Is work spilling into your dreams? Here are 8 steps to a better night's sleep

By Robert Half on 22 April 2017

Believe it or not, your sleep can impact your short and long-term career in more ways than you can imagine.

Work-life balance is easier said than done these days with smartphones and 24/7 connectivity, but it’s a whole new ball game when work starts to infiltrate the one area of your life you thought it couldn’t – your dreams.

Work-related dreams can manifest themselves in many ways. Among the most common dreams are: being fired (or having to fire someone); losing important files; turning up to work naked; running late for work; having an affair with a colleague; equipment breaking; and being unprepared for something important, such as a pitch or presentation. The shared theme in most work-related dreams is an element of anxiety.

Work-related dreams are open to interpretation

Although there is no definitive answer as to whether work-related dreams actually do stem from what’s happening in your office, it may be beneficial to look at the underlying story of the dream and see whether you can apply it to other areas of your life.

For example, a fear of being unprepared may represent a lack of confidence or nerves about a major event coming up in your life. A dream about running late could symbolise a missed opportunity (work-related or otherwise). Turning up naked to work could pertain to a fear of being judged, shamed or exposed in an environment or to people familiar to you. Likewise, a dream of being fired may be symbolic of a relationship or scenario that you may be asked or forced to exit.

While it's a widespread issue that affects most at some point in their lives,there are thankfully steps you can take to head back into sleep credit. Here are eight that could help you get a better night's sleep.

1. Create a bedtime ritual

There’s no need to involve candles (unless that’s what you’re into), but it is helpful to have consistency. It could be as simple having a warm shower or writing a to-do list for the next day to clear your mind.

If you’re super keen to get into relaxation mode, rub lavender oil on your pillow to help take you away to the land of slumber. The point is to train your brain to recognise the signs that it’s time to wind down in order to gain a better night's sleep.

2. De-clutter your sleep space

Your bedroom should not be like a tourist destination – remove children, pets, phones, computers, food, lights and noisy or bright clocks, and limit excess bed linen to avoid overheating.

And try not to engage in stimulating activities, like TV or computer games, an hour before bed. Same goes for work – shut off that domain early in the night.

3. Reduce caffeine intake

Caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones and inhibits absorption of a hormone that gives us a sense of calmness.

So avoid coffee or drinks such as black tea or energy drinks after 2 pm if you're looking for a better night's sleep. Instead, drink teas such as chamomile or valerian.

4. Up your magnesium intake

Magnesium is considered the anti-stress nutrient as it calms and supports the nervous system.

You’ll find it in tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa), wheat bran and green leafy vegetables.

5. Reduce alcohol

A few wines may help you fall sleep at the beginning of the night, but having alcohol in your system will interrupt your most restful, deepest REM sleep cycle.

It's also thought that people who consume alcohol regularly have lower levels of natural melatonin in their body, which can contribute to sleeping difficulties.

6. Exercise regularly

Engaging in exercise during the day can make it easier to fall asleep at night – and stay asleep. It can also increase the amount of time you spend in the deepest stage of sleep. As well as being good for your physical health and general wellbeing, exercise is a great way to let off some steam.

Whether it’s an after-work gym session, a group class or a run around your local park, it’s bound to help reduce your work stress and increase your energy levels. Some people however find exercising too late in the day too stimulating, so stick to exercising before dinner.

7. Switch off

Never underestimate the value of some time away from your computer screen during your workday. Take a walk, don’t eat your lunch at your desk, go outside for some fresh air and, if you are guilty of this, try not to take work home with you every night.

At home, give yourself an after-hours cut-off time, after which you don’t check or respond to work-related emails, phone calls or texts. This should help you disconnect and put some boundaries in place between your work and home life.

8. Take some time out

Make some time for yourself during the day that doesn’t focus on work overload or anything else.

Whether it’s a 10-minute meditation to start or end your day, getting off the bus a few stops earlier and walking home, taking the dog for a walk or having a long bath after dinner, take a moment to breathe, reflect on the day, process anything of importance and then enjoy some time with yourself, your partner, family, friends or housemates.

A better night's sleep is worth pursuing

If all else fails, don’t let frustration get the better of you. Stick to the “20-minute rule” – after 20 minutes of tossing and turning, get up and do something relaxing in another room until you feel sleepy again. A better night's sleep is worth pursuing the technique that suits you.

Practicing some of these suggestions should help you leave work at the office and not take it with you into your dreams.

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