The power of rest
Have you ever seen the grinder-mixer at work in the kitchen? When it roars into action, the blade moves at a rotational speed of eighteen to twenty-three thousand revolutions per minute (rpm). After moving at that speed, the machine has to be switched off within a minute. Touch the machine when it is off. You will find that it is hot.
The machine has to cool properly in order to be ready for use again.
Depending on the speed and duration for which a machine is run, there is an appropriate rest period during which the motor cools. Any effort to run the machine beyond capacity would lead to the motor being automatically switched off, or to burn out. Our body and brain are similar to the machines we utilise.
A day in the life of a student
You start your day with activity, you eat your breakfast, you hurry to school, you sit in class, run out to play during recess and at the day’s end, you run home. Since it is so important to revise and practise at least one or two subjects a day, you do that. In the evening, your friends call you to play and you are off. Add to this, some online gaming and Whatsapp time.
Your body-mind machine has been busy and active for almost twelve to fourteen hours. It needs time to rest.
When we are overworked, we too should switch off. Instead, our bodies try to adapt. Not in a good way. Let’s see what happens when we don’t rest enough:
Young people will find themselves getting angry, forgetting where they kept things, forget what they were meant to complete. Nothing will seem right. You feel like snacking on sweets although you just ate your lunch. You are thirsty but confuse it with hunger and start demanding more food. You feel confused because you aren’t really hungry. You know something doesn’t feel right, but aren’t sure what it is.
Unable to sleep though tired
You are tired but sleep won’t come. Also, you have too much work to do. Insufficient sleep causes a chemical called cortisol to increase. Cortisol increases our breathing capacity and we feel up and ready to run. But there is nothing to run from or to run for. This is because the brain misunderstood the requirement. Instead of staying quiet and letting you sleep, the brain has been told that you have to move fast. Actually, what you wanted was to sleep well and wake early to finish your backlog.
Reduced athletic performance
Let’s say you are on the sports team. Obviously, the load on you is higher. Homework and classes will continue. Maybe you have a backlog of classwork to complete. All this adds to your waking hours and before you know it, shows up in how you play.
Have you heard of Serena Williams, the tennis champ? She spends a large part of her day exercising and in practice sessions. She goes to sleep at 7 pm and makes sure to get undisturbed, high quality rest. Most athletes sleep anywhere between 7 to 8 hours with short quick naps in the course of the day.
What should you as a student do?
One weekend, do an experiment. Check how much time you need before you wake up feeling rested. Small children usually need 10 to 12 hours and as they grow, it seems to reduce. However, once teenage approaches, the sleep requirement increases. That’s because the brain and body are working overtime to help a growth surge to occur. We are not supposed to disrupt this effort.
What to do?
This means stopping for a moment and doing a personal check. Are your eyes tired? Does your mouth feel dry? Are you hungry? Where exactly are you uncomfortable? Take a little water, is that your need? Eat a little, does it make you feel better? Though this skill is usually taught to babies, in the rush of day to day life, it gets missed out. Why, even grownups mistake thirst for hunger. We get used to doing things at a certain time and try to run on automatic. When things get busy, like school fairs and competitions or major exams, the self-check is forgotten. And a glitch sets in.
Rest a bit
Feeling frazzled? Aren’t sure what’s wrong? Go to bed, take ten deep breaths. With each inward breath, make your stomach balloon up and with each exhalation, let it rest again. If you fall asleep while doing this, maybe you need it. Keep an alarm for 15 minutes so you are able to get up and finish what you had to.
If you do not fall asleep but are feeling better, maybe you just needed to breathe a little more. In fact, though breathing is an autonomous function, sometimes we just don’t breathe that well. Our brain doesn’t get the required amount of oxygen.
Stop ‘trying’ to rest
The exam is tomorrow and you cannot afford to lie down. You just don’t have time. It is okay, you know you can rest after a short spurt like this. Get up and do twenty jumping jacks. It will force you to get more oxygen into your system and help you to be more alert with your work.
Just as athletes have a rigorous practice followed by good rest habit, as students with high practise and rest needs, set up your own sleep system.