Tired All The Time? Why the Type of Rest Matters:

The 7 Types of Rest and Why We Need All of Them

Do you regularly feel drained? Have you ever tried fixing it by getting a full night’s sleep and still felt tired, fatigued, or burnt out? We all know sleep is critical for our health (and for more information on why, check out our blog post on Sleep Hygiene), but we could be lacking in other types of rest other than sleep. In fact, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine doctor, describes 7 different types of rest we all need to prevent burnout, improve energy, and for our long-term health. Based on her clinical practice and research, she found that we require sufficient rest in all seven categories to maintain energy, happiness, creativity, and fulfilling relationships in the face of big life events and daily stressors.

If you are regularly exhausted even if you sleep well, and have ruled out any health issues, you may not be getting the right type of rest. Read on to learn about the seven different types of rest, when you may be lacking in a specific category, and how to get that critical type of rest to finally feel better.

1. Physical Rest

Physical rest includes passive rest such as sleeping or napping, and active rest like gentle yoga, stretching, massage, and setting up good ergonomics at work.

If you are lacking physical rest, you might notice body aches, pains, always feeling muscle tension or even having muscle spasms after prolonged sitting at your desk or inactivity. Improving physical rest includes getting good sleep (refer back to our Sleep Hygiene blog post for tips), and carving out time for active rest such as stretching and massage. If you are not sure if your physical set up at work contributes to your issues, reach out to a physical therapist who can help you find better strategies to get through the work day with less aches and pains. 

2. Mental Rest

Have you ever been exhausted, and finally get to bed only to stay wide awake because your mind is racing? You might have a mental rest deficit. Other signs of mental rest deficiencies include difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable, or feeling forgetful – like entering a room and not knowing what you came in for, or not remembering those items on the grocery list when you walk into the store. Essentially your brain is too busy to hold onto information.

While it might not be unrealistic to quit your job or drop everything for a week-long vacation, you can take little steps daily to improve your mental rest. Try keeping lists or a journal nearby to write down your thoughts and get some of the mental gymnastics out of your brain and onto paper. Scheduling short breaks (even a minute or two!) throughout your day to turn off your brain for a brief moment also helps you slow down and find little moments of calm that add up throughout the day.

3. Emotional Rest

Emotional rest deficits may look like feeling unappreciated, taken advantage of, or feeling like you always have to keep your emotions packed without being able to truly be yourself or express how you feel. It is especially common for people who work in service industries, such as flight attendants, teachers, managers, and healthcare workers who regularly have to hide emotions and feelings for our clients, students, and patients. Parents may also experience emotional rest deficits by shielding children from stressors such as finances or family illnesses. All of that emotional labor that we carry privately and feelings that we hide can take its toll. 

Improving emotional rest in your life may include cutting back on people-pleasing in your personal and professional life, and sharing your true emotions with trusted friends, family members or professionals, or seeking out individuals who you can truly open up to.

4. Social Rest

Social rest deficits often occur with emotional rest deficits. Lacking social rest might look like feeling like you just need a moment for yourself, or that you’re tired from constantly giving and pouring energy into others. Even the people we love dearly – our children, spouses, and even friends can leave us feeling exhausted instead of revived if they regularly need things from us without pouring them back into our cups.

By contrast, social rest occurs when we spend time with people who are contributing back into our lives, or don’t need anything from us and we simply enjoy each others’ company. Improving your social rest could look as simple as getting together or calling a friend who is positive and supportive. Another strategy is to improve awareness around the dynamics of your close relationships, being mindful of relationships that take more than they give, and working on relationships that exhaust rather than revive.

5. Sensory Rest

You’re at your desk, writing an email while looking at another window on your computer screen, and just then your phone beeps for a message, a coworker pings you on chat while you’re reading the message, and all the while you try to drown out your coworkers’ nearby conversation with the music of your own – any of that situation sound familiar? Our modern world is full of screens, noises, and lights, all of which contribute to sensory overload and our senses feeling overwhelmed. This lack of sensory rest can often look like feelings of irritation, anger, or agitation and often steadily increases throughout the day. 

Techniques as simple as closing your eyes for a minute, or intentionally spending time at the end of the day free from technology can help alleviate issues with sensory overload and overstimulation.

6. Creative Rest

Marveling at the expansive view from the top of a mountain, savoring the virtuosity of a talented musician, or admiring the beauty of a painting that speaks to you are all examples of creative rest. Creative rest is what we experience by allowing ourselves to appreciate beauty in the natural world or from the arts such as visual art, dance, and music.

When you have a deficit in creative rest, it often feels like a difficult time problem-solving, brainstorming, or being innovative. Coming up with new ideas, such as for jobs that involve writing, problem solving, or creative thinking depends on our ability to get creative rest. Even parents trying to constantly problem-solve how to navigate challenges with children’s schedules, well-being, etc all need some form of creativity. It is difficult to find new ways of thinking without first restoring our own creativity by engaging in nature’s beauty or stimulation from inspiring art. Thankfully we do not all need to take a trip to one of the Seven Wonders of the World to experience creative rest, it can be as simple as appreciating the details on a walk in your neighborhood, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or arranging your desk and home with inspiring art.

7. Spiritual Rest

The final type of rest, Spiritual Rest, refers to the ability to connect beyond the mental and physical and feel a deep sense of love, belonging, purpose, and acceptance. While spiritual rest may include practicing a religious faith, it does not need to. Spiritual rest may be unique to your individual belief system, but feeling like you belong, having a purpose, and feeling like you are contributing to the greater good is at the heart of spiritual rest. 

Professionally, a lack of spiritual rest can lead to burnout when you don’t feel like your work is meaningful. Connecting through work to your coworkers or work culture, or outside of work through community or faith-based organizations can help improve a sense of belonging and contribution to humanity. Similarly, engaging in things larger than yourself through meditation, prayer, performing meaningful work such as volunteering, or community involvement are all excellent ways to improve your spiritual rest.


Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith.