If you struggle to sleep at night, lying in bed with your eyes closed may seem the next best thing. This approach will still allow your muscles to relax and offers some restorative properties, but closing the eyes alone is never as impactful as sleep.
The purpose of sleep is to allow the body to relax and repair itself after a day of toil. Your cells and organs need this time to reset and regenerate themselves. This process unfolds over four stages of sleep, most notably stage three – “slow wave sleep.”
If you lay in bed with your eyes closed but fail to submit entirely to sleep, you’ll never move past stage one or two of sleep. This means no slow wave and no REM sleep. As a result, any benefits you gain from the rest will be limited and short-term.
Closing your eyes for a short spell can be a helpful alternative to taking a nap in the afternoon if you can’t truly fall asleep. If you struggle with insomnia at night, look for a way to resolve this, as lying in bed with your eyes closed isn’t sufficient.
Does Lying in Bed Count as Sleep?
Lying in bed with closed eyes is sometimes called “quiet wakefulness.”
This should reveal that lying in bed with your eyes closed isn’t the same as sleeping. It can be peaceful, restful, and restorative, but it’s no substitute for eight hours of sleep.
If you lie down and close your eyes, you’ll likely feel any tension leave your body, and your thoughts will start to wind down. If that leads to sleep, you have nothing to worry about. If not, you may as well be watching TV, reading, or any other activity that is equally sedentary.
If you’re in bed at night and have been lying for 20 minutes but remain awake, consider getting up and indulging in some light activity to restart your sleep hygiene cycle. You can stay put if you’re comfortable, but what you’re doing doesn’t count as sleep.
Does Closing Your Eyes Make You Less Tired?
Many of us have claimed, “I’m not asleep; I’m just resting my eyes” at one time or another.
If you’re exhausted and want to nap, but it’s not an option, or have been staring at a screen for hours, the idea of closing your eyes while sitting upright is appealing.
Closing your eyes isn’t the same as sleeping, no matter where we do it. Sometimes, that’s the idea. Closing your eyes can be surprisingly refreshing if you want a few minutes of respite without dozing off.
Closing your eyes signals to your body and brain that taking a break is OK, even if just for a few minutes. It’s like restarting a computer rather than shutting it down completely. You’ll be back in action shortly, but any breather is welcome.
Closing our eyes while remaining awake can make us feel less tired. The neurons in the brain are slightly less active, and this rest means that you’ll feel more alert, able to concentrate, remember something you forgot, and think clearer.
Have you ever wrestled with a problem for hours and seemed to get nowhere, then found that going for a brisk walk cleared your mind and helped you find the solution that has evaded you? Closing your eyes can have the same impact.
Resting Eyes vs. Sleep
The fundamental difference between resting your eyes and outright sleeping is that closing the eyes doesn’t repair your body. It gives your mind a break and helps your muscles relax, but it doesn’t have close to the same impact as sleeping soundly.
When you complete a sleep cycle, your cells and hormones are replaced. Repeat this process four or five times over eight hours of sleep, and you’ll understand why you feel reinvigorated in the morning.
Resting your eyes doesn’t afford these opportunities. You need to sleep deeper, ideally for a prolonged period, to see these benefits. You’re jumpstarting the engine in your body and brain, not replacing it with a newer model.
That doesn’t mean resting your eyes is pointless, as it’s a great way to escape your immediate reality, if just for a few minutes. Alas, multiple rest periods will never replace a full night of sleep.
How to Avoid Falling Asleep While Resting the Eyes
The problem with closing your eyes when exhausted is that you may fall asleep. It’s advisable to take steps to prevent this from happening. Things you could do include:
- Set an alarm for a few minutes on your cell phone.
- Use an egg timer to rouse you after three, five, or eight minutes.
- Hold something you’ll drop if you doze off, with the noise waking you.
- Keep your hands occupied while you rest your eyes, such as drumming the beat to a familiar song.
- Ask somebody to nudge or retrieve you if you are not back after a set period.
This will stop you from falling into a deep sleep and losing time as a consequence.
Why am I Groggy if I Didn’t Fall Asleep?
You may feel cheated if you rest your eyes and feel groggy and confused when you open them. You declared, “my eyes are closed, but I’m not asleep,” and now you face the worst of both worlds.
You received none of the therapeutic qualities of sleep but are now struggling with the fogginess of waking from a deep sleep. In reality, you may have fallen into an early stage of sleep – one of four.
|Stage One||You’ll start to drift into a world of sleep. If you’re left alone, you’ll progress to stage two, but at this point, any noise or motion will jerk you awake.|
|Stage Two||Your heart slows, your body temperature drops, and your mind starts to empty. At this point, you are on the brink of falling into a genuine slumber.|
|Stage Three||Often referred to as slow-wave sleep, your conscious thought processes have now shut down, and your body is repairing itself. This is a deep sleep.|
|Stage Four||REM sleep, or the dreaming phase. This only lasts 15 – 20 minutes at a time, but it feels longer and is the most disruptive phase to be roused from.|
If you feel groggy after you open your eyes, you likely entered stage one of sleep without realizing it – maybe even stage two. This often happens when people fall asleep while watching a movie or after hitting the snooze button on a morning alarm.
Thankfully, shaking off the cobwebs associated with dozing off should be comparatively simple when you just close your eyes. You should not feel as confused as you do after oversleeping for an hour or more. Take these steps to snap back to reality:
- Take some deep breaths.
- Stretch as many of your muscles as you can, as much as you can.
- Drink a glass of water to hydrate your brain, and consider eating a light snack.
- Stimulate your other senses, such as smell and hearing – listen to a song and smell a flower or aromatic food.
Follow this advice, and you’ll quickly reap the rewards of closing your eyes and affording yourself this short break without the impact of coming around from a deep sleep.
If you can’t sleep at night, lying in bed with your eyes closed is not entirely without benefits – you’ll still gain some advantages, such as resting your body. Alas, you need to complete at least two sleep cycles to feel genuinely refreshed, which only offers a short boost.