You have an important decision coming up, and you cannot make up your mind. You have a large, unfinished project that you have been working on for months, and it seems like there is always more to do. You are expecting an important call, you only have 3% battery left, and you are nowhere near a charger. You are really stressed about how it will all work out, but is it worth losing sleep over?
The Relationship between Burnout and Sleep
Let us focus on one key symptom of burnout: sleep. A lack of sleep is the principal risk factor for experiencing burnout.¹
Burnout impacts the quality of your sleep in many ways. Participants in an investigation of the impact of severe occupational burnout demonstrated more arousal events while sleeping, less time spent asleep, less slow-wave sleep, and less rapid eye movement sleep.² The participants with severe occupational burnout also reported more fatigue and daytime sleepiness than healthy participants.³
The diminished quantity of both slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep impacts memory consolidation. This is a process critical for learning. It allows new neural connections to form in the brain and removal of old ones. New research shows that slow-wave sleep may be responsible for the formation of new connections, while rapid eye movement allows for the stabilization of those new connections.⁴
Scientists agree that getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night is adverse to your health.⁵ They recommend that the optimal amount of sleep for most adults is between 7-8 hours.⁶ The American Psychological Association states that getting as little as one more hour of sleep per night would drastically improve the mental functioning of most adults.⁷
Sleep becomes a circular issue in people experiencing burnout. Stress can cause a lack of sleep, which can contribute to burnout. Burnout can affect your quality of sleep. This interaction creates a downward spiral. This may seem overwhelming, but there is hope. Improving the quality of your sleep can help to end the downward spiral.
How Can We Get Better Sleep?
Sleep experts recommend many different strategies for how to increase the quality of your sleep. A review of some methods found that they improve perceived sleep quality and duration.⁸ Here are some examples of these techniques:
Keep a regular sleep schedule- Your routine is critical to getting quality sleep. Create a nighttime routine that you stick to every night. This way, your body knows that it should start to get ready for bed. Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time each day are crucial for teaching your body a good sleep routine.
Regular exercise- Evidence shows that moderate aerobic exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep.⁹ This exercise can include quick-paced walking, swimming, jogging, or dancing. People who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night.¹⁰
Minimize extra stimuli in the room where you sleep- Your bedroom should be a space dedicated to sleep. Restricting what you do in your bedroom trains your brain to associate the room with sleep. Avoiding extra stimuli, like light and sound, can also help you to fall asleep with greater ease in your environment.¹¹
Get out of bed if you cannot fall asleep- If you stay in bed without falling asleep there, your brain gets trained to associate that area with not sleeping. Instead of staying in bed, move somewhere else, and do a peaceful activity until you feel sleepier.¹²
Listen to some music - Sleep research supports incorporating music into your bedtime routine. Reviews of studies investigating the efficacy of insomnia treatments demonstrate the benefits of music therapy. The participants fell asleep faster and stayed asleep for a longer percentage of the night. ¹³
There is no consensus on which genre of music is best yet. The most promising findings show the best results occur when listening to music between 60-80 beats per minute. Music therapists suggest listening to music that is familiar to you for the most relaxing effects.¹⁴
Progressive muscle relaxation- This is a technique used to relax while trying to fall asleep. It works because it helps reduce cognitive activity, a crucial step to falling asleep.¹⁵
You pick a muscle group to start with, and you contract the muscles in that area for 5-10 seconds. You then release the muscles. For example, you scrunch your toes for 10 seconds and then relax them. You repeat this process until you have gone through all your muscles. Generally, people start from the toes and move up to the head, but it depends on what works well for you. Studies have repeatedly shown that this technique reduces insomnia.¹⁶
Practicing Mindfulness- A recent review of an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program shows a significant reduction in the amount of insomnia experienced by the patients.¹⁷ The techniques of mindfulness are detailed in a post, “Train a Better Brain: The Neuroscience of Mindfulness," by Leeza Petrov on this blog from earlier this year. By incorporating these practices into your life, you can help to reduce the amount of insomnia that you experience.
You might be able to improve your sleep by adopting some of these practices into your life. This can help to break the downward cycle of lack of sleep and stress. Making some small changes to your current routine could help you wake up tomorrow feeling refreshed, happier, and ready to conquer the world. In case these techniques do not work for you, it is always beneficial to seek the advice of a trained sleep medicine professional.
Söderström, M., Jeding, K., Ekstedt, M., Perski, A., & Åkerstedt, T. (2012). Insufficient sleep predicts clinical burnout. Journal of occupational health psychology, 17(2), 175.
Ekstedt, M., Söderström, M., Åkerstedt, T., Nilsson, J., Søndergaard, H. P., & Aleksander, P. (2006). Disturbed sleep and fatigue in occupational burnout. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 121-131.
Tamaki, M., Wang, Z., Barnes-Diana, T., Guo, D., Berard, A. V., Walsh, E., ... & Sasaki, Y. (2020). Complementary contributions of non-REM and REM sleep to visual learning. Nature Neuroscience, 23(9), 1150-1156.
Consensus Conference Panel, Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., ... & Kushida, C. (2015). Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Sleep, 38(8), 1161-1183.
More sleep would make most americans happier, Healthier and Safer. (2014). Retrieved August 29, 2020, from http://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation
Murawski, B., Wade, L., Plotnikoff, R. C., Lubans, D. R., & Duncan, M. J. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of cognitive and behavioral interventions to improve sleep health in adults without sleep disorders. Sleep medicine reviews, 40, 160-169.
Yang, P. Y., Ho, K. H., Chen, H. C., & Chien, M. Y. (2012). Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review. Journal of physiotherapy, 58(3), 157-163.
Exercising for better sleep. (2020). Retrieved August 29, 2020, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
Morin, C. M., Hauri, P. J., Espie, C. A., Spielman, A. J., Buysse, D. J., & Bootzin, R. R. (1999). Nonpharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia. Sleep, 22(8), 1134-1156.
Feng, F., Zhang, Y., Hou, J., Cai, J., Jiang, Q., Li, X., ... & Li, B. A. (2018). Can music improve sleep quality in adults with primary insomnia? A systematic review and network meta-analysis. International journal of nursing studies, 77, 189-196.
Alexandru, B. V., Róbert, B., Viorel, L., & Vasile, B. (2009). Treating primary insomnia: A comparative study of self-help methods and progressive muscle relaxation. Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies, 9(1), 67.
Chen, T. L., Chang, S. C., Hsieh, H. F., Huang, C. Y., Chuang, J. H., & Wang, H. H. (2020). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on sleep quality and mental health for insomnia patients: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 110144.