Sunday Night Syndrome – the Back to Work Feeling that Affects Your Sleep

If your working week is Monday to Friday, you might have noticed there’s something about Sunday – or for shift workers, the night before you go back to work.

Your day off can start off well, maybe with you relaxing, catching up on chores, or spending time with loved ones. But somewhere around 4pm and 6pm you might start to notice a shift in your mood. A feeling, that tells you, something’s on its way: that “back-to-work” feeling.

Your stomach rolls.

Your breathing quickens.

Your heart might pound.

You might even feel a sense of dread.

And all this can lead to a bad night’s sleep.

This is sometimes known as Sunday Night Syndrome and it can apply to people working split shifts too – say four on four off – on the night before you go back after rest days. (Think of it as “the-night-before-you-go-back-to-work” effect).

Even if you love your job, you might still find that Sunday or “the night before” brings with it a sense of uncertainty.

There are lots of reasons we can’t sleep, but thinking has a lot to do with it, as does technology. People I speak with will often tell me they’ll check their work emails on a Sunday night or their final night off, so as to “get in front” of the week ahead (they almost always tell me, they also instantly regret it).

So, if you’re someone who finds that Sunday night – or the day before you start your next shift – gets in the way of your sleep, these top tips might help:

1) Acknowledge Your Thoughts

Thoughts and feelings can get in the way of our sleep; we also know that bottled up emotions can lead to burnout. As soon as you notice thoughts swirling round your head, or feelings affecting your ability to sleep, acknowledge they’re there. Some people think it’s counter intuitive to put the spotlight on feelings, but the reality is they’re there anyway, whether you notice them and give them a name, or not.

Once you know what’s going on in your mind using mindful awareness, you can then manage your mind in a positive way.

If it’s worries about the week ahead, write them down at home, to deal with at work, recognising there’s probably little more you can do until you get there. Then notice your breath moving in and out of your body – use your breathing to help you relax your body and mind, and to help you focus on a better night’s sleep.

2) Talk about it

If work is genuinely getting in the way of you sleeping well at night, it’s important you let the people that matter know. Lack of sleep can affect your performance as well as take its toll on your physical and mental health; so it’s important to nip it in the bud before this happens.

Tell your boss what’s on your mind and what is contributing towards it, and see if they can help you come up with a plan that takes some of the anxiety away. If they’re not receptive, speak to HR, ask to speak to Occupational Health, or contact your Employee Assistance Programme if you have one.

Talk to family if they’re interrupting your sleep if you’re working shifts, or if you decide to take a power nap (see below). See your GP if feelings or worries are getting in the way of your health and wellbeing.

3) Get some fresh air and exercise during the day – or a nap!

If you’re not already active, the benefits of exercise have long been recognised as being able to facilitate better sleep, as well as being good for your body and mind. Go for a stroll during the day, or enjoy some time in nature. Don’t leave it too late in the day though, as exercise too close to bedtime can leave you feeling pumped, and unable to doze off.

Alternatively, grab a nap if you can: 20 minutes is the ultimate power nap time. If you can manage more, sleep for the full length of your sleep cycle (around 90 – 120 minutes). Avoid napping for just an hour though, as you might wake up right in the middle of deep sleep – with a headache, dry mouth and not knowing what year it is – genuinely known as the Hangover Effect.

4) Turn your to-dos into Ta-Dahs!

Catch up on your to-dos during the day, so that your mind isn’t racing at night once you’ve got into bed. If you have to check your emails (which I don’t recommend) then do it earlier in the day, rather than just before bed. Keep a pen and paper by your bed if you need to, so you can jot down anything that comes to mind and then leave it until the morning.

Having a routine can also help. For example, we know having a consistent go to bed / get up routine can also prevent Social Jet-Lag which can otherwise affect how refreshed you feel Monday morning.

5) And relax…

There are lots of ways you can prepare yourself for the week ahead, and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep. Remember, mindfulness is proven to help people sleep better. You could switch off your mobile phone, turn off the telly and run yourself a nice bath. Find what works for you. And remember, whatever the week throws at you, you can handle it.

You might also like Monday Mojo™, feel good motivation for the week ahead.

And my article “Reasons we can’t sleep, and what can help

©️ Delphi Ellis 2019