What is Sunday night insomnia?
Modern working life is becoming increasingly stressful – we commute long distances to work long days to pay high rent, and it’s not just the city workers that are affected, either. Everyone’s lives seem to be increasingly hectic, as we try to juggle finances, children, work and a social life while remembering to maintain good health.
Out of this busy lifestyle there seems to be emerging a new, worrying phenomenon – Sunday night insomnia.
While true insomnia is generally a medical disorder that prevents a person from sleeping, sometimes for days at a time, the word is often colloquially adopted to refer to instances where people struggle to fall asleep for a variety of reasons – in this case, specifically on Sundays.
One study commissioned by Travelodge found that 60% of workers have their worst night's sleep on a Sunday. More than a quarter of the 3,500 people surveyed admitted to calling in sick on Monday after having a bad night’s sleep. The survey also found as many as 80% of people reported sleeping best on Friday nights.
Clearly, then, this sleep problem must have something to do with our working lifestyle.
What is it about Sundays that makes getting a good night's sleep difficult?
One common reason is work-related stress and anxiety. Worrying about the week ahead, the deadlines you have to meet, the work you didn’t get finished over the weekend, and all of the other stresses that accompany working life can often make it difficult to get to sleep. A recent survey revealed that 10% of Sunday night insomnia cases are caused by worrying about the next day’s commute, which is a cause of stress for many due to traffic, unreliable public transport and crowding.
In many cases, simply knowing that you need to get a good night’s sleep in order to set you up for the week ahead can be enough stress to cause sleep problems. With every hour that ticks by you realise you have one less hour of sleep and are one hour closer to getting up feeling exhausted and drained. You desperately will yourself to go to sleep, but can’t help checking the clock every half hour to see how much time you have left. There’s a word for that – psychophysiological insomnia; when worrying about not being able to sleep is the thing that is preventing a person from falling asleep.
Biologically, there may be another reason why some people can’t sleep on Sunday nights that isn’t related to worry. Over the weekend we tend to go to bed later and wake up later, meaning that by Sunday night, we often aren’t ready to go to bed at the usual 10pm or 11pm, because we’ve not actually been awake long enough. For many, Sunday is a lazy day, so a lack of physical and mental activity may mean that the body and mind simply aren’t tired enough for sleep.
Therefore we can see that the causes of Sunday night insomnia can be split into two broad categories: physical and mental. They often work together to prevent sleep, as not being physically tired enough to sleep gives us enough time to begin worrying.
What can you do about the mental causes?
If you find that you can’t sleep on Sunday nights, you don’t need to carry on suffering through it. There are a number of measures you can take to help you drift off more easily and be ready for the working week come Monday morning.
If it is your mind that won’t let you go to sleep, because of worries, stresses and anxiety, try some relaxation methods to calm the mind and quieten those intrusive thoughts.
- Write down whatever is worrying you. This will help clear your head, and you won’t be worried about forgetting an important deadline or idea.
- On Sunday evening you could try making a rough plan of what you need to get done that week – detail your goals for each day and a few notes on how you’re going to do achieve them. Break down big projects or deadlines into smaller chunks. If you need to prepare a presentation by Friday, break it down into, for example ‘write a rough draft of key information’, ‘research facts and figures’, ‘prepare PowerPoint’ and ‘prepare oral presentation’. Your notes for ‘prepare PowerPoint’ might simply be a breakdown of roughly how many slides you need, and which topics/points they will cover, as well as any pictures or graphs that need sourcing. Try not to make the plan too strict, as you may become stressed that you don’t have any flexible time for other projects.
- Practising mindfulness is a great way to deal with unwanted thoughts and worries. Rather than trying to ignore your problems and force your mind to go blank, this technique involves observing the thoughts and worries that are coming and going, and learning to accept them and move on. Download the Headspace app, which provides 10 minute guided mindfulness sessions. You can read more about mindfulness on the Headspace website.
Looking into the root cause of your stress and anxiety may also be worthwhile, rather than just treating the symptoms. If your job is so stressful that it is repeatedly preventing you from sleeping, particularly if this extends beyond just Sunday night, it may be time to consider a new job or career, or you might want to speak to your manager about decreasing your workload a little.
What can you do about the physical causes?
Sometimes it is your body that won’t let you sleep on a Sunday night because it physically isn't tired enough. If this is the case, there are still a number of steps you can take to cure your Sunday night insomnia.
- If your body clock is preventing you from falling asleep, this can be simply solved by maintaining a consistent sleep pattern. If you go to sleep at 11pm and wake up at 7am during the week, try to stick to a similar pattern at the weekend, or at least on Saturday night and Sunday morning
- Your natural body clock is also influenced by daylight. During the day, try to get as much sunlight as you can by opening curtains and blinds or going outside. In the evening, close the curtains and begin to dim the lights as you approach your usual bed time. This mirrors the natural rhythm of sunrise and sunset and stimulates the release of the correct sleep hormones
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine shouldn’t be consumed after lunch as it may affect your ability to fall asleep later. Alcohol should be kept to a minimum, because when our bodies metabolise it we are prevented from falling into a deep sleep
- Try to get some exercise in during the day to burn off extra energy, but make sure to have some down-time in the evening. Read a book or have a bath to help you relax. We don’t recommend watching TV, as the bright, flickering light can stimulate your brain and prevent it from releasing the hormones you need to get to sleep.
What remedies are there for Sunday night insomnia?
Everyone needs a helping hand every now and then, so if none of these methods work, try a herbal remedy.
I recommend the A.Vogel Dormeasan sleep aid. This herbal remedy contains an extract of Valerian and Hops to help you achieve a natural sleep that, unlike many conventional sleeping pills, won’t leave you feeling groggy the next day.