Welcome Wellness - Losing sleep over work

By the Department of Psychiatry’s Wellness Officer, Dr. Deirdre Conroy:

A recent Michigan Medicine employee engagement survey revealed that 37% of faculty and 60% of staff “rarely lose sleep over work.” Losing sleep over work can occur because of inadequate boundary setting between the tasks of the day and preparing for bed. 

Here's quick lesson about sleep. Sleep is regulated by two major processes. These two processes are explained by something called “the two-process model.” If you are seeking ways to improve the quality and timing of your sleep, it’s best if these two processes are aligned.

First, there is an endogenous circadian clock in our brains that dictates the rhythms not only of our sleep cycle, but almost all systems in our body (e.g. appetite and mood). Dim lights in the evening cues the system to stimulate melatonin, which invites the sleep process. Bright light in the morning stimulates wakefulness for the day. Major fluctuations in our light/dark cycle, like when we travel to another time zone or sleep late on the weekend, affect our circadian rhythm.   

The other factor is called the homeostatic “sleep drive.” Think of sleep drive like hunger. The longer we go without food, the hungrier we get, i.e., the longer we go without sleep, the sleepier we get. Sleep drive is based on how many hours we’ve been awake. Late caffeine, napping or dozing close to bedtime weakens the sleep drive. 

To prepare this sophisticated system, we must prepare our body and mind to go to bed. 

Here are 5 tips I often recommend:

  1. Disengage from all electronics, (e.g. your phone) one hour before bedtime. Engage in pleasant and calm activities, reading is at the top of the list here.
  2. Do not doze off on the couch before your typical bedtime. This will affect your sleep drive and make it harder to fall asleep when you do go to bed.
  3. Dim the lights in your environment in the hour before bed. If you must see your phone, set the “Night Shift” under Displays and Brightness phone to dim your phone one hour before bed. Avoiding bright lights allows your natural secretion of melatonin, which signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep soon.
  4. Do not engage in distressing conversations or engage in distressing chats over text or social media.
  5. Call a truce with the clock. You can leave the dishes unwashed. You don’t need to finish one more email. It’s time to wind down.


View all of Dr. Conroy's articles on the Welcome Wellness homepage.