Suggestions for how to nourish ourselves and beat fatigue through effective rest and energising activities.

Sleeping woman on train resting her head on her arm

Not getting a good night’s sleep leaves us feeling fatigued the next day.  If we suffer like this on a regular basis, we can end up driving ourselves down the exhaustion funnel (pictured) as illustrated by Marie Åsberg, an expert on burnout from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.  We can end up being irritable, or having unexplained physical symptoms, before sinking further into a feeling of joylessness or hopelessness. 

To stop ourselves being swallowed up by the black hole of exhaustion at the bottom of the funnel, there is something we can do.  We need to take pre-emptive action by looking after ourselves more compassionately.  Self-awareness is key to noticing moods and feelings, and their impact on our thoughts and actions. 

Åsberg suggests that we can nourish ourselves by choosing energising activities that we know will make a difference to our psychological wellbeing.  Simply making a list of ‘nourishing activities’ in one column versus ‘depleting ones’ in another can help here. 

Then, if we feel ourselves slowly slipping down the path to exhaustion, we can engage in the more nourishing activities.  What constitutes a nourishing activity will depend on the individual concerned: it could be listening to music, reading a book, or simply chatting to a friend. 

At the same time, we can seek to eliminate some of the more depleting activities.  Again, this will vary from individual to individual.  Examples could include watching TV passively for four hours straight, or checking your smartphone 500 times a day.  It is worth pointing out that activities like these may only be depleting if we overindulge them: everything in moderation! 

You may find half an hour in front of your favourite soap the perfect restful tonic, but sit in front of the TV all night and it is a different story.  You may feel drained the next day at work, especially if your sleep has suffered.  Fatigue, which can set up a pathway to exhaustion, is the number one enemy of mindfulness. 

Exhaustion funnel fatigue diagram

Exhaustion funnel

Mental health and sleep 

Many people would acknowledge that too little time sleeping impacts on their emotions and their ability to make sound decisions.  But if we find ourselves on the slippery road to exhaustion when we’re not sleeping properly, it can cause real mental health difficulties too.  Sleep disruption has been found to precede depression.  Disturbed sleep could, in fact, provide an early warning of mental health issues.  In schizophrenics, sleep patterns can be taken to the point where they are totally smashed. 

There is some good news.  Researchers at Oxford University have found that delusional paranoia can be reduced by 50 per cent if sleep is stabilised using cognitive behavioural therapy.* 

*De Lange, C. (2016). Sleep well – your mind could do with it. The New Scientist. 28 May 2016, p39. 

Clocking out to rest well 

Resting involves clocking out. In this state of mind, you are no longer on task. You can give up being accountable to anyone for a while. The good news is that you may only need to nudge yourself into resting at opportune moments during the day. Your mind frequently needs to replenish itself. 

This can be done in lots of ways. For example: 

  • Remind yourself of your key purpose in life when you wake up. 
  • Pause for 30 seconds after your breakfast and gather yourself before moving off again. 
  • Notice that space in breathing between the end of an inhalation and the beginning of an exhalation. 
  • Give yourself a few moments of peace once you finish a task, before moving to the next one. 
  • Encourage your mind to rest by refusing to engage in chatter about yourself or other people. 
  • Sit in silence for a minute each day. 

There is a clear difference between rest and sleep.  While sleeping, we have no choice where our mind takes us.  Conscious effort is needed to rest purposefully, but this can pay dividends in re-energising ourselves for the challenges ahead. 

How to stay energised

  • Ensure you get enough sleep – seven to nine hours if possible.
  • Find time to rest during the day, even if it’s only a few moments to focus on something other than your work, such as your breathing.
  • Pay attention to the early signs of exhaustion, such as irritability, headaches and other physical symptoms.
  • Make a list of all the activities you find nourishing. Do more of these!
  • Make a list of all the activities you find depleting. Do less of these if you can!
  • Eat healthy foods to sustain your energy levels. 

Remember that you can report fatigue issues to CIRAS if you need to.  Some examples of issues reported include: 

  • long or double shifts 
  • long travel times to site 
  • lack of rest breaks or rest facilities 
  • training courses sandwiched between night shifts. 

Raise a concern with us


Find out more

Six lifestyle tips to reduce fatigue

How to recognise the symptoms of burnout

Worn out? Dead tired? Fatigue risk on the railway

Fatigue in focus: case studies

Sleep and shift work: findings from trackside workers study

UK Tram: innovating to prevent fatigue events