I'm trying to figure out if there is a better way to distinguish between being sleepy-tired, and being physically tired.

  • Scenario A: You didn't get much sleep last night. It's only 10am so you've not done much today, but you keep nodding off. You are tired
  • Scenario B: You've mowed the lawn, done a lot of heavy lifting, walked a lot, and now your muscles ache, you want to sit down. It's only lunchtime. You are physically tired, but wide awake. You are tired

I'm specifically asking about scenario B as you could use sleepy for Scenario A, which wouldn't get mixed up with physical tiredness.

I've looked at some synonyms such as exhausted and fatigued but I think these could also suggest some form of sleepiness.

I'm trying to find a one word or short way of saying "I'm tired, but not in the sleepy sense of the word" (*I'm physically tired, not sleepy tired)

I'm not asking for a way to say "It's bedtime, and although physically tired I'm still not sleepy"

The conversation scenario I'm trying to avoid:

A: sits down on the sofa, 8pm. "Boy, am I tired"

B: "well that's because you didn't have much sleep last night"

A: "No, I mean I'm physically tired, I'm actually not sleepy at all"

Is there a word A could initially use to avoid the sleep branch of the conversation? Does A have to resort to saying "Boy, I'm physically tired, but wide awake"?

Here's maybe a better way of what I'm driving at.

You didn't get much sleep during the night. You go to a long gym session at 9am and do more than you usually might, resulting in your muscles having a thorough workout. You have a coffee at 11am and then go home to your partner (who knows you didn't get much sleep) and flump on the sofa:

  • You are physically tired (you just want to sit down as your muscles are tired)
  • You've recovered from your immediate exertion (so you're not out of breath)
  • You are mentally awake (You're ready to sit down and do the crossword)
  • You don't feel sleepy at all (You could go to bed, but you wouldn't sleep. Why would you, it's the middle of the day and you've only just got up - you are not restless)

You want a short way to say "Phew, I'm tired!" but in a way that cannot be construed as being mentally tired or feeling the need for sleep. (and without having to qualify it with a longer sentence).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 21:22

6 Answers 6


I think participles might help give the sense that something (e.g. physical exertion) has “worn you out” beyond the normal process of becoming sleepy. For example, wearied (as opposed to simply weary).

I think some colloquial constructions that use a passive form might also help give the sense of what you want, like these:

  • done-in: worn out; exhausted; used up
  • drained: to be deprived of strength
  • sapped: to drain the [every; vitality] from
  • spent: used up; consumed
  • beat: exhausted; worn out
  • I think this might be as close as I'm going to get - the suggestion that it's an activity that has made me tired, suggests it's physical activity tiredness rather than sleepy tired. "That's tired me out". still not perfect (in my mind) but I can't see an alternative.
    – Smock
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 12:26
  • 1
    Done-in I think is a good suggestion because while it doesn't necessarily exclude sleepy tiredness, it still implies that the cause of the tiredness is the exercise -- or some other form of work -- as opposed to not having had enough sleep (so would be good at avoiding the awkward conversation stated in the OP).
    – user269635
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 13:43

worn-out (from Wiktionary, 2019):

Exhausted or fatigued from exertion.

I think exhausted or depleted could also work when provided with more context.

The thing is sleep is a very complex state due to circadian and homeostatic processes.

Circadian: someone who is full of energy but has a strict sleeping pattern can still be sleepy at bed time.

Homeostatic: someone who is depleted of resources can still be wakeful or restless due to changes in hormonal processes such as adrenaline rushes from bodily stress and blocking adenosine from binding to its receptors when ingesting caffeine.

  • Worn-out certainly implies that you are tired from exertion and probably comes quite close, but it doesn't necessarily exclude sleepiness . Other synonyms of worn-out (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/worn-out) could imply sleepy too, like weary (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weary). You might still need to qualify that you are worn-out but not sleepy. Same for exhausted or depleted. Not really sure what bearing Circadian and Homeostatic have here ? I'm asking about wanting to express that you are only the physically-tired meaning of tired.
    – Smock
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 11:17
  • 1
    @Smock I get your question. It would be very difficult to express with one word. The difficult lies in the fact that both the body and the brain are physical structures which can become depleted and have a need for replenishment of energy. Perhaps you could say out of breath which isn't as much related to the brain stores of energy?
    – Boondoggle
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 11:54
  • Yes, but they are not inextricably linked - they can both be independently tired (or both/neither tired). If you do a massive gym session, that doesn't inherently make you sleepy. If you have been awake a long time but inactive that won't usually make your muscles ache (as if from exertion) but you will likely want to sleep. If the first one is difficult to say with one word or without needing a qualifier this is what the answer should say.
    – Smock
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 12:12

Exhausted/exhaustion is really the word to use here. The only places I can think of exhausted being a synonym for merely sleepy is when the speaker is engaged in hyperbole

I didn't have a nap today. I'm exhausted!

