Waking up feeling exhausted is the worst feeling. You go to bed at night after a long, hard day hoping that you will wake feeling rested and energised. But then you wake up feeling like you’ve done another day’s work! Or perhaps you’re struggling to get off to sleep because you can’t stop your thoughts from going round and round. Maybe your tolerance levels are becoming lower and lower, with the fuse on your temper getting shorter and shorter. In this article we look at what’s happening when you sleep but you don’t feel rested. Plus, we suggest some great tips you might like to try to help you get that elusive good night’s sleep. 


I do sleep but I still feel exhausted – Is that common? 


Feeling exhausted is so common that it has its own acronym, TATT, which stands for ‘Tired All The Time’.

Dr Rupal Shah, a GP in south London, says tiredness is one of the most common complaints she sees in her surgery. “I see loads and loads of patients who complain of feeling exhausted, even though they’re sleeping well. Often it’s been going on for several months.”

If you look at the UK statistics for sleep you can understand why. Staggeringly, 67% of the UK population suffers with disrupted sleep with a quarter getting less than 5 hours per night. Even more worryingly, around a third of people in the UK say that they suffer with insomnia.

Whilst you can understand why someone would feel tired if they had insomnia, why would you feel tired if you are sleeping? The answer has to do with the quality of the sleep that you are getting. But before we get into sleep quality, let’s eliminate some other factors first. 


Underlying Physical Causes 


Firstly, it should be said that if you are consistently waking up tired and it lasts throughout the day, you should seek medical advice. Fatigue can be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as anaemia, under-active thyroid gland or diabetes. It’s unusual to find anything physically wrong and most commonly, fatigue is linked to psychological causes or lifestyle choices. However, it’s essential to check with your GP to make sure that your fatigue isn’t a symptom of illness.  

If there is a medical reason for the tiredness, it is usually accompanied by additional symptoms. Examples of these might be heavy periods, weight loss, changes in bowel habits or bad headaches. A simple blood test will usually rule out an underlying medical condition. 

Once you have established that your fatigue isn’t linked to a physical condition, then it’s time to turn your attention to your mental health. 


Is my poor sleep caused by anxiety? 


A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly a third of the population are severely sleep-deprived, often because of job and money worries. 

In order to identify why you’re so tired, it can be helpful to think about these three things: 

  • What areas of your life may be tiring you out? Look at areas such as your work and family commitments.
  • When did it start happening? Are there any events that may have triggered your tiredness, such as a break up, or a recent bereavement?
  • Is your lifestyle making you tired? Is there actually enough time in your day to allow you to get enough sleep? 

Try to identify whether your lifestyle is a stressor. If you have anxiety https://www.newlife-therapy.co.uk/anxiety/ or depression, then this will definitely cause you to sleep poorly or to have insomnia. Furthermore, it may be that you are suffering from trauma or PTSD

If you are, this again will definitely be a factor in disturbed sleep. People suffering with PTSD often have night terrors, and very disrupted sleep, which in turn exacerbates the problem. Getting help to tackle your mental health concerns is a major step in getting back to a good sleeping pattern. A good therapist will always look at your sleep patterns, and behaviour, and suggest ways to improve it. The fact is, poor mental health causes our sleep to suffer and poor sleep causes our mental health to suffer!

Click here for more information about trauma and PTSD and how it affects dreaming and sleep.


Is my lifestyle making me tired? 


Many people complain of tiredness or not sleeping well, but they see the sleep element separately to their daily life. However, what we do, eat, drink and think about during the day all has an effect on our sleep quality. 

As an example, alcohol is commonly used to make us feel more relaxed, as are other substances such as cannabis. But both of these actually delay the onset of REM sleep, and act as a sedative, and sedation isn’t sleep. If you are sedated, you are simply ‘knocking out’ the conscious mind, and this is not effective sleep. Your brain will not be doing the important work that it should be doing, such as processing emotions. Neither will it be building cells and muscles or fighting infections; all things that keep our minds and bodies working effectively. Cannabis in particular, suppresses dreaming in the REM state and this lead to heightened anxiety, since emotions go unprocessed. You just might smoke more cannabis to feel more relaxed, beginning a cycle of anxiety, poor sleep and fatigue.  


