Why You’re Still Tired: Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith on the 7 Types of Rest We All Need


It’s climbing Mount Everest and finding Utopia rolled into one: the idea that we can feel fully awake and vibrant throughout the day. It may sound like a fallacy that we’ve been chasing with every sleep hack, but it’s actually attainable. The key is to change our perspective on how we recharge.

Enter the seven types of rest. This is the life-changing concept explored by medical physician and researcher Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith in her book, Sacred Rest. When it comes to restoring ourselves, we give all the credence to sleep. But we really need to be taking different kinds of recess—mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative—to replenish all the ways we become depleted. “Getting more sleep, which is the physical rest, will not resolve these other rest deficits,” says Dalton-Smith. By finding the areas in which we are tapped out and filling those “buckets” with specific replenishing activities, we restore our ability to function optimally.

Whether you’re seeking more energy or you’re struggling to keep your eyes open reading this, Dalton-Smith makes a fascinating point: “If you’re not purposefully resting you are not building resilience in your life.”

1. How do sleep and rest differ?

When we talk about sleep we often omit the other types of rest. Sleep primarily is a physical type of rest. When you consider there are seven types of rest total, if we put all of our buckets into this one type, we’re in essence missing out on the other six because we are not intentionally trying to restore those areas of our life. That’s where many of us fall into a trap: It’s feeling like rest doesn’t work for us because the only rest we’re attempting is to get more sleep.

Now don’t get me wrong: Sleep is important. We need high-quality, non-REM stage-three restorative-type sleep. But for many of us, that is very difficult to get into that stage because we do not know how to rest properly. I look at rest as the roadmap that takes you into high-quality sleep. Once you’re able to get all of these areas—your mind, your spirit, your emotions, your reflexes, your senses—all of these things calm down, then it is much easier to drift into the deeper levels of sleep.

2. What are some misconceptions about rest and how do they perpetuate the common issue of feeling groggy and tired during the day even after a good night’s sleep?

That was my own story. I’m an internal medicine physician, Board Certified a few times. I’ve been practicing medicine for more than 20 years and am well aware of the need for good quality sleep. I was making a deliberate point of getting seven, eight, nine, sometimes 10 hours a night, trying to find that magic number that would allow me to wake up feeling refreshed. Despite getting excellent sleep, I was still waking up tired.

The majority of the patients I work with and the majority of the patients that I meet have a rest deficit that they are not aware of simply because they do not realize that there are different types of rest. So many people count rest as a big bucket. A cessation of activity. Anything that is not their normal work they call rest. You’ll hear from someone, “I’m going on vacation to rest.” What they really mean is that they are going to go to a fun location and do fun work. They’re not effectively resting, they’re doing a lot of fun activities that usually don’t leave them feeling restored but rather leave them feeling more tired when they get home.

Many of these activities of rest that I am going to describe are just this: restorative activities. That is the mindset shift that many people have to make: rest should be restorative. Just stopping is not always restorative. Sometimes something has to be done to pour back into that area where you are being depleted.


3. Walk us through the seven different types of rest. What are they and what are their restorative activities?


Physical rest can be divided into two types: There is passive physical rest, which includes sleeping and napping. These are cessation activities where you don’t physically do anything and your body recovers in that lack of movement and activity. And then there is active physical rest, which are restorative types of activities that help improve our circulation and lymphatic and help to relax our muscles. This includes yoga, stretching, massage therapy, leisure walks.


For mental rest, this is something you may have to replenish if you’re doing calculations all day long, ideating, constantly processing information. People with a mental rest deficit tend to be those who got to bed at night and their brain won’t shut off. They have on-going mental chatter where it is hard to get the mental cerebral space to get to that quiet zone. To get mental rest this can include nightly brain dumps or mind dumps where you write down whatever thoughts are ruminating through your headspace on something concrete so that your brain will release that thought and not hold on it.


This is dependent on your own spiritual beliefs. For those who have a faith-based spiritual belief, spiritual rest can include meditation and prayer. For people who don’t have a religious faith-bases system that they adhere to, spiritual rest can include feeling a sense of belonging, which can include groups or bodies of people where you feel accepted or that you belong, even support groups or a church congregation. It’s not about religion, it’s about that inner-connectedness of relationship—that relationship with others as well as with God or however you acknowledge a higher power.


Emotional rest has to do with getting authentic with what you’re feeling and having the liberty and freedom to release that information to someone. Some people call it vulnerability or ‘getting real’ with the world. Many of us keep our emotions in check because we don’t want to be fully truthful about what’s going on with us. It’s not necessary to have that level of vulnerability or authenticity with everyone, but all of us need someone in our lives with whom we can just say how it is. That person can be a counselor, trusted friend, pastor. Who it is is up to you, but all of us need someone where we can have that level of emotional rest.


Social rest requires us to take a look at how different relationships pull on our energy. There are people in our lives with whom the nature of our relationship is that we are always the ones giving and they are the ones receiving. And then there are other relationships that pour back into us, that don’t require anything from us, and that don’t have any agenda when we come around.