That could mean tired or sleepy. Missing a nap does not generally leave one exhausted (unless you're a toddler). Remember, exhausted also means most or all energy expended.

They fired the rocket engine until the fuel supply was exhausted

What might be confusing here is you can reach a state of physical exhaustion by ignoring sleep for too long.

Ralph had been up for 36 hours by that time, and he was exhausted

When you stay awake for too long, your body starts to malfunction and shut down. As such, this is now a physical state. Ralph is not being hyperbolic here, as he's literally on the verge of falling unconscious.

  • Can you give me an example of using exhausted in a sentence to mean physically tired, but not requiring sleep? (taking note of the examples here: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/exhausted)
    – Smock
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:56
  • I mowed my 1 acre property in the middle of Summer using a push mower and was exhausted afterward. I might not need to sleep immediately, but I'm not going to do any more work without some period of recovery (i.e. sitting in a cool room, drinking water) first.
    – Machavity
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:59
  • So you have to qualify it by saying the activity?
    – Smock
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 15:01
  • 1
    Let's say someone walks up to you and simply says I'm exhausted. with no qualifiers. People will tend to assume physically tired due to the underlying meaning of exhaustion (i.e. no more energy). The qualifier helps to merely distinguish between the hyperbolic use and the actual one.
    – Machavity
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 15:07
  • Incidentally, if we're allowed two words, worn out, as Boondoggle suggested, would be the clearer phrase
    – Machavity
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 15:13

Pooped (participle form of the verb to poop) tends to be applied to physical exhaustion. Here is Merriam-Webster, poop verb (3):

poop verb (3)

pooped; pooping; poops

Definition of poop (Entry 5 of 6)

transitive verb slang : to put out of breath also : to tire out

intransitive verb slang : to become exhausted poop out

The out of breath meaning is especially relevant. Someone might say, "I'm pooped!" after a day of physical labor or after a long run. That may coincide with being sleepy (if you're pooped at the end of a long day you are most likely also at least a bit sleepy), but most often someone who is pooped is physically exhausted (from The Grammarphobia Blog):

After separating the recyclables into three bins and dragging them out to the street, my hubby turned to me and said he was pooped.

So in your hypothetical conversation, it might go like this:

A: sits down on the sofa, 8pm. "Boy, am I pooped."

B: "Did you have a long day at work?"

A: "Yeah, I had to haul furniture all day."

  • Question is tagged British English, and "pooped" is most definitely not :-)
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 8:52
  • @AaronF Eh? "pooped" is very common in informal British English. Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 12:29
  • @PeteKirkham really?! :-o This much be a new thing (well, "new" as in some time in the last ten years, as that's when I emigrated) because I've never heard anyone say it. Also I'm not as young as I used to be, and the kids these days say all sorts of things I've never heard before :-)
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 13:19
  • @AaronF: The opposite; this is mostly older usage and is dropping off. The OED has (British) usage examples of the sense "To tire, exhaust; (also) to injure" from 1931 through 1994. Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 21:52

I think this is quite England-specific, but we'd use the word Knackered to distinguish from sleepy.

  • 2
    Hmm, in Wales we also use this to mean sleepy. "I'm knackered, I've been up all night with the baby"
    – Smock
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 13:17
  • 1
    Hmm, must be more variable than i expected then... i almost associated it with physically tired. Fair enough! Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 13:40
  • I concur with @Smock on this. Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 17:14
  • Thirty-odd years ago I was reprimanded for using it as it specifically denotes sexual exhaustion. Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 20:35

I need to sit down [ for a bit] conveys physical exhaustion. Likewise, I need a nap ( or, I need to lie down ) conveys sleepy-tired, or mental exhaustion.

There's no sharp demarcation in most common words and phrases, since physical exhaustion will soon lead to sleep if you allow it to. Sleep is the body's best way of replenishing its chemical energy stores, both those which are depleted by hard physical work and those which are depleted by having been awake for too long. However, a short sit-down from physical labour will go some considerable way towards restoring physical strength, whereas only sleep will work for mental exhausion.

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