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June 28, 2022 Haeli Harris

How to Stop Letting Work Keep You Up at Night

Of all the things we can do to improve our mental health, sleep is among the most important. The quality of our sleep dictates the quality of our life. Yet sleep is usually the first thing to go when faced with a time crunch at work. 

A lack of sleep is often worn as a badge of honor in the workplace. Workplace culture has become such that little sleep translates into being a dedicated employee. However, this thinking has led America’s workforce to create a culture of sleep deprivation.  

The Importance of Sleep

According to Amanda Cruz, MBA, ACSW, and mental health counselor for Nivati, “sleep is crucial for work performance including alertness, memory, and mood.” 

In a study looking at the relationship between how work affects sleep, it was found that sleeping resets the ability to think logically and solve the puzzles we face in our daily lives. 

During deep sleep, the brain is able to process emotions. According to the National Library of Medicine, during REM sleep, the executive functions of our brain are able to take a back seat and the limbic networks, which support emotional processing, are able to help the brain regulate emotions and process any traumatic events. This deep sleep can help resolve distress or trauma that may have happened during the day. 

However, if that REM sleep doesn’t occur, those emotions may not be processed and can lead to further distress. Hence, why sleep is so important for mental health.

For more on the science of sleep and healthy sleep routines, check out this article.

Common Work Stressors that Impact Sleep

Read on for some common work stressors that can lead to poor sleep quality.

1. Constant AccessibilityHow to Stop Letting Work Keep You Up at Night - person in white dress shirt with head on desk reading document on computer at night

One of the more common work stressors that impact sleep is constant accessibility and availability. This means that employees are available at all hours of the day due to notifications, emails, and workplace messaging apps, leading to a lack of separation between work and home. When there is no clear separation of work and home, employees are more likely to put in long hours and work when they would normally be spending time with family, doing hobbies, or connecting with their community. As a result, there is little time to wind down from work and create a space for the brain to turn off work, recharge, and rest. 

2. Micromanagement

Micromanagement is another workplace factor that impacts sleep. If an employee is being heavily micromanaged by a supervisor, this creates a heightened state of stress throughout the workday. This stressful state is hard to come down from and can ultimately affect the quality of that employee’s sleep. Lack of sleep compounds the problem for the following day. 

Not only is micromanagement bad for the employees, but it is also bad for the supervisor who is using a micromanagement style. Micromanaging employees can lead to extreme burnout and stress, which in turn also leads to heightened levels of stress and lack of sleep. 

3. Pressure and Tight Deadlines

Being a people pleaser in the workplace is a common problem for many employees. The desire to say “yes” to every task and project can create an unnecessarily heavy workload full of impossible deadlines. To eliminate this problem, understanding the need to please is the first step. Saying “yes” to everything can come from a lack of self-confidence and a need to prove our worth in the workplace. 

Also, jumping into the unknown with work assignments without planning and prioritizing your schedule may lead to negative outcomes, such as ruining work relationships, raising your stress level, and decreasing your sleep quality. Before accepting tasks or setting deadlines, creating a plan and understanding your own personal workload can greatly decrease the amount of stress in the workplace. 

4. The Great Resignation

“The Great Resignation is also a big contributing factor to stress in the workplace,” says Cruz. The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit or the Great Reshuffle, is an ongoing economic trend in which employees have voluntarily resigned from their jobs in great quantities beginning in early 2021. 

When employees leave their positions en masse, their workload is often heaved upon the remaining employees. This only exacerbates the problem. Employees who are already stressed and fatigued are having more and more work placed upon their shoulders. 

How to Cope with Work Stress

Reducing your work-related stress is one of the best ways to help improve your sleep.

1. Create a designated workspace at home

Cruz suggests creating a separate workspace if you are working from home. It’s much harder to disconnect from work when it is in a shared space like the bedroom or kitchen. If it is not possible to have a separate workspace, practice strong work boundaries by ensuring you take your lunch and breaks away from your workstation. If in the office, still practice healthy boundaries by taking breaks and lunches away from your designated workstation.

