The Difference Between Resting and Sleeping | Is it Important?

The Difference Between Resting and Sleeping

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While at my 9-5 job, I watched one of my co-workers approach another employee who had her head laying on the table. The co-worker slapped the table, startling the employee and told her that we do not sleep on the job. She yelled back and told him that she wasn’t asleep, she was just resting. This got me thinking, since I love sleep, is there a difference between resting and sleeping?

Yes, there is a difference between resting and sleeping. Resting is being calm, but attentive to your surroundings. Sleep tunes out your environment and perception of your surroundings. During sleep, your brain goes through stages to tune out your environment and REM begins. This does not happen during resting.

In the story above, she was absolutely asleep. Head down, eyes closed, unaware of her co-workers deciding on who was going to scare her awake. She had no perception of what was happening prior to someone slapping the table. Had she had been just resting, she would have been calm, but aware of what was going on.

Sleeping has its benefits, and even the Japanese praise sleeping on the job! Just don’t do it in America…


difference between rest and sleep

What Exactly is Rest?

Rest and sleep are the same thing to most people, but there is a difference between the two! Resting is more closely related to relaxing than it is to sleep. You are relaxed when you sleep and resting can lead to sleep, or a nap, but we all rest throughout the day without going to sleep.

Resting is when you are calm and relaxed, with or without your eyes open. Imagine grabbing a glass of water and staring out of the window while sitting on the couch. That is resting. Too much resting, and you can doze off, into a quick nap, or full fledged sleep.

When you are resting, you do not receive any of the benefits of sleep. Sleep is pretty much a different state of mind all together. Resting is still fully aware of your environment, but just taking it easy. Cleaning the house, cutting the grass, doing work or managing children are activities that are not restful. When you are done with one of these and you sit on the couch for a few minutes with your phone, this is rest.


difference between sleep and rest

When Your Body Tells You to Rest

Everyone’s body can communicate differently on when to rest and sleep. Everything I can find about the subject is always focused on sleep instead of rest, so lets see if I can help with that. I got stuck in the cycle of googling the difference between resting and sleeping so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

Lytton Sleep Savings

Lets not get confused with sleep here, signs that you need sleep are more obvious than rest. Lack of sleep is extremely dangerous four your well being and health, with a few reported cases of death from sleep deprivation. We are going to stay focused on actual REST as opposed to sleep.

Here are a few signs that your body needs rest:

  • Exhaustion 
  • Dehydration
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Everything annoys you
  • Sore Muscles

These are just a few signs that you should probably sit down, or lie down, somewhere comfortable and quiet for a few minutes. Not necessarily sleep, but just take a load off and relax for a few minutes while your body catches up. Play on your phone, read a book, have a quick chat with someone while not actively doing any work.

Too much rest can lead to dozing off and having a nap. A nap is closer to sleep than rest is, but a nap does not give you the same benefits as sleep. Your brain needs to recharge and it does that during actual sleep. There are some benefits to napping, although actual sleeping is far more beneficial.


difference between resting and sleeping

How to Rest Your Body Properly

When you need rest, your body will let you know.


Some of the best ways to rest are pretty simple and straight forward, no college degree needed for this one! Simply find a quiet spot in the home, or office, and have a seat. Reclining makes it even nicer!

When in a quiet area, simply close your eyes and breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Listen to small sounds around you. Can you hear the birds outside? How about the wind or rain beating on the house? Enjoy them. Enjoy the small things in life. If you took a drink with you on your rest, then sip it slowly and enjoy the beverage.

After a few minutes of this, you will be relaxed. Do not fall asleep here, that is not the goal. The goal here is to rest and gather your thoughts for a quick energy boost or to re-focus on your goals.

If you practice meditation, then you know this technique already. While meditation requires a deep state or relaxation, resting properly does not require meditation. Just some peace and quiet for a few minutes.



Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime

I really try to keep things on layman’s terms with my writing and I hate to get deep into sciencey talk. There are some real, scientific and provable reasons you should rest throughout your day.

Since we were children, we have been trained to sleep for a solid 8 hours or so at night, and stay awake throughout the day. This behavior is not the best way to maintain a great mental health! As babies and toddlers, we had naps throughout the day. These naps are not something we forced ourselves to do, but just happened naturally. Why did we stop?

Believe it or not, scientists have found a “nap zone” between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in adults. Between these hours we get a little sleepy. You know exactly what I am talking about, don’t you? It is usually right around 3 p.m. for me and when I learned this, it was like everything suddenly makes sense!

Even the Romans in the first century B.C. took regular mid-afternoon breaks called meridiari, latin for mid-day. These mid-afternoon breaks were reserved for resting and praying. We got away from regular resting times in exchange for lunch breaks where we get to get away and relax for a few minutes. These quick breaks can clear your head and help you become more focused on the task at hand.

Have you ever gotten stuck on a crossword puzzle only to leave and come back to find all the answers quickly? This is a real world example of how this system works for your brain.

Regular breaks for resting during the day can really improve your mindset and overall mental health.


Proof of the Benefits of Rest

In a 2007 study, 40 college students made better grades on attention based testing when they had a brief 20 minutes of meditation prior to testing. The other 40 students in this test did not have that meditation did not perform as well as the other half.

In 2011, another study was done on 34 United States Marines that showed that 12 minutes of meditation and relaxation helped prevent the stress of military service and help the working memory.

Scientific American  has a GREAT resource covering the different scientific studies around the effects of resting and relaxation on your brain. Just looking through a handful of the study’s, they are from scientists from all around the world. The results are from several different cultures so it makes me feel like the results are universal.

These are just two quick examples and a quick Google search will find many more. The importance of rest is important, and sleep is even more important to mental health.



There is a strong difference between rest and sleep. The advantages to resting are clear in this article and the benefits are clearly proven in several scientific studies. Check out this one from John Hopkins Medicine on The Science of Sleep.

Just because there is a difference between resting and sleeping does not mean that one means less than another. Both are equally important for your health and should be taken seriously. Meditation is a great way to really relax for a few minutes during the day, however it is not necessary. A simple sit down and tune out for a few minutes can help you almost as much.

With proper relaxation through the day, will improve your sleep habits as well. Taking rest and sleep into your normal routines will further the benefits of a great nights sleep.

If these tips do not help with staying asleep, check out my other post on How to Kick Insomnia to the Curb.


Happy Sleeping!


Of all of my hobbies and passions, I love sleep the most! Most people treat sleep as just something you do, but if you make some positive changes in your routine, you can have the a great nights sleep. A great nights sleep will change your life!

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