Insomnia, work and money
Follow this expert advice to break free from the endless cycle of feeling too stressed to catch quality Zzzs and too tired to do your best work.health and fitness Updated: Aug 16, 2010 18:29 IST
Peg Boorse, 50, the director of supply chain management for a large cosmetics company near Philadelphia, says she sleeps well only on vacation, when she can escape her constant stream of work worries. Trying to balance her often changing shift-work schedule at 24/7 television news production company is where 24-year-old Jill Goldstein's sleep troubles arise. For Brittany Shoot, 27, an under-employed freelance writer based in Copenhagen, Denmark, it's all the work she could be doing or should be seeking.
"There is a two-way tie between sleep and mental health," says Lawrence J. Epstein, M.D., former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep. "Good sleep allows you to function at your best, but if you're not feeling your best, that affects your sleep."
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, primary insomnia--a sleep disorder unrelated to another medical condition--can result from long-lasting stress, work schedules that affect your sleep habits or emotional upset. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep at least three nights a week for more than a month, you could have chronic insomnia. These symptoms, along with daytime fatigue and poor focus, occur less frequently in acute insomnia.
The statistics aren't good: One in three adults experiences insomnia--women more so than men--and risk increases with age. And given recent reports of sleep patterns, the economy certainly isn't helping. In the National Sleep Foundation's 2010 Sleep in America Poll, one-third of adults indicate they're getting less sleep on workdays and weekends than they feel they need, and one-fourth say their current work schedule doesn't allow them to get enough sleep.
Experts agree that while requirements are variable, the average adult should sleep somewhere between seven and nine hours per night. Slumber is a daily necessity alongside food and water but, according to Nancy Collop, M.D., the director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, most Americans shortchange themselves. This can have short-term and long-term ramifications on health, happiness and work performance.
"Some nights I get so anxious about wanting to fall asleep as soon as possible, I psych myself up so much that I end up barely sleeping," says Goldstein, the television shift worker, adding that her body takes a month to adjust to a new work schedule, often only to have her hours change yet again--to earn overtime, help out a co-worker or fulfill a supervisor's request.
Shoot, who works more than 40 hours a week but spends 25% of that time seeking paid freelance assignments, says, "I'll be so wound up about work and money that I won't sleep well."
With the current trends in joblessness, company cutbacks and financial insecurity, Collop says an increase in work-stress-related sleep issues is logical. An irony, though, is that "sleep deprivation makes you less interested and less motivated to do work."
One California mother of a three-year-old, Aimee, 32, says she feels pressure to move up the corporate ladder to better provide for her child. In fact, the product quality assurance manager is going to graduate school part-time in hopes of career advancement. The result, she says, is that she sleep-walks during times of stress and says she finds it difficult to focus the next day at work.
Quality rest works to repair, revise and renew brain function; it is crucial for performance, learning and memory, says Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., senior professor of psychology at Fuller Graduate School and author of Sleep, It Does a Family Good: How Busy Families Can Overcome Sleep Deprivation. "If you under-sleep by one hour a night, you will see a cumulative decline in job performance by as much as 30% to 40%, the same effect as being drunk," he cautions. Over time this adds up to a higher risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, weight gain and obesity, and a shorter lifespan.
"Depression and anxiety can increase your risk of insomnia," adds Epstein. "Your body gets revved up, which makes it hard to relax--and you need to relax to get restful sleep. In turn, insomnia can increase your risk for anxiety and depression."
It's a catch-22 that only you can disrupt. One solution is to only take on what you can reasonably manage at work. "Make it clear that you want to be a better worker and that your job is important to you," says Hart. He recommends learning effective ways to say "no," either through assertiveness training classes or a therapist's help. "Make sure your boss really knows how much you are doing," he adds. "It's amazing how ignorant they can be."
But Marshall Brown, a certified career and executive coach, warns: "Because there have been so many furloughs and layoffs, there are more assignments to take on. A manager doesn't want to hear, 'I'm stressed out. I can't do this.' So what can you say no to? For a lot of people, it's their personal lives. That's a huge mistake. You need to have a balance."
Being overworked, underpaid and flat-lined for fun doesn't stop at lights out, the primetime for worrying about what didn't get done and what you still have to do. Rather than staying awake trying to solve everything, Epstein recommends jotting notes in a journal that you can review in the morning.
Alternatively, Collop suggests setting aside time about an hour before bed to write out your "worry list" to clear your head. If you wake up in the middle of the night, she recommends going to relax in a relatively dark room, with no TV or computer, for 10 to 15 minutes.
While persistent sleep issues won't disappear overnight, you can take care of yourself first thing tomorrow: To boost your alertness in the morning, Collop recommends exposing yourself to a bright light. If sunlight isn't available, she says light therapy products can be effective too.