THE BLOG

Why Your Brain Needs Rest to Function and Three Ways to Create It

13/10/2014 17:40 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Anyone having the pleasure of hearing Arianna Huffington speak about her experience of collapsing from exhaustion that inspired her book Thrive and the third matrix work, will no doubt resonate with her message.

I sure do as a neuroscientist and coach working with people to help them find balance using my original model of heart and mind fusion. So here are three reasons from neuroscience described in practical, everyday terms to help you understand why rest is fundamental to good and lasting performance. After all, who wants a burnout at key moments in life be they weddings, mergers, public offerings, new hires, or everyday interactions with people we meet, love and do business with.

1. Visual stimulation puts a massive pressure on your brain

Counter action: closed eyes

Visual cortex, the part of your brain that is devoted to processing visual stimuli is the largest cortical tissue within the brain. It's serious brain real estate. No wonder. As the wise saying goes "A picture is worth a thousand words". Visual content is rich in information.

In today's world it is also overwhelming, ever present and at times a bit of a nuisance: from constant adverts, media, mobile devices and everything and everyone especially in large cities moving around you at high speed.

All this visual input comes into your brain through the eyes. You can't help it or filter it. And it makes your brain work extra hard during the day as your mind absorbs and processes this information all the while you go about your daily life and work. This puts a huge processing strain on thee brain that only closing your eyes can remedy.

Counter this drain with periodically closing your eyes and deep breathing. Unplug so you can rest.

2. Prolonged multitasking and intense focus stress the brain

Counter acton: rest breaks

Neurons (your brains cells) function by working together. When you think, certain cell circuits become engaged and fire together. Prolonged and intense thinking makes more and more cells light up and work. But excited cells can at times have a difficult time switching off meaning that the longer you work, the more the brain heats up as every cell requires constant fuel to keep it functioning. As the judging and evaluating part of your brain gets engaged, without a break this group of cells becomes overactive and can, in fact, inhibit other cells from making important associations and new links. This trapped energy keeps heating up the system metaphorically but without releasing insights and breakthroughs.

Counter the drain with periodic stops and task switches or physical rest. As you switch tasks you will call on a completely different sets of neurons. But this means doing something radically different. If you sat and wrote, stand up and move. Or simply take a proper break! Go get fresh air.

3. Depriving yourself of sleep prevents your mind from creating order and logic

Counter action: sleep

Most people that come to see me are attached to the idea that to achieve more they simply need to work longer. This is counter intuitive and wrong. Imagine your mind like a giant world library of ideas, reflections, inspiration and information. To be efficient, it requires a cataloguing system so that what you need can be found quickly and efficiently. Sleep accomplishes this function.

When you sleep, the brain keeps working for you. Cleaning up, reorganising, making sense of all the things that happens during the day. During sleep your mind also creates a much needed integration between your recent memories and your past memories and experiences so it can produce meaning and continuity. When there is not enough sleep, this healthy process is disrupted and creates havoc. This is why sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture.

Counter this with regular sleep dates. Use your diary to book yourself in for at least one eight hour sleep night per week. Notice how as you give yourself rest, your brain wakes up and performs faster and better for you.