Most of us already know that if we don’t get enough time to rest and recuperate between stressful tasks, we risk burning ourselves out. But how much rest do we actually need?
According to Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski, we should try to spend roughly 42 per cent of our time at rest. That’s eight hours of sleep and two hours of non-sleep relaxation per day.
As Nagoski and Nagoski explain, in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle:
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.
Luckily for us, this doesn’t mean you need to spend ten hours every day just sleeping and resting. You can also get your 42 per cent through stress-relieving activities such as exercise or spending time with loved ones. Eating a meal also counts as a stress-relieving activity, as long as there aren’t any screens present—and although neither Nagoski sibling mentions reading as a 42-per cent activity, I highly recommend it. (You can start by reading Burnout, and then you might want to pick up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
Essentially, if you’re hoping to avoid burnout, you want as close to eight hours of sleep as possible—and roughly two hours every day in which your mind and body are allowed to move, wander, imagine, connect, take in sensory information that doesn’t come from a glowing rectangle, and relax.