So much of our modern literature on productivity and performance tells us that we need to focus on doing more. You’ve seen all of those LinkedIn influencers who boast that they’re up at 4am each day, and that their success can be attributed to their ability to work 18-hour days. (It’s a wonder that they even manage to find a free moment to write those LinkedIn posts.)

But the truth is that we can’t be productive all of the time. Our bodies and brains need time to rest and recharge, which we most often associate with sleeping. Sleep is one of the first things that we sacrifice when we’re feeling overworked, and yet even when we train ourselves to get more sleep, we often find that we’re still feeling tired and unproductive.

That’s because sleep is just one of many different types of rest that are available, as Saundra Dalton-Smith explains in her TEDx talk, “The real reason we are tired and what to do about it”. She describes seven different types of rest, and explains how we can use each of them to recharge our batteries.

Consider the following seven categories, and where you may currently be experiencing a deficit:

1. Physical rest 🏃‍♂️

This is the type of rest which tends to be easiest to recognise, as our body will give us very clear signs that we’re in need of it (unless you’re Jack Bauer in 24). Physical rest is often best achieved passively (via sleeping), but you can also pursue active physical rest, such as yoga or stretching.

2. Mental rest 🧠

When your energies start to sap at the end of a school or working day, it’s often because your brain has been overworked by all of the experiences that it’s absorbed. While sleeping can also be helpful in achieving mental rest (and sleep is a proven way to help us to process and retain information), any form of “switching off” can be helpful. We can achieve this throughout the day by ensure that we take regular screen breaks, stretch our legs, go for a walk, or practice some form of meditation or mindfulness.

3. Social rest 🤝

What “social rest” means to you will depend on your personality type, as discussed in our book review of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. For some people, they can “unwind” and feel better about themselves by spending time with people who give them energy. For introverts, these interactions can prove draining in themselves, and social rest is more easily achieved by the reverse: taking a break from excessive social interactions, and spending time alone.

4. Creative rest 🎨

Creativity, again, means different things to different people. It also needn’t mean that you have to be highly skilled at a given discipline - I enjoy playing the guitar, but I’m no Jimi Hendrix (feel free to insert a more modern reference here).

When we express ourselves creatively, our brains experience a relaxing effect, which can help us to feel more energised. And if we’re particularly adept at our specialism, we may even enter a state of “flow”, where we lose track of time and become completely immersed in our activity.

5. Emotional rest ❤️

We all experience emotions, often negative ones, on a daily basis. Some of us handle this by suppressing our feelings, or choosing to defer their experience. This can lead to a mental overload, which we often refer to as “bottling up” our emotions. You can achieve emotional rest by creating the time and space to be authentic about your feelings (which may involve talking about them, journalling, or just sitting with yourself and acknowledging their existence).

6. Sensory rest 👁

The modern world is screaming out for our attention. Be honest, have you read to this point in the article in one go? Or have you been skim-reading, or swiping away other notifications on your phone, or turning up that song that you like on the radio, or dealing with the latest drama from your partner or children? It’s no surprise that many of us find ourselves in need of sensory rest; creating screen-free time, or going outside and enjoying the natural world, can be a great way to achieve this. Try to give your senses a complete rest: I used to always pair a walk with listening to some music or a podcast, but try leaving your headphones at home one day, and see what it’s like to experience the true nature of the world around you.

7. Spiritual rest 🧘‍♂️

Spiritual doesn’t need to mean religious (although it can be that, if it fits your beliefs). It’s about finding a sense of purpose, and feeling like you’re doing something that matters. This could be as simple as finding a hobby that you enjoy, or it could be something more profound, like volunteering for a charity or a cause that you believe in.


If you’re feeling tired, it’s worth considering which of these types of rest you may be missing. It’s not always easy to find the time to rest, but it’s important to remember that not all rest is the same. If you’re feeling tired, it’s worth considering which of these types of rest you may be missing.

You can view Saundra’s TEDx talk in full below!

Key takeaways 📝

  • Sleeping is not the same as resting.
  • Learn to recognise each of the different forms of rest.
  • Try to find a way to incorporate each type of rest into your working day/week.