Rest for the Weary

Getting some quiet breaks during the day to do absolutely nothing is vital for your health, not to mention your sanity.

Alexandra Grablewski

No one needs to tell you that you're sleep deprived. But Gallup research shows that moms with at least one child under age 5 also face a daunting daytime "rest deficit." That's essentially the notion of powering through life as a perpetual mothering machine with zero time to relax, and April Lisante, of Philadelphia, can relate. With a mixed set of 4-year-old twins, a 12-year-old daughter, and a busy career as a writer who works from home, Lisante says her most indulgent slice of "me time" is a weekly detour to the organic body-care aisle at the supermarket on Mondays.

Monday is her husband's usual day off (he's a chef), and the household grocery run is the one stretch of time all week when Lisante is, blissfully, alone... albeit for an errand. So, really, who can blame her for lingering? "I look at the soaps. I try the lotions. It's so pathetic," she says. This probably sounds familiar to you. In the Gallup research, moms reported getting substantially less rest than any other group in the survey, including today's dads.

That rest deficit is bad news for your health. Sleeping too few hours at night and not pausing for sanity breaks during the day can lead to everything from acne flare-ups to weight gain to panic attacks. We know what you're thinking: "I have no time to rest!" But we've come up with a realistic recovery plan, based on the latest research.

Send Your Mind Wandering

Psychology professor Lila Davachi, Ph.D., and her colleagues at New York University's Center for Neural Science found that people who close their eyes for eight minutes and let their mind wander show measurable brain activity in the area where long-term memories are formed. While her research is too preliminary to show that daytime rest definitely helps memory, she suspects that it functions, to a lesser degree, in the way that sleeping at night etches daytime experiences into our brain.

Deficit-Reduction Plan
Instead of going straight to Facebook or the laundry room when you put your child down to nap, make it a daily habit to lie down for about ten minutes with your eyes closed. Or let yourself daydream briefly during your lunch break at work. (Pretend you're reading. And wear headphones to deter intruders while your mind drifts along to soothing classical music or the restful sound of silence.) Of course, full-fledged naps definitely improve memory, Dr. Davachi says. If you're among the lucky few with the time and ability to actually pull one off, go for it.

Dr. Davachi tries to lie down every evening to relax for a few minutes after her children, ages 3 and 1, go to sleep. She uses the break, she says, to segue from working-mother mode and "reclaim part of myself." In the daytime, she often walks along a riverside path for 40 minutes to clear her head. "I also like to put my feet up and simply look out my window."

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