Can’t Get Out of Bed: Why Do I Feel Like This and How Do I Get Better?

Thursday, 8th November 2018

We all feel sleepy from time to time, and it’s normal to crave a few more minutes under the covers when early rises are the norm. Maybe we have a lot on at work, we accidentally (or intentionally) over-cooked it over the weekend or simply got carried away binging away until late on our fave Netflix series…

But the point is, there’s normally a reason for it.

Feeling cosy in bed can make the prospect of leaving it a scary one - for all of us. But when we start dreading getting out of bed (and I mean, really dreading it), both physically and mentally, there might be something more at play.

Exhaustion and feeling like you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed becomes a problem when:

  • There’s no explainable reason for it.
  • This struggle feels overwhelming and is happening to you frequently.
  • It doesn’t get any better i.e. it’s not just a patch of tiredness.

If you can’t get out of bed because you feel there’s simply ‘no reason’ to, and this dissatisfaction with life is clouding your days and daily enjoyment, then it could point to something deeper. Depression can make you feel as though you’re wading through mud, and things most people take for granted like getting out of bed can feel like an giant upheaval for someone suffering from depression.

But wouldn’t I know if I was depressed?

Most of us have a one-size-fits-all understanding of depression, but not all depression manifests as major depressive disorder - the type many of us are most adept to recognise. It might be difficult to get our heads round it, but it’s also possible to be depressed and not know it. Unfortunately, lack of education means that many of us don’t necessarily recognise the signs and symptoms of depression.

“Smiling depression” manifests exactly as the name implies; it’s a form of depression with ‘atypical’ features where someone appears happy and OK on the outside but is struggling a lot internally. Consider it like wearing a mask. Someone with atypical depression could be functioning alright; holding down a job (though probably finding it a struggle) and carrying out their daily tasks - but feeling tired, disillusioned and probably experiencing a lot of pain underneath it all.

And because they feel like they’re able to push through, a person with atypical depression sometimes won’t even realise that they’re depressed.

Atypical depression tends to be chronic and cyclical, coming in dips and dives. It’s marked by the fact that someone might experience a relief in their symptoms occasionally - such as when they receive positive news or something good happens in their life. Because of these moments of relief, it’s easy for atypical depression to go undetected. Someone with atypical depression is probably more likely to blame situations they find themselves in or people in their life when they feel depressed.

Other markers to look out for:

  • Over-sleeping a lot and waking up feeling unrefreshed.
  • Increased appetite (in contrast to major depressive disorder where loss of appetite is more common).
  • A history of troubled relationships.
  • Heavy sensation in limbs, physical tiredness.
  • Over-sensitivity to criticism and low self-worth or a feeling that you’re not ‘good enough’.

If you’re struggling to get out of bed, and you’ve been experiencing at least two of the above symptoms for an extended period of time, then it’s important to seek professional support.

And let’s be clear, it’s not ‘all in your head’

A study in 2013 which looked at the brains of people suffering from depression found various factors that disrupt sleep, and contribute to the relentless exhaustion someone might feel when they are depressed. When it comes to sleep, the study showed that depressed people are more likely to experience the following:

  • Disrupted circadian rhythms.
  • Taking a long time to fall asleep.
  • Waking up multiple times throughout the night.
  • Less sleeping time as a whole.
  • Waking up earlier and struggling to fall back asleep again.
  • Fewer stages of deep sleep.

So waking up after what seemed like a ‘full night’s sleep’ shattered and unrefreshed is not in your head. Your mind and body simply wasn’t able to replenish itself in the way it needs to feel properly rejuvenated and fresh for the day ahead.

Unfortunately, these kinds of patterns can lead us trapped in a vicious cycle. When we’re depressed we don’t get enough good quality sleep so we feel tired, and when we’re tired we lack energy which makes us feel low, and leaves us lacking when it comes to getting up and doing things the way we might normally do.

But you can break free. Please remember that depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. There is light, and you can make a full recovery.

Some tips for when depression means you can’t get out of bed.

The internet is awash with articles promoting a fast-track to recovery - ‘5 tips to beat depression!’ or ‘10 SIMPLE ways to overcome the black dog’. But anyone who’s been there knows full well that most people know what they need to be doing - but the very symptoms of depression prevent them from doing those things. There’s no one trick to making morning times a breeze when you’re not feeling well. But there are a few steps you can take to make a difficult day that much better:

1. Make sure you have something to look forward to in the AM
It doesn’t need to be anything grand. It can be as simple as getting coffee from your favourite coffee shop with that friendly barista, or making sure you have a tasty breakfast ready and waiting for you in the kitchen. Depression feeds off physical stagnation, and moving your body (no matter how small) can distract you from negative thoughts.

2. Write down 3 things you’d like to achieve during the day.
Creating a list helps to create some structure, and when you tick something off it will provide a sense of achievement. Try not to make it anything too challenging if you’re low in energy. It can be something as small as having a friend over for a cup of tea or simply taking a bath with a few drops of your favourite essential oil.

3. Have some comebacks ready and waiting for your inner critic
We all have an inner critic, but if you’re suffering from depression you’ve probably got a hefty ol’ one that’s difficult to budge. Have some answers ready for when the negativity starts to creep in. It could be something as simple as, “Yes I feel tired, but I’m doing my best and I’m getting out of bed because today is a new day”.

4. Take it one step at a time
Instead of trying to throw yourself out of bed, take it one step at a time - and give yourself an easy get out clause. Remind yourself that you don’t have to do anything. Start by saying “I’m just going to go to the bathroom”, then maybe “I’m just going to make myself a cup of tea”. Small goals, and zero pressure.

The main thing to remember is that wherever you are today, however you feel - that’s fine. There are good days, and there are bad days for all of us. Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up or put any pressure on yourself. Depression has a nasty habit of doing that for us. So practice as much kindness with yourself as you possibly can.

When should I seek help if I can’t get out of bed?

If you believe you (or a loved one) is suffering from depression then it is important to seek support from a mental health expert. Depression is very much treatable, and a qualified therapist can help you navigate out of any unhealthy thought patterns that are holding you back.

A therapist can support you by:

  • Helping you identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviour.
  • Support you in realistic goal setting, taking it one step at a time.
  • Talk through past experiences that might be holding you back from becoming your best self.

Never be afraid to ask for help. The simple fact that you are here right now seeking change is powerful all in its own.

Remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day”.

Please note: feeling overly tired for a long period of time is not a symptom that is confined to depression. There are also a number of physical disorders that can cause extreme lethargy, such as: issues with your thyroid, anaemia, sleep apnoea (amongst many others). Always check with your GP or a qualified medical professional if you have any doubts.


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