Tired woman head down with coffee.


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

~Theodore Roethke

I’m totally exhausted!

Between my busy schedule and my tendency toward insomnia, I know what it feels like to be tired. Everyone feels tired from time to time. Being tired is part of life, and it’s natural to be tired: it’s our bodies signaling to us when we need to get some rest.

Many of us have a healthy relationship with being tired. We might overdo it on occasion, we might burn the midnight oil, we may have long days at the end of which we stretch and yawn and head for the sweet relief of a pillow, a fluffy comforter, and a dark room.

But for some, being tired is a permanent state. They never ever get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is their new normal.

Others (hello!) are sleep-deprived because they struggle with sleep. They may spend enough time in bed, but for some reason, they can’t get to sleep, or they can’t stay asleep. They spend hours in bed—anxious or even frantic—and get up the next day feeling like a zombie

Whatever the reason for our exhaustion is, we can learn something about ourselves. Do we recognize when we’re tired? Not when we’re totally exhausted—that’s obvious—but rather when our body is starting to signal us that we need to start thinking about getting some sleep. For many in the modern world, we only recognize that our body is trying to tell us something when it’s totally obvious and the signals are urgent (see Signals). We may also be confused because the feeling of being tired is often similar to the feeling of being bored (see Boredom).

It’s also interesting to understand the relationship between sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion—the feeling we get from exerting ourselves physically. We can have the same feeling of being tired to our very core, but it is a different kind of tired. Understanding these nuances in our body’s signals can help us stay in tune with our energy and prevent us from feeling like we’re fighting with our bodies. It may also compel us to sleep when our bodies are telling us to (not when our TV show is over).

Modern humans are faced with so many distractions that take them away from the natural rhythms of life that it can be hard to recognize the need for sleep and the freedom to act on it. So many of us have evening activities that we feel compelled to engage in that distract us from the urge to sleep. We also have schedules that force us to wake up before or after we naturally would. One of the many reasons why it can be beneficial to get away from TV and online activities for extended periods of time is that it can help us become more aware of our natural sleep patterns. The next time you have a few days where you don’t have to wake up at any particular time, try this: go through the afternoon paying particular attention to your feelings of sleepiness, and when it seems natural to go to sleep, be disciplined about going to your bedroom, lying down, and sleeping. Don’t make any effort to make your bedroom darker—just lie down and sleep. When you wake up and you feel fully awake, get out of bed. Start to engage in whatever activities seem natural. If you have the freedom to do this for a few days, you’ll start to get an idea of what your normal sleep cycle would be if you lived a more natural life.

One of the reasons for our feelings of tiredness may be the relatively modern idea that we need to sleep over an uninterrupted chunk of time. Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech, published research in 2001 showing that historical humans slept in segmented patterns, breaking up their sleep into four-hour periods. When we wake up in the middle of the night, we think it’s insomnia, but it’s actually just a natural sleep cycle pattern that we can embrace given enough flexibility. When we wake in the middle of the night, it’s OK to wake up briefly and use that time to reflect or meditate, then calmly go back to bed.

This is just one example of the ways that we can restore the natural cycles and natural rhythms in our lives.

Being tired is a natural part of living, but if we’re tired all the time and can’t incorporate sleep naturally into our daily routines, that’s a red flag, and we should examine the various aspects of our lives to determine whether there’s any flexibility to allow for more natural patterns.

Everybody’s tired sometimes, but if there’s a opportunity to feel better rested and lead a more rewarding life through natural sleep patterns, we should seize that opportunity.

Good night…

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