Before the Covid pandemic significant numbers of people struggled to sleep and were living with constant fatigue. The combination of concern over health, uncertainty about the future, and difficulties in working from home has created a steep rise in those numbers.
Achieving good quality sleep is essential to good mental and physical health, so a change in our sleep patterns or difficulty sleeping, especially coupled with other worries, can create a downward spiral of anxiety.
A lack of sleep is not only distressing and unpleasant, it adversely affects performance. One of the reasons for poor sleep is night-time anxiety. What help can we offer our employees to prevent anxiety affecting their sleep? Here are some tips I have put together for my clients to share with their staff to help deal with sleep worries.
- Limit exposure to the news and social media. It’s too easy to spend a lot of time staring at screens, watching as things unfold and change. But it doesn’t help anxiety. Instead, decide how much time each day you’re going to allow yourself for updates. For example, 15 minutes of news in the morning and 15 in the afternoon. Limit the time you spend scrolling on your phone through social media. Make sure you only look at trusted resources, select a couple and limit yourself to these.
- Anxiety stems from uncertainty and a feeling of lack of control. Deal with this by allocating a 20-minute period every day to write down a list of everything you’re worried about. This tells your mind that you are not ignoring your worries, but you’re exerting control by acknowledging them at a time that is suitable for you. Use a traditional pen and paper, as this is a much more effective way to ‘empty’ your mind than using a digital device. Once the 20 minutes are up, stop writing and do something you enjoy. If any thoughts or worries pop up make a note of them and then allow yourself to think about them during your allocated time later. This technique teaches your mind to be more proactive about when you worry, so the worries are not constantly intruding when you’re trying to sleep.
- Revisit our worry list each day and decide which worries you do have control over and then problem solve and plan for them. This is useful when your mind is fretting because you can revisit your plan to reassure yourself that you are not totally out of control.
- Recognise your “what if?” worries, where our mind imagines all the possible worst-case scenarios that may happen. We indulge in this type of worry as it helps us feel like we are covering all bases, and somehow preparing ourselves for the worst. In reality, we are just making ourselves imagine a situation that we don’t want to happen, which of course negatively affects how we feel. Take note of these worries, write them down during your allocated time window, but label them as hypothetical. They have not yet happened and may never happen, so avoid treating them like facts.
- Try practising mindfulness. It’s a very helpful technique for dealing with your “what if” worries. Your thoughts are simply opinions you have of yourself, others and the world which are based on your experience. This does not make them facts. If you can learn how to simply notice the thought is there, but choose not to engage in it, then you can reduce your stress levels. For example, if your thought is “What if I lose my job?”, observe the thought, acknowledge it is normal to think like this and be kind to yourself, then let it go. If you’re working hard and doing your best, you’ve done all you can and there is no point in dwelling on it.
- Aim for good quality sleep. Don’t worry if you are not getting eight hours. Go to bed when you’re sleepy and are more likely to fall asleep quickly. Don’t nap in the day because it undermines your ability to sleep at night. The focus should be quality of sleep and not quantity.
- Go outdoors as much as you can. You need daylight for mood and your body clock. As a minimum, make sure all windows and blinds are always fully open during the day.
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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.
Copyright © 2023 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.