Sleeping at work is a sign of a larger problem
Everyone can relate to getting a bad night’s sleep and feeling grumpy and sluggish the next day. When we sleep poorly, it shapes both our physical and mental health— our moods, emotions, relationships, cognitive function, and work performance.
How sleep is connected to mental health
Sleep and mental health are deeply intertwined. Failing to get the recommended amount of sleep a night can worsen our mental health, while mental health challenges can keep us from sleeping.
Getting enough sleep, especially REM sleep, promotes the brain’s processing of emotional information, memory consolidation, and learning, while filtering out toxins in the brain that build up over the course of a day.
A lack of adequate sleep on a regular basis can cause mental health issues, including:
- Difficulty focusing
- Confusion and distraction
- Chronic stress
- Memory loss
There are also long-term health risks associated with a lack of sleep, such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
Sleep affects almost every single system and type of tissue in the body. Its importance cannot be overstated.
When work interferes with sleep
The amount of sleep people need is unique to each individual’s body and mind. Most of us know that research indicates we need 7-9 hours of sleep per day to function well.
But of course, the reality is that getting enough sleep can be really difficult when you’re working 8-5, while also raising kids or dealing with other caregiving responsibilities—not to mention having hobbies or a social life.
There’s no magic cure for insomnia, and for chronic cases, medical intervention may be needed. But all of us can add (or remove) some relatively simple things to our daily routine to help us get a good night of sleep, such as:
- Establishing a sleep ritual or routine and sticking to it: same bedtime every night, no screens an hour before sleep. This will look different for everyone, but as an example: brush teeth at nine pm, read for twenty minutes, listen to a five minute meditation, and then lights out.
- Leaving work at work. If people are struggling with this, especially fully remote or hybrid employees, encourage them to create a ritual after work to mark that it’s no longer work time, and be diligent about letting those thoughts go.
- Exercising or any type of physical activity (but not too close to bedtime).
- Meditation and mindfulness practices, such as progressive muscle relaxation.
- Cutting caffeine out in the second half of the day.
For my clients who are struggling with sleep, I suggest incorporating a gratitude practice before bed. At the end of each day, write down one or two things that you’re thankful for or a couple of positive things that happened throughout the day.
Writing down thoughts is a great way to externalize them, getting them out of the mind and allowing relaxation and sleep.
How therapy and coaching can bolster sleep
Therapists and coaches can provide several different forms of support for employees who are struggling with sleep. For example, I offer my clients:
- Education about the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene
- Evaluation: sometimes it takes a professional evaluation for an individual to fully understand the issue they’re struggling with
- Skills for relaxation, coping with stress, and development of a sleep practice or routine
- Connection with community networks that offer support around specific issues, such as insomnia
- Diagnosis of mental health issues that may be inhibiting sleep
- Referral to a medical professional if needed