Feeling stressed, anxious and burnt out? Science says the 42% rule could help with that.



Exactly how much rest is “adequate”?

Science is clear on the amount: it’s 42 per cent.

That’s the percentage of time your body and brain need you to spend resting. It’s about 10 hours out of every 24. It doesn’t have to be every day; it can average out over a week or a month or more. But yeah. That much.

“That’s ridiculous! I don’t have that kind of time!” you might protest — and we predicted you might feel that way.

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Video by MMC

We’re not saying you should take 42 per cent of your time to rest; we’re saying if you don’t take the 42 per cent, the 42 per cent will take you. It will grab you by the face, shove you to the ground, put its foot on your chest, and declare itself the victor.

Have you ever come down with a terrible cold as soon as you finished a huge project? Have you found yourself sleeping 12 or 14 hours every day for the first three days of vacation? Have you, like Amelia, literally ended up in the hospital after a prolonged period of extreme stress?


We’ve established by now that stress is a physiological phenomenon that impacts every system and function in our bodies, including immune functioning, digestive functioning, and hormones. To keep all of those systems in full working order, our biology requires that we spend 42 per cent of our lives maintaining the organism of our physical existence.

Here’s what your 42 per cent might look like:

• Eight hours of sleep opportunity, give or take an hour.

• 20 to 30 minutes of “stress-reducing conversation” with your partner or other trusted loved one.


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• 30 minutes of physical activity. Physical activity counts as “rest” partly because it improves the quality of your sleep and partly because it completes the stress response cycle, transitioning your body out of a stressed state and into a resting state.

• 30 minutes of paying attention to food. “30 minutes?” you say. Don’t fret. That includes all meals, shopping, cooking, and eating, and it doesn’t have to be all at once. It can be with people or alone, but it can’t be while working or driving or watching TV or even listening to a podcast. Pay attention to your food for half an hour a day. This counts as rest partly because it provides necessary nourishment and partly because it’s active rest, a change of pace, apart from the other domains of your life. Think of it as meditation.

• And a 30-minute wild card, depending on your needs. For some people, this will be extra physical activity, because they need that much to feel good. For others, it will be preparation for their sleep opportunity, because they know their brains need time to transition from the buzzing state of wakefulness into the quiet that allows the brain to sleep. For others, it will be social play time. And for some, it’s simply a buffer for travel and changing clothes and other rest-preparation time (because: reality) during which you engage your default mode network — that is, you let your mind wander.


Your child, your dog, and your friend can all “get by” with less than the optimal levels of every basic bodily need. So can you. But the way you react to your hungry child, your shivering dog, and your gasping friend is how we feel about you “getting by” with too little rest. It’s not just that we believe you deserve more; it’s that we know you’re suffering, and we want to bring you relief.

Burnout. By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.
Burnout. By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.

This feature was extracted from Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski (Penguin), which is out now.

Do you fulfil the 42 per cent quota? Tell us in a comment below.