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

This topic is featured in my book Answers in the Dark. You can order on Amazon here.

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 (or as Stylist calls it the Sunday Scaries) – 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. Sunday Night Syndrome may be a sign of burnout – see image from Journey to Wellness below. 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 point 3). 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.

Here’s Guy Meadows from the Sleep School explaining more.

You can find out more about topics like this in my book Answers in the Dark.

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

©️ Delphi Ellis 2019

Dream Question: why am I dreaming about school and exams?

Dream Question: I keep having a recurring dream that I’m back at school taking an exam. In the dream, I’m not expecting to take a test and I’m not ready for it. What does that mean?

School, college and university are all part of our formative years. It’s where we spent time growing up, forming friendships, developing our outlook. What happens during those learning years might help shape who we become.

Dreaming of being back at school can reflect a period of learning. It might be that something happening in your life right now has been a “learning curve”, and you’ve learned something about yourself, someone else or life itself – it could be a metaphor for what some may see as a “life lesson” if you like. It might be that you’re making changes, or thinking about going back to school, starting a new qualification or a change of career.

How you experienced school will also influence how you interpret this dream. If school was a happy time, you might find the dream is taking you back to good times, and the feeling of being carefree again. If school was difficult, ask yourself why you might be having this dream again now. What’s happened that would remind you subconsciously of the time you were at school. Perhaps you’re feeling the same pressure now, as you did back then.

Taking exams in dreams often presents itself the way described above – not knowing about it and not feeling ready. This can mirror how life can be – something happens we’re not ready for and not prepared for how we might cope with it, or what the outcome or results might be.

Dreams like this can symbolise the stress you experienced when you were back at school, especially around exam time. The dream can serve to remind you that you’re getting stressed again maybe as you did back then, and so it’s time to start managing what’s getting on top of you.

It can also be a common dream for people who work to tight deadlines, or who are busy with lots of other things. It can symbolise trying to keep on top of everything, and then something comes out of the blue which adds to what you’re already doing. And of course if you’re a teacher, it could reflect waking life for you too.

It may also be that you feel you’re being tested by life. If lots has happened, and you’re being pushed emotionally to the limits, talking it through with someone can be helpful. You may also find keeping a dream diary useful, as this can hold clues to why you have this dream when you do. See more on this below.

Top tips for School and Exam Dreams

  • Have a think about how stressed you are and what positive changes you can make to help you relax. Having a good bedtime routine which includes a warm bath and a relaxation technique can be useful. Mindfulness can help.
  • Consider whether you’ve been going through a period of learning. What are you feeling tested by? These can provide insights as to the meaning of your dream.
  • Try keeping a dream diary. You might find you have this dream because of something that’s regularly happening in your life at the time. Dream diaries can help you spot patterns, and understand what they mean.

My book Answers in The Dark covers dreams like these. You can order on Amazon here

Copyright Delphi Ellis

Want to Find Out About A Dream?

PLEASE NOTE: My counselling waiting list is currently at capacity and I am not taking any new clients at this time. For useful links to organisations that may be able to help, click here. Events – including workshops and classes – are running as normal, and available online.

Dreams have been described as “the window in to our soul”, but is there any value in exploring them? The short answer is most definitely “yes”.

Research shows that talking about a dream for approximately an hour “can result in “aha” moments for people”.  We also know that during the pandemic, according to the Lyon Neuroscience Centre, dream recall increased by up to 35%.

I have been fascinated by dreams all my life, and have worked professionally as a TV “Dream Expert” in the media.  As a therapist many of my clients have found it helpful to explore what their dreams and nightmares mean. 

My new book – Answers in the Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal looks at not only why we might be awake at night and what can help, but explores how our dreams can provide insights in to what’s really on our mind. It provides tips on interpreting your own dreams, as well as top tips for more refreshing sleep – even if you work shifts. It’s now available to pre-order on Amazon. Click the image to visit the book’s dedicated website or use the button below to order your copy.

PLEASE NOTE: My counselling waiting list is currently at capacity and I am not taking any new clients at this time. For useful links to organisations that may be able to help, click here. Events – including workshops and classes – are running as normal, and available online (see below).

Delphi sent my [dream] analysis via email. The analysis itself was so accurate and made a lot of sense to me, and has helped me to resolve and make sense of some things that have reoccurred frequently in my dreams.” L.

Terms and Conditions

PLEASE NOTE: My counselling waiting list is currently at capacity and I am not taking any new clients at this time. For useful links to organisations that may be able to help, click here. Events – including workshops and classes – are running as normal, and available online.

Clients can obtain a full refund on 1-1 appointments if giving more than two working days notice. Payment for all services is required at the time of booking unless otherwise specified. The counsellor will call the client at the time of the appointment. Please make sure you have a safe space to talk. You may find these Frequently Asked Questions helpful.

