The Science of Rest: Why Resting is So Important for Recovery

As healthcare providers, we are tasked with determining the best approach to improving patient health outcomes. Our medical team(s) evaluate patient health, and provide treatments and solutions to help the patient improve. At any given time, depending on the medical needs of the patient, they may need medications, physical therapy, mental health services, nutrition, and many other services to address their medical needs.

One recommendation provided often to sick and ill patients is to get bed rest. Patients are often instructed to rest and relax, ideally getting as much sleep as possible and, in the absence of sleep, reducing movement and trying to rest their mind and body. We know that bed rest is important, but we don’t always explain why. This article seeks to help patients understand why bed rest is so valuable.

About American River Visiting Providers

The importance of bed rest is one of the many reasons that our patients love American River Visiting Providers, part of the American River Healthcare family of businesses in the Sacramento area. American River Visiting Providers is our medical house call service. Patients receive primary care, urgent care, and other medical services at their home.

At home healthcare has many, many benefits, but one of these benefits is that it allows people to rest. Some studies estimate that it saves an average of close to 90 minutes of travel time, which is a lot of extra time in the day to rest and recover from illness. It also means that you can be in a place that is considered more restful (your home) and also uses and requires less physical and mental energy.

At-home primary care has many benefits, but its ability to provide you with additional time to rest is one of its strongest. For more information about house calls in Sacramento, visit

What is Bed Rest?

Bed rest, as the name implies, is rest that takes place at your home or the home of a loved one. It involves limited movement and, if possible, sleep. When a doctor or nurse practitioner tells a patient that bed rest is recommended, it is because they have determined that the patient is more likely to recover, or will recover faster, if they reduce their activity levels and rest their mind and body as much as possible.

Why Do We Need Bed Rest?

It’s not uncommon to see people moving around and doing activities when they are supposed to be on bed rest. We all live busy lives, so it’s not uncommon for bed rest to seem like a luxury that many of us do not have in our lives.

But bed rest is also sometimes viewed as a suggestion for when a person is tired. Illnesses do make people tired, and some people think that, when a medical provider says they need bed rest, what they really mean is “rest if you are tired” and not necessarily “rest so that you can recover faster and better.”

When we are sick, our bodies need rest. When we are ill, bed rest may be part of a recovery program. Studies have proven that bed rest is an important part of addressing various illnesses. We need bed rest to:

  • Reduce Illness

Part of the reason that people are expected to rest when they’re ill is because it is known to reduce the risk of illness and the severity of the illness. One study showed that rats that were better able to get sleep while ill also recovered from illness faster than the rats that did not. We also know that the opposite of resting – for example, exercising – can make you sicker with influenza.

The theory that is most often shared is that, when we are resting, more of the resources our body has can be spent trying to recover and fight infection. When we are doing activities, our body sends resources all over (muscles to move and heal, immune system to fight airborne pathogens, nutrients to fuel energy use etc.) instead of allowing them to be sent to the areas that our bodies need to fight the infection.

Interestingly, there are components of this recovery that we still do not understand, but we know that it is there. For example, if you’ve ever had the flu, you know that your body feels a lot more tired. We know from research that this tiredness is your body trying to promote sleep to help recover from cellular stress. We may not know all the exact mechanisms, but we do know that our bodies specifically tire us when we are sick to help us sleep, and so the implication is that sleep must be helpful for reducing illness.

We also know that “Quiet Wakefulness” (resting even when you can’t sleep) promotes some of the same benefits of sleep, so even if your illness is keeping you awake, resting still helps.

  • Prevent Stress

In addition to the value of resting on reducing illness, it also helps prevent a similar challenge: stress. Stress can be harmful to the body when it’s trying to recover. We already mentioned how physical stress (as one would experience exercising or moving with an illness) can potentially make illnesses worse in both symptoms and severity.

But we also know that mental stress can play a role as well. Stress suppresses the immune system. We know from research that it can make even something as traditionally light as a cold worse. We also know that it increases the negative perceptions of illness, so you also feel sicker.

  • Avoid Additional Illness

Any time you leave the house, there is a chance that you could catch an illness. Most illnesses are generally harmless in the long term, and many are also easily fought away by your body. But when you’re already sick, you are at greater risk for other diseases.

Interestingly, there is some evidence that catching additional viruses is uncommon. Most people do not catch the cold and flu at the same time, for example, though little is known about whether you can have COVID-19 and other illnesses at the same time. But you are at greater risk for issues like bacterial infection, which may take advantage of a weakened immune system. Bacterial infections can occur at home, but are less likely to.

If you do get sick with two illnesses at the same time, the illnesses may also be worse and make it harder to recover.

  • Avoid Spreading Illness

Though it is not the primary role of rest, bed rest is not only for you. Medical providers also know that if you’re sick with a communicable disease, your time out may mean that you are contagious and spreading illness to others. Resting at home may be for the safety of others as well as yourself.

Is Bed Rest Always a Good Idea?

Resting is important when we are sick, and numerous studies confirm that when we feel ill with a virus, we often should be resting. Your medical team will let you know if rest is a smart idea for your recovery.

But bed rest – specifically, staying in bed for long periods of time – may not be right for all patients. Patients in very ill health, especially those without viruses, may benefit from movement. Bed rest that takes place for too long could cause an increased risk of complications. Resting your mind and body is important to recover from illness, but “bed rest” is not necessarily the best option for all patients.

Rest, Recover, and Sleep

Still, if you are feeling ill, and a doctor recommends that you rest, know that the science likely supports that recommendation. Your body uses sleep and relaxation to send resources to the places that are using it to fight the illness. When you rest, you improve your body’s ability to make those determinations, and give it the tools to boost your immune system, repair cells, and more.

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