If you’re like most people, you’ve been affected by stress-related sleep problems at some point or another, lying awake at night filled with anxiety about your career and the future.
Often everyday worries about impending deadlines and your to-do list give way to bigger, more stressful questioning, “Is this job really what I want to be doing with my life? What if I quit? Will I ever discover what I’m truly passionate about?”
Your mental wheels start turning, anxiety builds, and before you know it, you realize an hour has passed since you turned out the lights. You worry that if you don’t sleep now tomorrow will be completely unproductive. Needless to say, this doesn’t relax you any further, and spin further into the cycle of insomnia.
The crushing exhaustion that hits after only a night or two of sleeplessness is enough to derail anyone. It also makes you more susceptible to emotional outbursts and missed deadlines. Eighty-three percent of workers say they’re stressed about their jobs and nearly 50 percent say work-related stress is interfering with their sleep. Sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — is one of the best predictors of burnout.
Sleep is crucial to mental acuity. The amount of quality rest you get has a direct impact on your ability to handle challenges, solve problems, and feel happy throughout the day. It’s important, then, to be sure you’re looking out for your relationship with sleep by establishing healthy, strategic boundaries with work stressors so that they don’t sabotage your rejuvenation time.
If work worries are keeping you up at night, it’s time to implement habits that will keep your stress levels in check and drive lasting impact to ensure sleepless nights become fewer and farther between:
Start with work boundaries
Create buffer time between leaving work and going to bed to let stress diffuse. If you’re at the office until 8pm cranking away at a presentation for a big meeting, then rush home to try to be in bed by 10pm, you’re not setting yourself up for sleep success. Because your adrenaline is still pumping, your brain doesn’t have the chance to fully disengage from work mode, leaving you keyed up. Try building in an activity between work and home, such as a Skype date with a friend or a fitness class, that not only helps you leave the office at a reasonable hour, but also calms your mind.
Create transition rituals
Flipping our minds into “off” mode is usually easier said than done. Creating transition rituals can help because they build an association between doing certain tasks and shifting to preparing for sleep. For example, your pre-sleep ceremony could include washing the dishes, taking a shower, or journaling for 20 minutes. The more consistently you practice your transition rituals, the more you master the ability to “downshift” into a slower, more relaxed brain state keeping intrusive, stressful thoughts at bay.
Nix the news and power down
When it comes to stress, your mind absorbs what it’s exposed to. If you’re exposing it to anxiety-provoking stimuli, like checking on your phone or watching violence on the nightly news, you’re hijacking your mental relaxation state and reinforcing neural pathways that fuel anxiety. While going tech-free before bed may seem impossible, try it for a few nights in a row to see if you fall asleep sooner and rest more soundly.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary
It sounds simplistic, but going to sleep should be something you look forward to. Invest in comfy, breathable sheets, blackout curtains, and a good mattress. Resist the urge to eat or work on your bed to strengthen the association between your bedroom and sleeping.
Empty your brain
If your mind races with a million to-dos the minute you lay your head on the pillow, keep a notebook by your bed to jot down thoughts as they come up. By doing this, you know they’ll be there waiting for you in the morning, clearing your mind of clutter and worry. If you’ve developed a habit of staring at the clock and watching sleepless nights tick away, cover up the time and only use it as an alarm.
When all else fails, get out of bed
If you find yourself unable to sleep after lying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and move to another room. Tossing and turning only serves to perpetuate worrying thoughts keeping you awake. While it can be tempting to turn on the TV, catch up on emails, or scour Instagram, opt for relaxing, low-stimulus activity such as reading a magazine. This will help take your mind off whatever’s making you anxious and allow you to reset, hopefully making your next sleep attempt successful.
In the end, as important as you know that sleep is for optimal performance, the last thing you want to do is get anxious about sleep itself. These tips should help you develop a healthier attitude with work-related stress, so that you can rest and perform your best.
I’m excited to announce that I’m now a Contributor at Forbes! Follow as I explore the mental and emotional side of success, distilling psychological principles into practical, how-to strategies women can use to thrive in their careers and at the workplace.