How often do you find yourself thinking about work when you’re not at work?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we decode how to stop work stress from destroying our sleep, come ‘nighttime’.
Thinking about a project or coming up with a work idea when you’re outside the office isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s oftentimes where some of our best ideas emerge. But stressing about work issues can leave us exhausted and unable to sleep at night. And a lack of sleep can, in turn, exacerbate our work stress by negatively impacting our cognitive functions, such as judgment, problem solving, critical thinking and so on.
So, what can you do to stop the cycle? Here are a few science-backed strategies, according to US-based business news website Harvard Business Review (HBR):
1. Make a to-do list
Work truly never ends. But a January 2018 study published in the US-based Journal of Experimental Psychology found that making a to-do list for the next day, before bed, helps people fall asleep faster, and reduces the number of times they wake up at night. In fact, the process of doing so was found to be comparable in effectiveness to taking a sleeping aid. The reason why it works so well, is because writing down unfinished tasks reduces cognitive stimulation and anxiety. Once it’s on paper, it’s not cycling through your mind – you can let it go, and drift off to sleep.
2. Keep a journal
Writing down how you think and feel, rather than just ruminating over it, has been shown to have huge benefits. Numerous studies have shown that journaling helps people process their emotions, and reduces their stress levels. A 2011 study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that including positive events and mentioning what you’re grateful for can also aid in improving the quality of your sleep – you’re able to get deeper sleep and wake up more refreshed.
3. Use self-compassion
Show yourself the same kindness and concern as you would show a good friend. Recognising that you are as imperfect as the next person allows you to break the cycle of negative self-judgment that comes with ruminating over issues. A December 2018 study in the journal Mindfulness found that practicing self-care reduces stress-related poor sleep.
4. Get physical
A March 2018 study in the US-based journal Frontiers in Psychology found that just a single instance of exercise, at moderate intensity, can decrease the rumination that keeps us up at night. Several studies have also shown that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can help you fall asleep faster and improve your quality of sleep. Exercise decompresses the mind, but make sure to do it at least one or two hours before bedtime, otherwise it can have the opposite effect, and interfere with your sleep.
Be fully present, and focus your attention on your emotions, thoughts and body’s sensations without judgment. Meditating has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. A March 2015 study in the UK-based Journal of Occupational and Organisational Pscychology by a team of researchers from the Netherlands, found that even short periods of meditation – about 10 minutes before and after work for two weeks – helps calm racing minds and improve sleep quality and duration.