2. Develop your identity outside of work

Developing and maintaining an identity outside of work is another strategy that can decrease the amount of work-related stress. 

“Yes, work is important and yes, it’s also important to have pride in what you do. It’s equally important to remember who you are at the core and what other attributes make you uniquely you.  How often does a conversation start with ‘What do you do for a living?’ Remember you have other qualities that define and shape your identity. For example, your culture, your hobbies, your values, and beliefs,” Cruz says.

Developing and maintaining hobbies outside of work is a great way to relieve stress as well as taking time off of work. Be sure you are using your vacation days, even if you don’t have a vacation planned. A staycation can be a great way to reset and reconnect with what you enjoy outside of work. 

3. Advocate for yourself

Another important aspect of decreasing stress at work is to advocate for yourself. Be sure to talk to management about any hardships that arise. When tasks or projects are being assigned, speak up if your workload is getting too much to manage. These feelings are valid and should be made known.

A few other techniques that can be used to decrease the amount of stress at work are to turn off all work notifications when you leave for the day, leave work at the door, and try to decompress with your community. 

4. Talk to a counselor

One of the best things you can do for stress management outside of work is to find someone to talk to. This can be a professional counselor or friends and family. Having a support system can be helpful during times of high stress. 

5. Write down how you feel

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can also be a great way to get stress out of your head. Cruz suggests that “the simple act of writing and tearing up that piece of paper can be liberating. There are also many online journal prompts and apps you can use.”

Also, maintaining a healthy diet, practicing good sleep hygiene, and incorporating movement you enjoy into your daily routine are proven to reduce stress. 

Related: The Employee’s Guide to the Best and Worst Foods for Sleep

How to Improve Your Sleep

Establishing great sleep hygiene starts from the minute you wake up in the morning. Starting your day with physical movement and nourishing your body with whole foods throughout the day will also prepare your mind and body for sleep. 

1. Reduce Screen Use Before Bed

Screen usage throughout the day is also crucial for a good night’s rest. Using screens throughout your day is unavoidable in this day and age. However, avoiding screens at night will help your brain calm down before bed. Try to avoid screens for an hour or so before going to bed.

2. Incorporate Daily Movement into Your Routine

One of the best things you can do for your sleep during the day is to engage in at least thirty minutes of physical activity. Physical activity not only helps you sleep better, but it can help manage stress, improve physical health and improve overall mental health. 

3. Establish a Bed-time Routine

The importance of routine can’t be stressed enough. As humans, we are creatures of habit. And bedtime routines create habits that let our brain know that it is time for sleep. By performing the same activities, in the same order, the brain will start to recognize those activities as a precursor to sleep. 

Along with a nighttime routine, prepping your space for sleep is crucial. The most common ways to prep your space for sleep is to declutter the room, keep the room at a cooler temperature, block out all outside light, and have some sort of white noise. 

To learn more about how to create better sleep hygiene, click here.

According to Cruz, there is an absolute need for organizations to promote a culture that values rest. “Many clients’ work stress has negatively impacted their lives. It has affected their personal relationships, as well as caused headaches, body aches, and digestive issues.”

Managing stress at work is crucial to our overall wellbeing, but especially for the quality of our sleep. When work stress is managed, we sleep better. And when we sleep better, it becomes easier and easier to cope with the daily stressors we face in life. 

 

Learn About the Power of Self-Care

Download the Mental Health Tool Kit to learn about mental health in the workplace – what it is, why it matters, and how you can start supporting employee mental health!

 

Disclaimer

By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris

Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Lead Counselor at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, UT & HI
Registered Yoga Teacher 200
Trauma Conscious Yoga (2021)
Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Education
Bachelor's of Science Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, University of Utah
Master's of Arts Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Northcentral University

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