Why Your BRAIN Needs REST
Idle time, sometimes thought to invite the devil’s handiwork, is often seen as wasteful and rarely appreciated in modern society. Most “peak performers” in our society tend to report feeling guilty about “wasting time.” When asked what “wasting time” actually looks like, typical responses include watching Netflix, playing Solitaire, taking a nap, or even spending time to talking to an old friend. Many feel as though they could be doing something productive such as learning, making money, cleaning or organizing.
This leads many individuals to believe they need to be “humans doing” instead of humans being; however, the research on learning and the development of individuality is unequivocal. In order to best learn and absorb information, including emotional information, the brain needs to take breaks. Individuals require idle time to encode, integrate, and memorize. In addition to learning, idle states are necessary to help individuals identify the purpose in experiences and integrate those experiences with self-identity.
In this age of technology and constant stimulation, individuals struggle to generate a sense of purpose, significance, and authenticity partially because the brain is not allowed to freely wander. This can create the feeling of emptiness and extreme loneliness, leading to the possibility of clinical depression and/or anxiety. Moreover, incessant stimulation negatively affects creativity, problem-solving and individuals’ ability to process quickly or comprehend information, such as an “aha moment.”
For example, remember when the capital of Maryland was on the tip of your tongue, but the name of the city just won’t come? Only after your peers start talking about how Aaron Burr’s character was brilliant in Hamilton and your mind is roaming do you blurt out “Annapolis!” Hence, when the brain is given the opportunity to drift and allows the unconscious to takeover, it will often generate insights.
So how much time is enough to help the brain learn? Research suggest anywhere between five and 15 minutes, depending on the individual and complexity of the information. Sitting idle and staring at a blank wall is not the only way to allow the mind to wander. Engaging in monotonous or simple activities such as quiet walks or basic chores that do not require much mental thought will provide the brain enough productive downtime. To start, try taking a 10 to 15 minute undisturbed and unstimulated walk in the middle of your day. Pretty soon, many will be well on their way to remembering the capital of Montana!
By Amber Fasula, Psy.D., BCN