To Your Health: Rest Assured

Rest—and not just a good night’s sleep—is essential if we want to be at our best. Here are some tips to help you find that elusive rest.

By Sheryl Nance-Nash

Rest is the new holy grail—though, while it is a necessity, it’s often viewed as a luxury. In today’s 24/7 economy, pausing can seem like something slackers do. But it’s what the wise do.

While rest starts with a good night’s sleep, the story doesn’t end there. “Proper rest means more than just getting eight hours of sleep; it means disconnecting from work, spending time with loved ones, and doing things that bring joy,” says Sarah Watton, director at Proactive , a provider of natural products and services. “Unfortunately, resting is a habit you have to develop. Our culture values productivity above all else, and it can be hard to justify taking a break.”

Women in particular can be especially challenged when it comes to hitting the pause button. “We tend to work nonstop,” says Charmaine Beasley, a licensed professional counselor with H.E.R. Counseling & . “We live in a world where we have to work harder than our counterparts and take care of a lot of things and people all at once. We rarely place ourselves on the to-do list, nor do we place rest on the list.”

Such thinking is twisted. “Women are burning out at unprecedented levels,” says Madi Snow, a stress and productivity coach with Own Your Stress. “When we’re resting, we’re refueling for the work ahead. We’re reflecting on what we’ve accomplished and giving ourselves credit for progress we’ve made.”

Snow says the key to rest is figuring out what it means to you in different situations. “Sometimes it might mean reading a good book or engaging in a hobby that we enjoy just for the sake of enjoying it. Rest is about giving back to ourselves.”

Rest is a gift that keeps on giving

With recharged batteries you’re your best self. The ramifications of not getting proper rest are huge. Perhaps the biggest issue is that if your brain hasn’t had time to shut down, your sleep can be affected. Studies have shown that prolonged poor sleep has serious health implications. In addition to a weaker immune system, you are prone to brain fog, fatigue, decreased productivity, irritability, and more.

“The longer-term consequence of low-performance sleep is related to the ‘repair’ function of sleep. When our bodies and brains don’t get the attention they need during sleep, problems get bigger. We see things like IBS, fertility issues, depression and anxiety, type 2 diabetes, blood pressure problems, cognitive decline, and the list goes on,” says Tara Clancy, leadership and workforce performance expert, founder of HiPerSleep, and author of Up Yourzzz: Level Up Performance and Profits with Cutting-Edge Sleep Innovations.

Make sleep a priority. Jeff Kahn, sleep researcher and the CEO and cofounder of Rise Science, producer of the sleep and energy tracker app , suggests practicing healthy sleep-promoting habits (known as sleep hygiene) throughout the day and evening. This will increase the amount of sleep you’re getting and also improve its quality. Some of the most impactful habits for healthy sleep, he says, include having your last meal and alcoholic drink three or more hours before bed, getting lots of bright natural light in the morning, dimming lights in the 90 or more minutes before bed, and creating a relaxing wind-down routine in the hour before bed, comprising calming activities to help your body and brain prepare for sleep.

Beyond sleep

A good night’s sleep, however, is just one part of the equation. The other is making rest nonnegotiable. Resting should be in your routine, much like eating and sleeping.

“Set aside at least 30 minutes every day where nothing else matters except yourself,” says Akos Antwi, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and co-owner of Revive Therapeutic , a provider of therapy and psychiatry services. “This could be a walk in the park, a bath, or reading a book. Whatever it is that makes you feel relaxed and happy, make sure you have time for it, and take breaks throughout the day to rest—even if it’s just for five minutes.”

Take time for lunch—and if you can, include a half hour of walking in nature or sitting in a park a few days a week. Make use of relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga. Disconnect from electronics and other distractions for a period of time each day.

“Trying new things and participating in a hobby can do wonders for your mental health and are considered a form of rest the same way meditating or sleeping is,” says Kelley Bonner, a licensed therapist who hosts her own podcast, o.

One of the most important steps is to limit stressors in your life, says Heather Wilson, executive director of Epiphany . “Avoid situations or people that may be triggers for negative emotions,” she says. “Find healthy ways of managing stress, such as exercising.”

Julie Roberts experienced burnout a few times in the corporate world and left her executive job as a result. When she realized she didn’t know how to rest, and neither did many of her female friends, she knew she was on to something. She started Amplify to work as an executive career coach, helping women to live a life that includes rest.

Her advice for the best approach: “Pause when you feel stressed or depleted and ask, ‘What kind of rest do I need?’ or ‘How am I depleted?’ Pick a restful activity that will leave you feeling grounded, refreshed, and rejuvenated.” DW

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, business, and travel and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Money,, the New York Times, AARP The Magazine, and Newsday, among others. DW


Black Women and Rest

If women often fail to get the rest they need, Black women get even less, while they need it more.

“Black women need all the restorative benefits that proper sleep provides even more so than other groups because their unique challenges require them to stay constantly vigilant while managing multiple roles simultaneously—both at home and outside it—on top of facing potential daily hostility due to race or gender discrimination,” says Akos Antwi, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and co-owner of Revive Therapeutic Services, a provider of therapy and psychiatry services.

Black women are often single parents, frequently take care of aging parents, and deal with microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace. Plus, they confront mental hurdles based on preconceived notions.

“We as Black women are noted in society as being ‘strong,’” says Charmaine Beasley, a licensed professional counselor with H.E.R. Counseling & Wellness. “That stereotype makes it very hard for us to be able to obtain rest, as we have unfortunately perceived our rest as a weakness. The bar we set is unattainable, as Black women are human and need rest just as much as everyone else.”

Antwi points out that elevated stress that’s not mitigated by rest is one reason studies show that 87 percent of Black women are at risk for physical health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression, among others.

“We have to restore our mental health and balance our response to the demands in our world,” says Stacy Haynes, EdD, a therapist with Little Hands Family Services. “Taking time to rest, sleep, and recharge is key in being able to keep it all together.” —SNN

Join the Diversity Woman Community

Join a network of career-oriented women and use the member directory to see all the members in your community and find world class mentors. Access exclusive leadership development packages to help you achieve your career goals. Work With Coaches. Take Career Development Courses, and much more.