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Have You Tried “Waking Rest?”

April 14, 2020


I came across this intriguing piece in Elle magazine, January 2020 because the photo (a supine figure drifting along in a boat) caught my attention – as well as the headline, Much Ado About Nothing by Kate Carraway.

As I started reading I realized that this was a subject that was close to my heart and that I had experienced it many times. She relates how she was handling a number of deadlines: one after another but “by day four the words on my screen were swimming and swan-diving.” She decided it was time to take a break and just daydream or stare blankly into space.


I certainly related to her symptoms because I’ve experienced this roadblock a number of times BUT I had never heard the term “waking rest” that she explains this way: “In a letter to the editor of the academic journal Sleep last fall, researchers at the Occupational Sleep Medicine Group at Washington State University describe waking rest as a “fourth puzzle piece” in the existing wellness trio of EXERCISE, NUTRITION and SLEEP.”

Or, as the letter’s lead author, Amanda Lamp, PhD writes, “Consciously stepping out of yourself and your deadlines and your to-do lists and everything you think is important, and allowing your brain the time to think about what needs to be prepared for or dealt with carefully. (I chuckled when I read about the “to-do” list – I’m obsessed with that beastly little thing – not TO DO but more DON’T FORGET.)

Lamp says, “You can fold laundry or sweep or do some other rote task, but you shouldn’t mentally engage with anything – not even music (I agree with that).


Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, describes this term as “choosing or planning for it and paying attention to it. Moreover, what turns out to be an important feature of rest is that we can actually get better at it,” says Pang.  He also notes that the very successful people he’s studied take at least an hour or two every day of deliberate rest.


Author Malcolm Gladwell, who popularized the “10,000-hour-rule” of achievement, says he tries to spend at least an hour every day in “absolute silence” – often on a walk or run. “No phone, nothing in my ears, just an hour for me to think my thoughts,” he said recently.


Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain’s new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, describes her family’s long-standing “Technology Shabbat”: no screens for 24 hours, every Saturday, as a tech-oriented take on the Jewish Sabbath, the traditional day of rest. (I think that this is a terrific idea.)


Women are disproportionately without it, balancing full-time jobs and home life. In fact, a Pew study from early 2019 found that teenage boys get an hour more leisure time per day than teenage girls – the differential starts early and keeps going. (I find this astounding.)

A new generation of business and self-help books are shifting from managing the too-much-ness of working women’s lives to eliminating it. Women oriented media has become increasingly suspicious of certain “progressive” ideals of work that encourages women to be “girl bosses” and “boss babes.”

 “The work of figuring out what works best for you,” says Pang, “is a really valuable discipline. Rest has never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else, he writes. “If you want rest, you have to take it.”

FULL DISCLOSURE #1: When I want to take a break from Mr. Mac (once every five hours – yes, I know – one is supposed to get up and walk around every 45 minutes, but that’s a joke, as we all know) I turn on the TV and hit MUTE. Then I watch the most moronic thing I can find (this is not difficult in today’s world) and let the visuals slide by. I have no idea what’s going on but I find GANGSTER channels particularly soothing. Twenty minutes of watching them bash each other’s brains out is VERY relaxing and a welcome break – I always go back to Mr. Mac refreshed and ready for another five-hour slog.

Great shot! And you thought I was kidding!

FULL DISCLOSURE #2: Do you think I’m kidding? I love Channel 123, REELZ – it’s truly revolting; every 20 seconds someone is losing an eye or a kneecap or a kidney. Sometimes it’s all three at once.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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