How To Cope When You’re Feeling Exhausted

By Ali Luke

July 21, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Good Sleep

We all have days (and in some cases, weeks or months) when we just feel exhausted. Just getting out of bed feels like a huge effort, and by the time we’ve stumbled to work, downed a grande-sized triple-strength latte, and switched on the computer, we just want to go back to sleep. Whether the cause is a new baby, a bout of insomnia, a hectic life, or a change in routine, here’s some “do”s and “don’t”s to help you to cope with your exhaustion:

  • Don’t Overdo The Caffeine
    My first instinct, when I’m yawning my head off or when my brain seems to be filled with sawdust, is to make a beeline for the nearest source of caffeine. And yes, it works – for all of half an hour. That immediate caffeine buzz wakes me up, and makes me think “Hey, I’m fine, I was just a bit dozy first thing.”

Of course, you’ll know what’s coming next. Yup – the sudden slump as the caffeine wears off. The fervent desire to crawl under the desk and sleep. And making yet another coffee will only make the caffeine highs and lows worse.

If you do need caffeine to function, then try taking it in gradually, rather than knocking back a double espresso. Space out a few weak mugs of tea or weaker coffees, and you won’t get that high/low swing.

  • Do Have A Nap (If You Can)
    If you’re in a job or role where you can nap during the day, then take a twenty – thirty minute nap (any longer, and you’ll probably find you wake up feeling even more groggy than you did before). You might be reluctant to lose the time, especially if the cause of your exhaustion is burning the candle at both ends, but you’re going to be working at a fraction of your peak efficiency if you’re yawning your head off. A nap can really restore you and get you going again.

For many of us, of course, a nap isn’t an easy option. If you work for a traditional employer, your manager or boss is unlikely to look favourably on you catching a few Zs at your desk. If you can, part of your lunch hour, or a scheduled break, to nap.


  • Don’t Chase A Sugar Fix
    As well as grabbing that grande latte or mug of strong tea, most of us are likely to go for a candy bar, donut or packet of Oreos when we’re feeling tired. And yes, the sugar provides a temporary buzz – especially if you eat it along with the caffeine.


But, once again, you’re just going to suffer a crash an hour or so later. You’ll be feeling even more tired, and you’ll crave more sugar. The effect on both your short-term and long-term health isn’t going to be great…

Instead of mainlining sugar, reach for some long-term energy snacks. Anything involving wholegrain or lean protein is a safe bet. Nuts , seeds or fruit are also good options.


  • Do Keep Moving
    When you’re having to prop your eyes open with the effort of staring at a computer screen, there’s a good chance that exercise will be the last thing on your mind. But if you can keep active, you’ll find the tiredness fading. It’s not necessarily a good idea to head to the gym for an intense workout, but frequent short walks will help you stay awake (try taking a five-ten minute break to walk around once an hour).



  • Finally … don’t try to struggle on through weeks or months of exhaustion. If you simply have problems sleeping, talk to your doctor. If you’re struggling to “switch off” at night – if you wake up thinking about your to-do list, your financial worries, or your relationship problems – then find some ways to decompress in the evening (avoid reading emails last thing at night, for instance, and try writing down your worries in a journal). And if your work-life balance is so out of sync that you’re pulling fourteen or sixteen hour days, start to seriously think about whether it’s worth it.


What are your quick fixes for feeling exhausted? How do you cope when you just want to go back to bed and sleep?

Ali Luke

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