How to Unplug from Work at Night

Set up a culture of self-care on your team, inside and outside of the office. With sleep as an important part of work performance, discuss with your team how to minimize after-hours emails and fire drills so people can do their best work the following day.

“Wait, I need to respond to that email!”

“Why did my boss make that face during the meeting?”

“Will we sign the next scope?”

“I wonder what my boss is going to say in my performance review next week…”

Work has a tendency to follow you when you leave the office, and even haunt you when you’re about to sleep. This only perpetuates another tireless loop: waking up tired, and not getting good night’s sleep because of work-induced insomnia. Work quality suffers because of fatigue, further stress follows, and repeat.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 37% of adults say they are so tired during the day it interferes with daily activities, including work. In fact, when sleepy on the job, 65% of people have difficulty handling stress, 57% have difficulty listening, 38% have difficulty relating to others, and 58% struggle with decision making. A sleep-deprived workforce lacks problem-solving skills, empathy, and ability to cope or adapt.

Sleep hygiene and the recent sleep revolution encourages working professionals to find ways to relax before bed and improve quality and quantity of sleep. It’s harder to go to work happy and perform at your best when you’re not rested.

How to Unplug from Work for the Night

  1. Contextualize your concerns. Work stresses become increasingly irrational in the pitch black of night. And when we catastrophize our stresses, our mind goes into overdrive. The goal is to ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen if I wait to resolve this anxiety in the morning? Anchor the concern in rational reality before letting it plague you for the rest of the night.
  2. Write it down. If nagging thoughts wake you up in the middle of the night, keep a journal next to your bed to capture them so it takes up less space in your head. Don’t be tempted to jot down a note in your phone, as it might lead to checking your email or Slack feed.
  3. Take a deep breath. In The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington recommends taking 25 deep breaths in a row. This will help empty your mind and signal your body that you’re ready for sleep.
  4. Tell your team. Be open with your team when you’re working on less than optimal sleep. You’d be hard pressed to find any working adult who doesn’t understand. It can be as simple as “I haven’t been sleeping well, so I might be a grump or a little slow today.” Your team will get it.


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