It’s important to be aware of how your relationships pull on your energy. Most of our social energy is spent on people that are negatively pulling on our energy—our family, kids, spouses, co-workers, colleagues: they all need stuff from us. Those people who need things from you will always be more demanding of your social energy than those people who don’t need things from you. There is a need for those life-giving relationships with the people that love on you and fill you up.


Sensory rest is downgrading the sensory input in our lives. It is being mindful of how much sensory input we experience. Now with social media and all of the gadgets that we use all day we have a lot of sensory input as a culture. You need to be mindful of that and how it affects you.

I relate this to a 2-year-old at a birthday party. At the start the child is in the best mood. Two hours into it, they are ballistic for no other reason than they are just done. Many of us exude the same symptoms as adults but we don’t recognize that as sensory overload. That same agitation the 2-year-old had you can experience as a 34-year-old in an office with bright lights and ringing phones—and you wonder why you are so irritable when you go home.

We need times when we are allowing ourselves to appreciate silence, darkness, to turn off or downgrade the notifications on our devices. One practice I find to be effective is to use time blocks for those sensory-rich activities. With email or social media, rather than checking it and consuming it all day long and letting it take you on an emotional and mental roller-coaster you can block out specific times to read and catch up on it.


Have you ever had a time at the park, on the beach, or in the mountains and you feel better? You felt restored, energized, renewed, at peace. That is what creative rest is. It’s the rest we experience when we allow beauty, whether it’s natural or man-made beauty (like going to a museum, symphony, or theatre) into our lives. When we let that to awaken something inside of us. That sense of awe and wonder.

For many, when we hear creative rest we may think, I’m not creative, or I’m not an artist, or musician. Well, most of us are innovative in one form or another, whether we’re teachers, stay-at-home moms, business owners. We use creative energy for all of these things. A lot of people have a creative rest deficit because they put more of an emphasis on creative rest being for those who are artistic when, in essence, most of us use creativity in one form or another.

All of us can’t just take off to go to the beach, and bodies of water are a huge way for people to find creative rest. But the research shows that people who have that response to water have a similar response when they look at images of water, or at colors related to the ocean like aquamarines and teals. Studies show that you can paint rooms in your house in colors that help you feel more creative and inspired. It can even be as simple as using a lock screen on your computer or phone or having fresh flowers in your home. These are all small ways of getting creative rest throughout the day.

4. How can we pinpoint where we’re depleted and the type of rest we need?

This is where the Rest Quiz that I’ve created helps. It gives you an assessment to see which type of rest you’re deficient in.

  • You may have a physical rest deficit if you notice you’re having neck pain or tension, swelling in legs or feet. You may be getting sick quicker or your immune system is not affective.
  • You may be experiencing a mental rest deficit, or what I call early dementia without having dementia, if you have a lack of ability to concentrate or brain fog. You may be a 30-year-old and you walk into the grocery store needing three things and you can’t remember them.
  • You may be experiencing a creative rest deficit if you have an inability to think of new ideas and to brainstorm effectively, or if you have writer’s block or when musicians say they ‘lose their muse.’
  • You may be experiencing a sensory rest deficit if you are overly agitated and you don’t enjoy high-sensory activities like concerts, or if a baby cries and you jump out of your skin.
  • You may be experiencing an emotional rest deficit if you feel like you’re constantly being used and abused by others, not appreciated and not and understood.

There are so many signs depending on which types of rest you’re needing. Now, seven sounds intimidating, but you’re probably already excelling at some of these naturally. But chances are, one of these seven you haven’t even thought about or heard of—and that is likely where you have a deficit and what is keeping you feeling tired all the time.

5. What is your response to those who prioritize long hours and a hustle mentality?

What I have found, in our culture particularly, is that people who are high achievers have this mindset that rest is not necessary because they think they can get more done if they don’t rest. But in truth, the most productive people—people who produce at the highest mental, physical, creative, emotional level of capacity—rest. Those people cannot do that unless they are getting adequate rest. Otherwise, you are creating and producing out of emptiness.

There are a lot of people in the world who are producing work but the work they’re producing is not their best. Whether you’re a creative, a writer, an actor, an entrepreneur, a schoolteacher, a student, whatever, if you’re trying to get to the next level you won’t get there empty. You’re only going to get there when you feel at your best—fully empowered and fully energized.

You have to be courageous. Rest is not for someone who is trying to fit into the status quo. It’s a rebellious act to say, ‘you know what? For me to do what I need to do and to be where I need to be, I need to take a day to sit and stare at grass.’ It takes courage to do that because that is not what most of the world is doing and that is why most of the world is burned out, tired, and fatigued. 

This interview was featured in the December 20, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


A senior editor of The Sunday Paper, Stacey Lindsay is a multimedia journalist, editorial director, and writer based in San Francisco. She was previously a news anchor and reporter who covered veterans’ issues, healthcare, and breaking news. You can learn more and find her work here, and you can follow her here.


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