Many of us engage in a nightly battle with sleep. Our problems stem from getting too much sleep, not enough – or some other problem in-between or beyond. The practice of quiet wakefulness could be the solution our bodies demand.
In an attempt to make up for nighttime lack of sleep (and for other reasons), many of us opt to take a middle-of-the-day snooze. As usual, it turns out that our biological instincts are right on. Most research in the field of sleep science demonstrates the value of the precious midday siesta.
However, napping – if not “done” correctly – can lead to additional sleep problems. More specifically, erratic napping and an irregular nap schedule can throw a wrench into our internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Moreover, wrong napping can also generate more tiredness and sluggishness – a phenomenon called sleep inertia. More on this later.
And, of course, there are those of us who believe that we “don’t have time” for a nap. So, what to do?
Enter quiet wakefulness.
Quiet wakefulness can provide many of the benefits gained through sleeping and napping – and without the nasty residual side effects.
“What is quiet wakefulness,” you ask? Welcome to the topic of this article.
Poor Sleep: A Worldwide Epidemic
Much of the world deals with sleep trouble. Especially us who were born and raised, and now work in developed, Western countries. (Counterintuitively, the majority of evidence indicates that people in less developed countries sleep better than their wealthier counterparts in competitive, immoderately-capitalist countries such as the U.S – more on this later.)
Here are some stats that illustrate the prevalent issue of sleep deprivation. These statistics were gleaned from per 2019 global survey of over 11,000 adults in 12 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, and the U.S.).
– 62 percent report sleeping “somewhat” or “not at all well,”; compared with just 10 percent who say that they sleep “extremely well.”
– The average global adult under-sleeps, getting an average of only 6.8 hours during the weekday and 7.8 hours during the weekend.
– 40 percent of global adults report that their sleep “has gotten worse over the past five years,” compared with 26 percent who say that their sleep has gotten better.
– 75 percent of adults across the globe have at least one of the following sleep conditions: insomnia (37%), snoring (29%), shift work sleep disorder (22%), sleep apnea (10%), restless leg syndrome (9%), narcolepsy (3%), other unlisted condition (9 percent).
– Of all countries, Canada and Singapore – 24th and 4th in GDP per capita – report the highest incidence of “worry/stress’ impacting their sleep (63% and 61%, respectively.)
– 60 percent report experiencing daytime sleepiness at least twice weekly.
– 67 percent wake up at least once per night.
– China (51%) was the only country of which at least half of its citizens report knowing “that the environment a person sleeps in impacts their sleep.” (This fact alone helps to explain, at least in part, why so many find it hard to fall and remain asleep. One’s environment ties back to the quality of sleep.)
The Pervasive Ignorance Around Sleep
A big reason as to why most of the world deals with sleep trouble: we’re vastly undereducated about its importance.
Even doctors receive scant training in the arena of sleep medicine.
Chris Winter, a neurologist and internationally recognized sleep medicine specialist for over 24 years, writes:
“…if treatment [of a sleep problem] is what you need, why are you reading (this) and not gowned up on your primary care doctor’s exam table getting your problem fixed? Perhaps it’s because less than 10 percent of you have ever visited your primary care doctor to address a sleep problem specifically.” (Emphasis added).
Winter continues, “…if, you are not bringing it up, only 30 percent of primary care doctors ask patients about their sleep.”
This even though we spend one-third of our lives sleeping.
So, if our doctors don’t know the first thing about sleep, it’s little surprise as to why we don’t.
Thankfully, there is proper research on sleep and its importance. This includes a recent investigation into a quiet wakefulness technique, which we’ll now discuss.
“Sometimes referred to as quiet wakefulness, resting with your eyes closed can calm your mind, give at least some of your neurons a break … and let your muscles and organs relax. It can also reduce stress, improve your mood, and increase alertness, mental clarity, creativity, and motivation.”
~ The National Sleep Foundation (Source)
Sometimes napping isn’t an option. When it’s not, you may ask yourself if consciously closing your eyes and slowing down your mind brings any of the benefits of napping. Fortunately, it does. ‘Quiet wakefulness’ is a potent resting activity that is gaining some ground among sleep doctors and health-conscious circles for this very reason.
Quiet wakefulness is a simple technique that involves consciously resting with your eyes closed. We say consciously because quiet wakefulness must be consciously undertaken lest one fall asleep.
What are some of the distinct benefits of quiet wakefulness? Here are five.
Unlike napping, quiet wakefulness doesn’t cause sleep inertia.
Per a study published in the journal Cognitive Brain Research, “napping may cause short-term performance impairments because awakening from sleep is followed by sleep inertia…”
Sleep inertia is a physiological state of impaired cognitive and sensory-motor performance that occurs immediately after waking from sleep. Traditional symptoms of sleep inertia include disorientation, drowsiness, and diminished motor functioning.
While for most people, this period of inertia lasts no longer than a half-hour, the characteristic “brain fog” can last up to eight times longer. These effects are particularly noticeable when attending to a mental or physical task. The reason? The body is still partly asleep.
Quiet wakefulness promotes alertness
Those who require a state of readiness, or whose performance at work or in some other endeavor depends upon the quality of vigilance, are probably not best served by an afternoon nap. However, a short period of quiet wakefulness may be just enough to provide a bit of rest while not affecting vital cognitive functioning.
This quality of alertness unique to quiet wakefulness was demonstrated in a study published in the journal Vision Research. Per the researchers, participants who practiced “active rest” – or quiet wakefulness – performed better on a visual task than both the nap and “active wake” group.
Quiet wakefulness relaxes your muscles and organs
Rest of any kind is going to relax your muscles and organs. The most significant benefit of quiet wakefulness in this regard is that the rest period doesn’t necessitate that these parts “shut down” like when napping or during nighttime sleep.
Once again, this benefit is specific to quiet wakefulness because the practice doesn’t “place the body in suspension,”; thus requiring a period of adjustment upon resuming everyday activities. However, the physical rest provided by quiet wakefulness is both sufficient and satisfying.
Quiet wakefulness improves your mood
The human brain doesn’t work too well when fatigued. Moreover, it has a way of letting us know exactly that. When we push the brain to perform (a counterproductive approach, this), we tend to feel anxious and sometimes even depressed.
Napping can certainly provide boosts to mood, just as it can to brain function. However, we once again run into the problem of inertia and sleepiness. For those with a time cushion that allows for a full nap cycle – around 90 minutes – a nap is probably best for mood enhancement. However, for those shorter on time, this is not possible.
Fortunately, quiet wakefulness has a way of refreshing your mind and improving your mood. These benefits are probably attributable to the rest that the brain and mind receive during quiet wakefulness.
Quiet wakefulness enhances your motivation and productivity
One of the reasons why quiet wakefulness has gathered such a following is that we’re extremely busy people. We need some method of keeping us going amid everyday life. But how do we remain motivated and productive when a proper nap is a luxury that many of us don’t have?
While quiet wakefulness may not replace a proper nap, it nonetheless can provide some motivation and improve our productivity.