How burnout affects your sleep (and tips to sort it out)

When you’re stressed out, you can’t sleep.

When you can’t sleep, you’re even more stressed out.

What a not-at-all-fun cycle.

Mental health and sleep go hand-in-hand, with each affecting the other. But often, it can be tricky to spot the signs that something isn’t quite right.

The same goes for burnout – it’s tough to notice the early warning signs and put on the brakes before reaching a breaking point.

Perhaps we could spot the early signs of burnout in our sleep, suggests Dr Catherine Carney, a psychiatrist at rehab clinic Delamere.

How burnout affects sleep

‘Sleep deprivation is one of the most common indicators of burnout as more work and higher levels of stress often equal less sleep,’ says Catherine. ‘In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, sleeping for less than six hours each night is one of the top signs of burnout.

‘Burnout is a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical and mental stress. While the right amount of stress can actually benefit your brain and body, too much can make you tense, anxious and can cause sleep problems, or worsen existing ones.

‘When we are anxious and stressed, our brains find it difficult to turn off and allow sleep to take over.

‘Feeling stressed can cause the autonomic nervous system to release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. High levels of these hormones, especially before sleep, can make it harder for the body to relax.’

Some signs that burnout is affecting your sleep include:

  • Being unable to drift off
  • Still feeling exhausted after a full night’s sleep
  • Frequent sleep disruptions – you keep waking up in the middle of the night

Tips to handle burnout and reduce its impact on sleep

It’s vital that if you’re in the midst of burnout, you seek professional help. You don’t have to tackle this alone.

What we can all do, however, is ensure our sleep is the best it can be. Dr Catherine has some tips.

Practise good sleep hygiene

Get into a good bedtime routine – it really is important.

That means having the same bedtime each night and getting up around the same time each morning, creating a relaxing environment to drift off (ditch the doomscrolling right before bed, we urge you), and making sleep a priority rather than an afterthought.

Keep moving

Movement during the day is a key component in getting proper rest at night.

‘Keeping active and regularly exercising can give you a physical and emotional boost,’ says Dr Catherine. ‘Take a short stroll in the evening or spend 15 minutes stretching before bedtime.

‘You don’t need to hit the workout machines to feel motivated and enthusiastic, it’s as simple as heading outdoors for some fresh air.’

Practise meditation

We won’t bang on about all the many benefits of meditation and mindfulness – you already know.

What we will say is that getting into meditation can be a game-changer if you struggle to fall asleep or are dealing with a big heaping of stress.

Try sleep journaling

Sleep journaling is great simply because it lets us get all those nighttime thoughts out of our heads and on to the page.

Get into the habit of spending ten minutes writing freely in your journal before bed.

Set aside time to wind down

We’re sorry to say that going right from watching The Apprentice to slumping into bed isn’t exactly the healthiest route to a good night’s sleep.

You need a proper wind-down period before you head to snoozetown.

Catherine suggests: ‘Take at least 30 to 45 minutes to wind down before bed.

‘During this time, you should avoid activities that can cause aggravation, anything that might be stimulating, including using your phone, computer or watching television.

‘By doing this, you will let your body know it’s one step closer to bedtime, and allow the mind to destress before drifting off.’

Limit alcohol and caffeine

‘Having a glass of wine after a long day at work may feel good in the moment, but a small amount of alcohol or caffeine before bedtime can affect your sleep,’ says Catherine.

‘Enzymes in the liver metabolise alcohol throughout the night. During this process, the alcohol will be circulating through the body, causing sleep disruptions and poor sleep quality.’

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