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"And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." Genesis 2:2-3
Of course God did not rest on the seventh day because He was tired or fatigued to rest simply means to cease a particular activity In this case God had ceased His work of creation and was sanctifying (setting apart) the seventh day for something else, namely fellowship with Adam and Eve as they enjoyed the newly created earth together. Thus, the seventh day was set apart for all time, and ever after was to be kept holy as a reminder of the truth about our earth's creation and as a day to worship God.
Activity and rest
Notice that with the creation of our world activity preceded rest. The principle of activity preceding rest is an important one for our health. Physical and mental activity both require energy and create waste products. As our energy level goes down and wastes accumulate, we experience fatigue and a desire for rest. During rest, energy is restored, and the waste buildup is diminished. An important difference between physical and mental activity is that physical activity usually leaves the muscles relaxed, whereas prolonged mental activity alone leaves the muscles tense. Rest and sleep are dependent upon our ability to relax; the person who is tense is not relaxing, and therefore cannot really test. In our sedentary society, unbalanced by too much mental and not enough physical activity, we need more muscular exercise in order to truly relax, rest, and counteract fatigue.
Fatigue is protective in that it serves to make us aware of our need of rest. It is not a good idea to ignore this signal or to try to counteract it with drugs. The "coffee break" is anything but restful. Coffee and cigarettes provide an artificial stimulation, but without any recuperation. The underlying fatigue is still there. As fatigue increases, efficiency and performance decrease.
Relaxing with tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs is not recommended. They all have dangerous side effects and do not teach one how to relax naturally or how to avoid the causes of tension. They do not supply any energy, but actually cause the person to borrow excessive amounts of energy from his own emergency reserves, some of which are never replenished. Fatigue is actually increased instead of decreased by the use of these drugs.
There are many other factors that can produce fatigue, such as overeating, lack of exercise, stress, stale air, and not drinking enough water. There is also "pathological fatigue" that may be caused by diseases like anemia, heart failure, depressed thyroid or adrenal function, cancer, or any chronic infection. Unaccountable or persistent fatigue should be reported to a physician.
"Wreckreation" or "re-creation?"
In spite of our fatigue we are a very recreational society. We have recreational vehicles, recreation halls, recreation parks, and on and on. The work week has shortened over the years. Some industries are moving toward a 30-hour work week and experimenting with 20. Our leisure time is lengthening, and there is more money to spend—or at least there is credit. Is all our recreating helping us obtain the rest we need? To help ourselves, let's first learn to pronounce the word a new way. Instead of "wreckreation," let's say "re-creation." For those who are tired of feeling "wrecked" after their recreation here are some suggestions for "re-creative" activities. Make them something different from your usual work, done at your own pace—no deadlines. Of course, you should enjoy them. Something of a practical or creative nature is ideal. Having the activity be something outdoors with the family is nice, but it needs to be engaged in with the heart (cheerfully, not grudgingly), and It should be noncompetitive. The less expensive the better. It should be engaged in more frequently for shorter durations, rather than saving it all up for a two-week annual vacation. How many come home from their vacation needing a vacation to recuperate from their vacation? Our "re-creation" could even come on a weekly basis. After all, God Himself worked six days, then rested the seventh. He invites us to do the same today.
Have a Break
We all need a rest, or break, from the routine of our major activity. For the person felling trees or doing construction work a rest could mean sitting down with a good book. But for the salesman or secretary, resting might mean an invigorating hike in the mountains. Our ability to rest also depends upon our ability to shift gears. Some people take their work home. They can pick up work, but they can't lay it down. They seem unable to cease. We should be able to say along with the one-hundred-year-old man, who, when asked the secret of long life, responded, "When ah works, ah works hard, and when ah sits, ah sits loose-like."
Other ways to help bring relaxation include taking a warm bath or a shower, sitting or reclining comfortably while listening to soothing music or reading something uplifting. Enjoyable, nonstressful hobbies, being out in nature, doing some simple deed for somebody else, and prayer are also forms of relaxation.
Physical work usually makes muscular relaxation automatic afterward. But it is surprising how much useless muscular tension we can maintain. Clenched fists and set jaws, furrowed brows and jumpy knees, even squinting eyes are tension-producing habits to overcome. Progressive muscle relaxation exercises can help in breaking these habits, as long as they are used to illustrate the difference between how a tense and a relaxed muscle feels and to practice relaxing areas of tension.
However, many teachers today use progressive muscle relaxation, as well as transcendental meditation, autogenic training, hypnosis, biofeedback, deep-breathing exercises, and visualization exercises to elicit the "relaxation response." The so-called relaxation response is basically another name for a particular altered state of consciousness with a high alpha brainwave index. When we train ourselves to enter into this state to help us relax, there may be some unhealthful side effects, such as brain damage, insanity, and spiritualistic or psychic phenomena. These techniques that overtly or covertly teach people to enter into an "alpha state" are not necessary for health or to relax, especially when there are equally effective and safe methods such as we have already recommended.
Our need for sleep
Rest is so important to life that the vital organs are designed with built-in rest periods. The heart rests between each heat, and the lungs between each breath. The stomach rests between each meal if it is given time. The central nervous system is recharged during sleep.
