Why It’s Normal to be Exhausted at the End of the Day 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Tired woman in public transportation
After hours spent concentrating on a big project or juggling a dozen different things as part of a multitasking spree, it’s normal to feel worn out at the end of the day. Not only your body, but your brain can feel tired, too. It’s why some people find that after a day of working their mental muscles, they are happy to put off other taxing tasks – like assembling their child’s new 50-piece toy or trying to figure out why $100 is missing from their checking account. While this may feel like just being lazy, taking a break from brain work is actually a good response. Let’s look at why it’s completely normal to feel exhausted at the end of the day.
Your sleep-wake cycle. When a person’s circadian rhythm is functioning correctly, it promotes the body’s sleep-wake cycle that is tied to times of light and darkness. These are the physical and hormonal prompts that help people wake up in the morning and transition into sleep each night, according to the Sleep Foundation. When night falls, a gland in the brain begins to produce the hormone melatonin, which spreads into the bloodstream and makes people gradually feel tired and ready to go to sleep. But research has shown that other daytime activities can make your brain feel tired long before night falls. 
Cognitive overload. Some days are full of more stressful or heads-down activities than others. A new study has shown that when people do hours of work that require a lot of concentration, they can feel mentally fatigued and end up making impulsive choices. They also might put off other tasks they perceive as too hard to complete, according to research published in the journal Current Biology and shared by CNN. The study monitored people who did several hours of heavy-thinking tasks and found their brain function had changed by the end of the work session. The researchers said the fatigue people reported feeling was a physical signal that prompted people to give their brain a break. So declining other difficult tasks was really a form of self-preservation for people’s mental health. And not only is a feeling of fatigue normal after a mentally hard day, it’s a signal that the body needs some self-care. 
The importance of taking breaks. The study also showed how important it is for your brain to switch things up. Taking a break from work that requires heavy concentration is not only vital to brain health, but to a person’s physical well-being. When you take a break, pick an activity that does not require concentration. This could be scrolling through social media, watching an episode of your favorite show on TV, fixing a snack or just petting your dog. Even better, health experts say, is to take a break outside:
  • Go for a 20-minute walk
  • Do some yard work
  • Ride your bike
  • Go for a swim
  • Jog a mile or two
Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness techniques is also a good way to give a busy brain a break. In A Healthier Michigan Podcast, Carol Hendershot, co-founder of the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness, described the practice as simply paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment – and viewing that moment with feelings of curiosity and acceptance. Learning how to “meet our experiences” in this self-guided way can take a little slowing down and some practice – and gives our brains a nice break from heavy concentration. You can start with just a few minutes a day with these tips:
  • Find a quiet place
  • Get in a comfortable position
  • Turn off your phone
  • Pay attention to your breathing
  • Pay attention to how your body feels
  • If you mind wanders, that’s fine
  • Return your thoughts to your breathing
Photo credit: Getty Images

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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