Not enough hours in the day 

We frequently have clients who sleep badly, but who don’t actually allot enough hours to sleeping. It sounds obvious, but if you have to be up at 6am to get to work and don’t go to bed before midnight then even on a good night there isn’t time to get enough sleep. And you may feel pressured to fall asleep immediately to get those 6 hours which isn’t really conducive to relaxation. This means you might be tossing and turning for a good while before you actually get to sleep. 


Sleep, over-dreaming, and tiredness 


As we have said, what we do during the day will affect our sleep. The function of dreaming is to deactivate any emotional thoughts that we weren’t able to act upon during the day. We all dream every night and even when life is good there will always be unresolved emotions. This might simply take the form of desiring but not eating a cake when you’re trying to lose weight. The dream allows us to preserve our instincts and awaken fresh and ready to face a new day. 

However, if you have a lot of anxious depressive thoughts during the day, then you will need to dream more. For example, if you are worrying that you might lose your job, then this cannot be resolved during the day. The resulting anxious thoughts need to be dealt with by dreaming them out. Increased levels of dreaming are a problem because they drain our energy levels. Instead of going to bed and adding to our reserves of energy, we end up using more than we gained. We end up waking up with an energy deficit.  

This is why someone with depression is usually so tired. The constant tiredness makes you feel more emotional, which leads to irrational thoughts and even poorer sleep. 

Lower your stress levels 

The best way to reduce the amount of dreaming we do is to reduce our stress levels. One way to do this is to do this breathing exercise.  Doing this morning and night as a routine can help to reduce the amount you dream. You can also do this whilst driving, queuing or sitting at your desk – or any time when you feel stressed. 

Exercise is another way to reduce stress levels, as well as tiring you out physically rather than mentally. 


14 tips to help you sleep better 


  1. It may sound obvious but go to bed earlier, if you go to bed late and are always waking up feeling tired. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day so that your brain expects when to sleep and when to wake. 
  1. Avoid drinking tea or coffee late in the evening
  1. Avoid drinking alcohol. Having several drinks may help to get you off to sleep, but after a few hours, once the alcohol has been metabolised and you wake up. Alcohol is just a sedative that prevents normal sleep from occurring. 
  1. Do not exercise within two hours of going to bed. Do exercise during the day or early evening.
  1. Have a milky drink or camomile tea before going to bed.
  1. Have a relaxing warm bath or shower before going to bed.
  1. Ensure that you have a comfortable mattress, not an old saggy one.
  1. Put up black out curtains or blinds, if necessary, to keep the light from waking you.
  1. Use the bedroom primarily for sleep. Don’t watch TV in it or listen to music with a fast beat, or do anything that wires you up. Having sex is good; although sex stimulates, it discharges energy and so doesn’t adversely affect sleep.
  1. Wear ear plugs if your partner snores or noise disturbs you from outside.
  1. Try spraying some lavender around the bed or use a lavender pillow. Many people find the scent helps to induce sleep.
  1. Make sure you are not too hot or too cold.
  1. Don’t go to bed with a completely empty stomach. The body needs around 200-300 calories to function well during sleep. Have a small starchy snack an hour or so before bed if you are hungry. 
  1. Don’t worry about whether you will sleep or not! 


Want to get to sleep quicker?


You might find that you struggle to get to sleep as your mind is too active and you can’t settle. Meditation can help to still the mind. Or you might try this short breathing exercise to help you drift off to sleep quickly. 

4-7-8 Breathing Exercise for Sleep 

Make yourself comfortable and ready for sleep and get into the position that you would go to sleep in. 

  1. Place tongue behind the teeth with your mouth open. 
  2. Breathe in through your nose (fully) to a count of 4. 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7. 
  4. Breathe out through the mouth to a count of 8. (It may help to begin with to think of it as two sets of 4, it helps with the distribution of breath). 
  5. Try to concentrate your thoughts on the breathing and not let them wander. 
  6. Repeat 5 times, then close your mouth and breathe normally through your nose. 

Stay in the same position and you should drift off to sleep, if not repeat the process again.


Give yourself the best chance 


Sleep is as important to us as food, shelter and water. In today’s society it has almost become the enemy of productivity and ambition, but we must change this outlook if we are to be truly mentally and physically healthy. Looking at your work / life balance and thoughts during the day will help you improve the quality of your sleep. 

I hope that this has been helpful and as ever, if you know of someone who would benefit from reading about this, then please share. Why not head over to our website for useful blogs, downloads and information. 

With very best wishes, 


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