The Need For Rest

Article #3: The Need For Rest By Dr. Herbert M. Shelton

The motto of the early Hygienists—”health by healthful living”—was comprehensive and included within its scope the whole way of life. It did not refer to a plan of eating or a system of exercise or to any other single facet of life. From the time of Graham forward, it was fully realized that every facet of life was as important as every other if one hoped to maintain good health. It was also understood that all the elemental needs of life had to be met in keeping with the needs and capacities of the sick organism if health was to be restored.

Among the important elements of a valid Hygiene was rest. Hygiene places great emphasis upon the importance of rest. Rest, in which is included sleep, is nature’s great restorative process, just as activity and excitement constitutes her great exhaustive process. Activity is necessary to the highest expressions of organic life, but it must be alternated with periods of rest, or else the organism wears itself out.

In life, two simultaneous processes are in continuous operation. First, there are the processes of growth, development and replenishment; second, there are the processes of wear and tear. Collectively, these two processes constitute metabolism. To the process of wear and tear, the term catabolism is applied. Catabolism is dominant in periods of activity. Anabolism is the term applied to the process of replenishment, development and growth and is dominant during periods of rest and sleep. Neither of these processes is ever entirely passive during life, but, in general, it may be said that when one process is at the height of its activity, the other is at its lowest point of activity. Anabolism may be said to be the period in which the body renews itself, replenishes itself, refreshes itself and prepares itself for renewed activity.

It will thus be seen that when we say rest is a cessation of activity, we mean only that it is a cessation of certain forms of activity. The anabolic processes are intensely active during periods of rest and sleep. In states of sedations, narcosis, drug-induced hypnosis, anesthesia, etc., when physical and mental activities are greatly reduced or almost suspended, anabolic activities are also greatly reduced or nearly suspended; hence it is that drug-induced inhibition of the activities of life does not result in refreshment and renewal of the body. These states leave the body depressed, languid and unfitted for further activity. Normal rest and sleep, on the other hand, produce alertness, freshness and a feeling of vigor and prepare one for further action. It may thus be seen how important rest and sleep are to the replenishing processes of life.

The infant and young child require much rest and sleep, perhaps primarily because the anabolic processes are at their greatest intensity. This is to say that in those periods of life when development and growth are greatest, anabolism is most intense; hence, much rest and sleep are required. The invalid also requires much rest and sleep, not primarily because anabolism is more intense in the body of the invalid, but because it is less efficient and requires a longer period of time in which to accomplish the same recuperation and renewal. It is a cardinal principle of Hygienic science that nothing is remedial except those conditions which economize the expenditure of the forces of the organism. Those invalids who vainly imagine that they can exercise themselves into vigor usually succeed only in wasting their already depleted stock and work so hard at getting well that they keep themselves enervated. There are times when the invalid needs exercise, but first of all and foremost in the ranks of his current needs, is rest.

We divide rest into four kinds: physical rest, which may be obtained by discontinuing physical activity, going to bed and relaxing; sensory rest, which is secured by quiet and by refraining from using the eyes; mental rest, which is secured by poising the mind, this is to say, by ceasing to worry and to fret and by the cultivation of mental equilibrium; and physiological rest, which may be obtained by reducing physiological activities. This last form of rest, may be best obtained by either greatly reducing the amount of food taken or by abstaining from food altogether.

When our primitive ancestors had performed a certain amount of work, they became tired and weak, even sleepy, and were thus forced to rest. By thus regularly and properly meeting the demands of their bodies from rest, they were reinvigorated and made, ready to resume their work. But a time came when man learned to force his body to continue activities after fatigue demanded a halt. He learned to lash his organism with stimulants. Without stimulation the brain grows weary and the physical demand for rest becomes so great that we lie down and rest and sleep. But to drive the body and mind with stimulants is to exhaust these. Activity, even strenuous activity, does not injure man so long as, by natural living, he possesses the power to work. When fatigue calls for rest, he will rest. Injury results when, by the use of stimulants, he forces himself to continue working after nature has demanded a cessation of work. If he lashes himself with stimulants, he will overtax himself and not rest when he should. We see a graphic illustration of this in the common coffee-break of today. A few minutes out from activity is provided the worker who, instead of taking advantage of the, opportunity to rest, fills up on stimulants and foodless cooked foods. The result is that the coffee-break, instead of proving a boon, becomes a bane.

To rest a whole day, when greatly fatigued, either of body or mind, is both agreeable and beneficial. A much longer period of rest is required by the invalid who perhaps, is greatly devitalized and much enervated from long indulgence and overactivity, excesses, stimulation and emotional excitement. These profoundly enervated individuals may require weeks or even months of rest before organs that have been lashed into impotency will rest into full functioning power.

Physiological rest, which is more commonly known as fasting, is best taken under competent supervision. This is especially true if the period of abstinence is to be a lengthy one. Most people may safely take a few days of fasting without expert supervision, but these frequently spoil the results of their fast by the overeating which they practice immediately thereafter. Indulgent individuals, who are lacking in self-control, should be supervised even during a short fast; otherwise, they are likely to receive but small benefit from their period of abstinence.

The chronically tired, exhausted individual, seeking to rest, should retire to some quiet, secluded place, preferably in the country, where the air is pure and disturbances are at a minimum, and go to bed and relax. If he is not sick, he need not spend his whole time in bed; but if there is any marked ailment from which he seeks to recover, he should realize that the more nearly he can approach the immobilization of the embryonic period, the more rapid will be his recovery. He should abstain from all stimulants, both of a chemical and emotional nature. The noise and excitement of radio and television programs interfere with rest, with poise and with sleep, thus preventing recuperation and retarding recovery.

Our noisy civilization, which is growing more noisy day by day, is as great an evil as are air pollution and water pollution. If we could practically hibernate and effectively insulate ourselves against newspapers, magazines, television and radio and other sources of noise and excitement, we would refresh and replenish ourselves in a much shorter time and with greater efficiency.

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