reset. 

Creative rest requires blocking time off for thinking so you can achieve uninterrupted flow. To achieve that:

  • Tell people you need space to focus. 
  • Turn on your out of office and say that you are heads down for a few hours and you won't be checking emails. 
  • Walking is a great way to get creative rest. Ten minutes of mild exercise can immediately alter how certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another and improve memory function.

Emotional and social rest is an interesting one because we need more in-person time with each other and less virtual time but in some areas of the country that just isn't possible.

If you're feeling emotional and social burnout, try:

  • Connecting safely with family and friends when we can, as much as we can. 
  • Feeling Zoom burnout: replace one video conference call with an old-fashioned phone call daily. 
  • And in all instances, continue to remain human. We need to wave at our neighbours, walk outside, see people even if we can't always spend time with them.

Finally, spiritual rest is all about engaging in something greater than yourself, which Dr. Dalton-Smith says can come in the form of prayer, meditation, acts of altruism or adding community involvement to your daily routine.

It's still going to be challenging for people to get the amount of rest they need, but even knowing where the rest deficits exist can help re-energize our lives.

During such a tough year, even a few small shifts can have a giant impact on our wellbeing. 


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