Rest and relaxation cannot take the place of sleep. Human beings were designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. We are "larks," not "owls." Wakefulness and sleepiness are normally controlled by enzymes and hormone systems within the body which remain fairly fixed, even if one were to remain isolated in total darkness or total light. These "internal clocks" can be nudged forward or backward a few degrees. They may also be ignored, but not without negative consequences.
Shift work and sleep
It is better to avoid rotating-shift work. These workers are twice as likely to have trouble sleeping. They report less job satisfaction and have lower work productivity. They tend to use more coffee to get going and more alcohol and sleeping pills to go to sleep. Many shifts rotate in the wrong direction. It is better to go from days, to evening, to nights (rotating clockwise), not the other way (days to nights to evening—rotating counterclockwise.) Also, most shifts rotate too frequently. Workers should stay on a shift at least ten days, since it takes about five days to adapt. The more slowly the shift rotates the better. Here are some additional suggestions. Gradually change the hours of sleep when nearing the end of the shift, and on days off between shifts, adjusting clockwise three hours per day in anticipation of the next shift so that the change isn't quite so drastic. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs that complicate and confuse the body's normal functioning. Practice strict regularity in all aspects of the daily schedule, even on the days off.
With increased air travel, jet lag becomes a problem for many. To reduce jet lag, get enough sleep before you leave; in flight, eat little, and take no alcohol or caffeine; reset your watch to your new time zone; and adapt to your new time by walking, talking, and keeping occupied till bedtime.
How to get good sleep
As a rule, plan to go to bed early (before 10 p.m.). It has been estimated that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Studies have shown 7-9 hours of sleep per night to be most healthful. Nine or more hours have been associated with decreased health and six or less with the poorest health.
The first prerequisite for a good night's sleep is daily exercise. Remember, activity precedes rest. In our sedentary society imbalances between physical and mental activity are common. Too much brain work and not enough physical work cause the muscles to be in a state of tension. (However, too much exercise too near bedtime can keep you awake.) Tension lessens the depth and soundness of sleep. The quality of sleep depends on the ability to relax. City living, with all its light and sound, is not very conducive to sleep or rest. Noise pollution is doubling about every 10 years. We may not even be aware of all the sounds that are around us, but they can still affect us by producing tension and nervousness.
It is better to wear pajamas or a warm nightgown and use lighter weight covers, than to use heavy blankets. Do not cover the head while sleeping. Leave the windows open several inches to allow fresh air in the room. Beds should not sag or be too soft. Pillows should be flat, except in cases of hiatus hernia or heart failure where the head should be elevated a few inches. Avoid starting new activities late in the day.
Allow yourself time to wind down. Have an evening ritual. Avoid stimulants such as television, drugs, and rich, spicy food at night before going to bed. Big evening meals interfere with good sleep, especially in children. If needed, naps should be taken before lunch, not in the evening. Even a fifteen-minute rest before lunch is worth about forty-five minutes of nightime sleep. Keep well hydrated. Stay alert and active during the waking hours. The quieter and darker the room, the better the sleep. Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may do better sleeping on their stomach with a pillow under their chest. People with back problems can try sleeping on their side. All these suggestions should improve the quality of sleep.
What about sleeping pills?
Sleeping pills alter the sleep cycle and decrease REM sleep. As the body tries to make up the lost REM sleep, too-frequent dreaming and nightmares occur which disturb the sleep even further. Thus, the regular use of sleeping pills does not promote good sleep and can make insomnia worse. Sleep complaints should be considered as any other health problem. They are only symptoms. The cause should be ascertained and corrected. Is the problem acute or chronic? Keep a weekly 24-hour log. Compare your living habits with ones that promote good sleep, such as those suggested in this article. Not following good "sleep hygiene" habits is responsible for 60 percent of all disorders. Daytime drugs affect us at night too. Anxiety is the chief cause of insomnia, whereas depression tends to cut sleep short in the mornings.
Signs of sleep loss
The most outstanding symptoms of sleep loss are depression and apathy, interspersed with irritability and aggression. The best way to recover from a bad night is to resume the normal schedule. If a nap is needed, it should be short, no more than 30 minutes, and not in the evening.
Those who still have trouble falling asleep can try a little hops or catnip tea before bedtime. Slow, deep breathing or soaking in a neutral bath for ten minutes may help. Blot the skin dry and move slowly and quietly. Don't panic. Worrying and concentrating on sleeping will drive it from you. Just resting in bed will do you good anyway.
Deal with stress generators
But let's face it, when there's a serious concern on our minds, these tactics are like aiming a pea shooter at a charging elephant. The cause of the concern must be squarely dealt with. If it is an interpersonal problem, then make things right as fast as you can. "let not the sun go down on your wrath." Ephesians 4:26. If it is a financial problem or some other circumstance that is threatening, we need to do our part and leave the remainder with God. Remember, to rest means to cease our activity. It also means to cease from our worries and the cares of the day. We are given only one day at a time, and no one knows what the next day will bring. It could be better than we think, especially if we heed the invitation of a loving God:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:18-30
Compiled by Kurt Unglaub, M.P.H.
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Web page created: 1/26/99 Updated: 12/22/2003