Everyone is different so what a dream means to one person, can be different to the next. I aim to offer a professional exploration of your dream, based on the information you provide, so the more you feel able to share, the more in-depth this may be.

Dream interpretations may only be of entertainment value and should not be used to make important life decisions or replace medical opinion. If you are worried about your sleep or dream content please speak to your doctor.

Delphi is a Mental Health and Grief Counsellor, and Well-being Trainer, specialising in dreams as seen on TV. © Copyright Delphi Ellis 2006 – 2020

Why do I keep dreaming about my ex? Your dream question answered

Dream Question: “I occasionally dream about my ex-boyfriend. I’ve been in a new and happy relationship for years, so why would I dream about him after all this time?”

Delphi writes:

This is one of those dreams which can leave you feeling confused, especially when you’re happier now than you were back then.

Previous significant partner relationships can have a huge impact, both on our physical and mental wellbeing, especially if they either ended badly or under difficult circumstances.

They can also create the blue print for future partnerships – in terms of what we want (and don’t want) and what warning signs / positives to look out for.

Sometimes reflecting on a relationship can be helpful, but too much analysis can taint the relationships we go on to form. For safety reasons, we can be in danger of tarring everyone with the same brush (eg we might find it difficult to trust), but equally it’s important to be aware of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Whatever conclusions we may draw, the ‘blue print’ could then get ‘locked in’ to your subconscious, so that whenever the subject of relationships comes up, your dreams will flag up what you feel works (and what doesn’t).

If you’re dating right now, do they remind you of your ex, eg, do they share any traits or are they the complete opposite? It might be that they’ve done or said – or you thought – something which has triggered a memory, that your brain plants as a seed to dream about at night.

How did you feel when you woke up? The emotions you experience both during and after a dream can give you a clue to it’s meaning. It might be that there are (even just) small things you miss about your ex, that you wish your new partner shared. Or maybe your dream is just reminding you that you’re better off without them.

The key to understanding this dream is also ‘why now’? Have a think about what could have prompted you to have this dream at this specific moment. Perhaps you’ve had an argument with your current partner, or you have a subconscious fear that your new relationship will go the same way as your last one. This is why keeping a dream diary can be helpful, to help you understand why you have these dreams when you do. (You can gain free access to an eGuide on keeping a dream diary when you subscribe).

Whether it was your decision to end the previous relationship or theirs, there can often be a feeling of ‘unfinished business’ (like things you wish you’d said, or things you’d hoped they could have done differently).

Regret, guilt, hurt and anger can all be feelings which can bubble underneath, your dreams bringing them to the surface at night. Talking these through with a counsellor can be helpful.

I talk about partners cheating in a dream in my book Answers In The Dark). If your new or old relationship has turned abusive, organisations like Refuge can help.

Answers in the Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal is available to order now. Find out more here.

Copyright Delphi Ellis

The Power of Naps – National Public Sleeping Day 28th February

In the UK, we are a nation of poor sleepers.  According to this report, one in five of us don’t sleep well, and it’s the second most common health complaint after pain.  As well as the impact on our Mental Health, The Guardian also reported in November 2016 that poor sleep is costing the country billions.

Which is why, when a national holiday for sleeping in public came about mysteriously in 2011, it would make perfect sense to embrace it.  After all, we’re probably already falling asleep on buses and trains given the opportunity, so we might as well take a day to celebrate it (as long as it’s safe to do so, obviously).

According to the National Day Calendar there are different types of naps.  Power Naps (10-20 minutes) ideal for a quick ‘fix’ of sleep without the groggy side effects, The Hangover nap (about 30 minutes) long, the one you wake up and don’t know what year you’re in, The Brainiac (60 minutes), which can feel similar to a hangover but is thought to help improve memory, and the California King (a full 90 -minute sleep cycle) which can help you feel efficiently rested.

However, naps can have an impact on how well you sleep at night, so it’s important to think about whether or not having a nap during the day is actually useful in the longer term.  Having said that, if you feel the benefit of a daytime nap, especially if you feel you’re sleep deprived – and you feel rested and healthy for it – it makes sense to nap as you need.  Power naps are also thought to be helpful in reducing stress, improving your immune system and enhancing memory, as is all sleep.

I talk about the power of naps in my book Answers in the Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal. The book aims to join the dots between our sleep, dreams and our mental health, specifically how grief shows up, even if no one has died. I explore some of the big myths of sleep, offer a Sleep Cycle Repair Kit including mindfulness activities as well as some top tips to help you decode your dreams.

You can find out more in the video below or order on Amazon.

Available on Amazon

Remember to speak to your doctor about any concerns you have with your sleep.  Happy napping.