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science   ·   23. Jun 2022

why rest is one of the most productive things you can do

dispelling the myth that rest is unproductive

From the first moment we open our eyes in the morning, to the second we close them again at night, our every interaction with the external world is characterised by modernity, man-made invention, and all things material.

The thing is, that despite the drastic change in the way we humans live, our biology really hasn't shifted at all.

The vast majority of our human genome today exists exactly the same in us as it did in our earliest ancestors. In fact, science considers us biologically identical to the first Homo sapiens, circa 300,000 years ago! Change? What change?! (1, 2).

This means that while we may have replaced tree-foraging with technology for the time being, when it comes to the health and well-being of our bodies  -  all the old rules and rituals still apply, particularly when it comes to our profound need to get enough rest.

The 80/20 rule of rest to stress

The human body essentially has two nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system (aka our fight, flight, or freeze mode), and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest - also eat, sleep, and have sex).

These two systems are our body's way of determining our needs. The middle of high-stress situation, for example is no time to be thinking about taking a nap or falling in love. But is a good time to come up with a "survival plan," and this is what our sympathetic nervous system does.

The big problem here is that we were built to be in this fight, flight, or freeze mode for only about 20% of our entire lives. The rest of the time (a whopping 80% of our lives) should be being spent enjoying ourselves and our day-to-day - without feeling like we need a survival plan.

Can you think of many people who successfully lives that way? Certainly not most.

the impact of chronic stress on our adrenals

Chronic stress, defined as a long-term, constant feeling of being stressed, is what keeps our sympathetic nervous system on high alert, and prevents us from ever truly exiting our fight, flight, or freeze mode.

Over time, chronic stress leads to a serious depletion of our adrenal glands, as they are forced to continuously pump out cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstream to keep us functioning in times of high-stress or uncertainty (3, 4).

Well, as you might have guessed, our adrenals aren't cut out for this constant work. Designed to only be active for roughly 20% of our long lives, they quickly lose the ability to rest and replenish.

Symptoms of adrenal depletion can look like:

  • weight gain
  • mood swings and irritability
  • anxiety with seemingly no trigger
  • digestive issues
  • trouble sleeping at night or "switching off"

seeking a natural solution with plants and better rest

It can be difficult to separate the symptoms of stress, with the symptoms of adrenal depletion caused by stress. And it can feel even more difficult to get yourself out of an adrenal rut.

But fear not, there are some simple but significant changes that can help. And the first step is to get some time-off for your adrenals glands.

1. Kick the caffeine

Caffeine - especially for women, and especially when consumed first thing in the morning before any food - can lead to a major spike in cortisol production. Since the last thing you want to do to your adrenal glands is cause them to work even harder, cutting out caffeine in the morning can be a really helpful place to start.

Instead of coffee or caffeinated teas, try herbal infusions designed especially to increase calm. It might take a few weeks of getting used to, but your parasympathetic nervous system will thank you in the long run.

2. Don't skip lunch

Similar to the effects of caffeine, going hungry for pretty much any amount of time, will cause our adrenal glands to pump more adrenaline. Next time, instead of allowing your blood sugar to rise and drop throughout the day, try to keep a steady supply of healthy snacks on hand and eat around every 3 hours.

Eating is an evolutionary signal to our bodies and brains that we are safe. It kickstarts our parasympathetic (rest and digest) system and allows our sympathetic nervous system to switch off, recharged, and return only when needed (remember: this should only be 20% of the time)!

3. Rest more

Just like eating, rest is an essential trigger that supports our adrenal glands to relax.

Far too often it can seem like we're not doing enough when we rest, or we're being stagnant or lazy because physically our bodies might not be moving or completing tasks. But there is so much going on inside, and so much healing that can take place only when we begin to rest.

"If you're resting but guilting or shaming yourself for not being productive the whole time, that's not actually rest. If you find that you're chronically tired, this could be why."

- Iris McAlpin

Learning to rest productively, without the guilt or fear of "doing nothing," is key. Whether this means carving out a 20-minute self-care routine in the morning and right before bed, or simply paying more attention to your body's signals throughout the day - we must let go of the myth that rest is unproductive, and allow ourselves to take breaks. As often and as long as we need them to be.

4. Supplement with herbs

Last but not least is the benefit of supplementing with herbs designed to turn the parasympathetic nervous system ON. Herbs and adaptogens like Ashwagandha in particular are widely considered adrenal "restoratives," supporting your adrenals to return to full health. Adaptogens are known for their ability to improve quality of sleep, restore adrenal glands, repair hormonal dysfunction, and reduce anxiety in a significant way.

While different herbs have different effect and benefits for different people, there's a reason we've chosen Ashwagandha as our third plant-based formulation for better sleep and calm.

And that's because it's one of the best! You can click here to read more on the benefits of Ashwagandha on sleep, or visit the sofi treehouse to share your thoughts!

Text References:

  1. Konner M, Eaton SB. Paleolithic nutrition: twenty-five years later. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):594-602.
  2. Chakravarthy MV, Booth FW. Eating, exercise, and "thrifty" genotypes: connecting the dots toward an evolutionary understanding of modern chronic diseases. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2004 Jan;96(1):3-10.
  3. Smyth, J., Zawadzki, M., & Gerin, W. (2013). Stress and disease: A structural and functional analysis. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(4), 217-227
  4. Ulrich-Lai YM, Figueiredo HF, Ostrander MM, Choi DC, Engeland WC, Herman JP. Chronic stress induces adrenal hyperplasia and hypertrophy in a subregion-specific manner. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Nov;291(5):E965-73.

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