The Difference Between Sleep and Restoration

Rich LaFountain, PhD

Everyone knows it’s critical to get adequate sleep — your life depends on it! And while sleep is restorative, sleep by itself can’t fully counterbalance your waking hours of stress. That’s why Restoration is its own Pillar of Health, alongside Sleep, Nutrition, and Activity. Sleep and Restoration accomplish many of the same goals, but they go about it at different times, and via different mechanisms. By understanding their similarities, differences, and synergies, you can leverage habits within both Pillars to optimize your health and increase your chances of living longer, better.

A Refresher on the Sleep and Restoration Pillars

Sleep is pretty self-explanatory. Healthy sleep (required to close your Sleep Pillar) involves getting 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night, during which your brain and body repair and recover for the day ahead. The Restoration Pillar, on the other hand, encompasses a fairly broad range of behaviors — from yoga nidra to cold showers — that keep you functioning optimally over time. Ultimately, both of these Pillars provide your mind and body a respite from the stresses of daily living so that you can rest, recover, and rebuild.

How Are Sleep and Restoration Similar?

The number-one similarity shared by Sleep and Restoration is their goal of giving your brain a break. They do this by reducing executive function, including decision-making and focused problem solving.

When you’re sleeping, your brain goes through a predictable pattern where its activity slows down and higher brain functions (such as the executive function) are temporarily turned off. Restorative healthy habits — including yoga, meditation, and massage — accomplish something similar by reducing decision-making loads in your brain.

This mental break from decision-making is important because research suggests the average adult makes over 30,000 decisions each day. Not every decision is difficult or stressful, but if even 1% of your daily decisions induce stress, you could be feeling that fight-or-flight response several hundred times per day. Therefore, your daily sleep and restorative habits are crucial to recharging your mind and, therefore, your ability to cope with the mental demands and stresses of daily life. 

How Are They Different?

While both Sleep and Restoration slow neural activity to give your brain a break, they don’t do it in the same way.

Sleep induces a unique metabolic state in which your body (and especially your brain) naturally shifts toward metabolizing fat and ketones, and neural activity is reduced. Then, that reduced neural activity follows a fluctuating pattern that differs from how your brain functions when you’re awake. (Think of interval exercises, during which intense efforts are followed by light activity such as running and walking. You don’t stop entirely during those easier intervals, but you slow enough to recover for the next work interval. This is essentially what your brain is doing.) 

Restoration, on the other hand, requires being awake, which creates an inherently different neural pattern in your brain. (And, in case you’re wondering, naps — where you fully fall asleep — supplement your Sleep Pillar; they’re not part of Restoration.) Meditation or non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) might seem sleep-like, but because you remain awake, they are restorative practices. Additionally, because Restoration includes a wide range of behaviors, the accompanying metabolic and neurological states they induce are far more variable than the predictable patterns induced by Sleep. 

Due to its variety, Restoration also influences your body more variably than Sleep. When you’re asleep, your entire body remains inert and focuses on necessary repair and recovery, from the neurons in your brain all the way down to the cells in your toes. This is fairly consistent; every time you sleep, this is what’s happening. Restoration, on the other hand, can be inactive (e.g., meditation, relaxing breathing sequences, getting a massage) or active (e.g., riding horses, an easy hike, cooking a meal). During inactive Restoration your physical muscles, joints, and even your eyes can default to a state of rest and recovery.

Active Restoration, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as restful to your body, but it’s great for narrowing your mental focus and offering a respite from daily stressors. You may enjoy hobbies like archery, painting, or even woodworking in your spare time, which all serve as a form of active Restoration. When you participate in these activities, you’re able to push mental stressors aside due to the focus required by the task at hand.

Pair Sleep and Restoration for Optimal Health

Sleep and Restoration are adjacent Pillars, but they are much more than friendly neighbors. Research shows that pairing enjoyable restorative habits with quality sleep has a multitude of synergistic effects: It helps you function better both psychologically and physically, and also contributes to improved metabolic health metrics like blood pressure, BMI, and waist circumference. In other words, if you pair them right, your Sleep and Restoration habits can work together to amplify your rest and recovery.

Here are a few ideas to make this synergy work in your favor.

Practice Restoration Before Bed

If you have trouble falling asleep (i.e., it takes you more than 30 minutes), consider including an inactive Restoration practice to your pre-sleep routine. Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) protocols, like yoga nidra, have been shown to accelerate sleep transition by up to 40%. Even starting with just five minutes of yoga nidra before bed can help.

Practice Restoration During the Day

Daytime Restoration activities can help you get better sleep, too. In particular, active Restoration like outdoor recreation and socializing can help you fall and stay asleep at night.

Prioritize Sleep to Boost Your Restoration

If you cherish active Restoration activities, you can get even more out of them by prioritizing sleep. Getting sufficient sleep — 7–9 hours, with as few interruptions as possible — will help you maintain the energy and focus you need to get the most out of yourself during these activities. (And then, by engaging in restorative activities, you’ll have an easier time getting quality sleep. It’s a self-reinforcing loop!)

Ultimately, research supports that if you invest in strong Sleep and Restoration habits, you can compound rest and recovery benefits, thereby improving important aspects of health like your body weight, blood pressure, and resilience to stress.

Conclusion

Sleep and Restoration are two different, yet synergistic Pillars. Sleep is essential for your mind and body to recover, repair, and restore. Yet, if you want to get the most out of your health and longevity potential, Restoration is no less essential. By pairing Sleep and Restoration, you will enable your body and brain to buffer stress, remain resilient, and perform at their best.

Posted in Health & Science

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A weekly digest with the latest science and motivation.