Most people think of rest as the times when we stop work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength. But historians and anthropologists have discovered that what counts as rest has varied a lot over time and across cultures.
Rest is very difficult to understand, not least because it is experienced in so many different ways. To get a better understanding of what rest is, an international and interdisciplinary team of researchers, led by Durham University, recently launched the world’s largest study on rest, called the Rest Test.
The Rest Test is an online survey to investigate people’s resting habits and their attitudes towards relaxation and busyness.
We aim to uncover the differences in what people think rest is and the practices that they engage in to find it. Do people really think that rest is the opposite of work? What activities are the most restful? What are people’s inner experiences like when they are “at rest”, and does having more rest really make you feel better?
The default mode.
If you mention rest, people tend to think of bodily rest. But, as anyone who has ever experienced his or her mind whirring before sleep knows, physical rest can sometimes be far from restful. (Check out Paper Tiger’s introduction guide to meditation below. Post continues after video.)
One curious finding shedding new light on the concept of “rest” that has emerged from cognitive neuroscience is the idea of the resting state of the brain; that when our bodies are still our minds remain active.
Remarkably consistent patterns of brain activation have been found in a constellation of brain regions – collectively termed “the default mode network” – when people are supposedly “doing nothing” during brain imaging studies.
The default mode network has been closely linked to states of daydreaming and mindwandering leading to suggestions that daydreaming may be the default mode of thought. (Daydreams are thoughts that people have that aren’t tied to the external environment or whatever they’re currently doing.) (Post continues after gallery.)
Thinking about an email you need to reply to when you’re reading this article, mentally planning your day on the work commute, or thinking about an argument with a loved one during a meeting are all examples of daydreaming, which often occur spontaneously as part of the stream of consciousness.
Consistent with the idea that daydreaming represents a mental baseline, several investigations have shown that people’s minds tend to wander from their current task at fairly consistent rates of between 30 and 50 per cent of the time.
Most convincingly, a large scale investigation sampling 2250 people’s daydreams with a mobile phone app as they went about their daily lives, revealed that people were daydreaming on 47 per cent of occasions that they were polled. Daydreaming rates were a consistent 30 per cent across a range of 22 daily activities, except having sex, where the rate of daydreaming was considerably lower.