With exhaustion being synonymous with chronic workplace stress, you'd think a burnt-out brain would be eager to switch off and get a good night’s sleep. You thought wrong! A 2018 study showed that individuals experiencing burnout had ‘significantly higher insomnia troubles, sleep fragmentation and non-restorative sleep.’ But why?
Those feeling burnt out often experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, which can cause all kinds of sleep problems. Feeling stressed and anxious makes it difficult for your brain to unwind and prompts your body’s ‘fight or flight response’. This elevates your heart rate, increases your temperature, and boosts your body's production of cortisol (your stress hormone!) - not the calmest environment for a good night’s sleep.
Being unable to drift off, still feeling exhausted after a full night’s sleep and waking up in the middle of the night could all be signs that burnout is affecting your sleep! Sleep plays a fundamental role in the effective function of nearly all systems of the body, so a prolonged period of sleep deprivation could lead to a number of health problems, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hormonal abnormalities and immunodeficiency.
But this isn’t a one-way street. If you’re feeling stressed, you struggle to sleep. If you struggle to sleep, you feel stressed. This is something known as the sleep/stress cycle, a not-so-fun loop that is difficult to break! As we’ve discovered, burnout has a detrimental affect on our sleep, but poor sleep can also lead to feelings of exhaustion, lack of motivation and anxiousness – all common symptoms of burnout. So, it's important to note that not getting enough sleep could actually exaggerate these feelings.
If you think you may be experiencing burnout, it's so important to reach out and ask for help. You're not in this alone! Mental health charity Mind has some great resources on how to approach mental health at work if you need help talking to your manager about how you feel.