S1:E7 | Exhausted vs Relaxed : How going to sleep in these two states impacts your sleep all night

podcast season 1 wind down wind down time
Exhausted vs Relaxed : How going to sleep in these two states impacts your sleep all night podcast

Do you know if you are exhausted or relaxed when you go to sleep? Did you know that depending on which one you are can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep and also how long you stay asleep? Let’s explore this today … 


Hello and welcome back to The Sleep Seekers Podcast. I’m your host, Emma Ashford.

In todays episode we will be continuing with our season focused on your wind down time and how you best wind down before sleep. 

We have talked about lots of factors so far, and if this is your first time of listening, you can always go back and listen to the other episodes in this season. 

Today I want to talk about a very important distinction that we need to make relating to that direct time before bed and that is distinguishing between being exhausted or being relaxed when you go to sleep

The definition of being exhausted is ‘very tired’ or ‘completely used up’

Many people go to sleep at night in this state. The day has sucked the life out of you and by the time it comes to bedtime you are spent. And usually people see no problem with this because when you go to sleep exhausted, you usually fall asleep really fast. You often don’t see the point in having wind down time because you know you will fall asleep with no problems and probably very quickly. 

But when you go to sleep due to exhaustion, your body and mind are effectively just cutting out - they are done. They have nothing else to give. 

But, because of this, there has been no transition from the daytime body chemistry and state of mind to the night time body chemistry and state of mind. In effect, you have just temporarily switched off for a while. 

Now, if you go to sleep regularly through exhaustion and think you sleep well, for long enough and feel you get it rested, you are one of the lucky ones. 

What usually happens when you go to sleep exhausted is either that your sleep is poor quality meaning that you feel very aware of your sleep, your sleep feels on the surface for most of the night or you are stressed out in your sleep - perhaps leading to stress dreams, dreams being close to reality as though you are actually just thinking through a situation or even nightmares. 

So, it can be poor quality, or it can be short lived. As I said, going to sleep exhausted means your body chemistry and state of mind have not made the shift into night time mode. As you have probably heard me talk about, sleep should be a transition, not a switch because a lot of important stuff happens in that transition. But, when that transition hasn’t taken place, it often means that you will have a couple of sleep cycles and then when you get to the top of probably your second sleep cycle, you come to lighter sleep, as is perfectly normal and meant to happen but because you were not in an ideal state for sleep, it’s like the lights come back on in your brain, you wake up and you’re wide awake. This often translates to sleeping for around 3 hours before waking up wide awake. The pattern is then that often you will be awake for a few hours before drifting off again towards morning. 

So, going to sleep exhausted is not the best idea. Instead, we want to be aiming to go to sleep relaxed. And this is what your wind down time is all about. Through your wind down time we want to create that transition in your body chemistry and state of mind to move you effectively and seamlessly from the waking state to the sleeping state. This allows the quality of your sleep to be better, allowing you to go deeper into your sleep cycles to gain the benefits of deep restoring sleep. It also creates less awareness between your sleep cycles and prevents your mind from switching on during any brief spells of awareness that you may have. 

So, where do I see people going to sleep exhausted the most often?

  • Those people whose brains are always whirring and busy and who tend to put off going to sleep until they are ‘tired enough’ - often code for exhaustedThis could be because you are a very ‘on the go’ person who always has stuff to do, it could be because you work late, it could be because you have anxiety about sleep or going to bed. There are so many reasons for this - but waiting until you are ‘tired enough’ is always a warning sign. 
  • The people who don’t see the point in wind down time because they get to sleep quickly - they often don’t identify the issues in the night eg, only sleeping for a few hours at a time or poor quality sleep as being related to what happens before they sleep (why would you if no one tells you)
  • Shift workers, anyone who is working late (or early if you are working over night) and then trying to go straight to sleep on the back of this. Often you will fall asleep through exhaustion but it doesn’t last. 

You likely see this with children too - I know I see it in mine. If they are very upset before bedtime, overtired or overwhelmed directly before they go to sleep or they go to sleep on the back of a meltdown, the sleep will often not last and they will be disturbed during the night. 

So, we are always aiming to be going to sleep in a relaxed and wound down state. Does that mean it will always be perfect? No! Of course there will be nights here and there that will be less than ideal. But we want to aim to be going to sleep relaxed the majority of the time

So ask yourself honestly whether you think you are exhausted or relaxed when you go to sleep. Perhaps keep a track of your sleep over a couple of weeks and see what you notice.

These issues can be fairly easily addressed, when you have the right knowledge and implement the right things before you go to sleep, and it doesn't have to take over your life. 

If you want to learn more about wind down time and how to improve yours, you will find the link to my programme in the show notes or you can simply go to sleepseekers.academy/evening to find out more. Once in that programme you can also access the Q&A sessions where I can help you with your sleep more directly or you can book some 1-1 time with me so I can help you in detail. 

That’s my food for thought for you today. Are you exhausted or relaxed going to sleep