why can't I sleep the night before going back to work?
Sleep Problems

Why Can’t I Sleep The Night Before Work?

Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Louise Carter

Many working people struggle to relax or sleep the night before work, especially after a short break. This is called Sunday night insomnia (difficulty resting before restarting a routine).

Workplace stress and anxiety are common explanations for insomnia after a weekend or vacation. Your mind may be racing with all the tasks and projects that await you, which can feel overwhelming.

Don’t ignore these negative feelings. Instead, create a to-do list of everything you must do before bed. This will clear your mind and make you feel like you’re gaining control of your upcoming schedule.

Many people stay up late when they don’t need to work the next day. They remain in bed longer on a non-working morning, enjoying the extra relaxation and leisure time.

It doesn’t take the body and mind long to adjust to this schedule, and you may struggle to return to a standard routine. Maintaining a similar sleep-wake cycle for 7 days a week is beneficial.

Attempt to mirror your working day routine the night before you return to work. This involves waking up early, exercising, and avoiding artificial stimulants like caffeinated coffee and energy drinks.

Why Can I Never Sleep Before Work?

The first step to overcoming insomnia before work is identifying the cause of a sleeping problem. There are various causes for Sunday night insomnia, including the following:

Stress And Anxiety

According to The American Institute of Stress, 83% of U.S. citizens experience stress related to their jobs, with 25% claiming that their job is the biggest concern in their lives.

The correlation between stress and insomnia is well documented, so it’s no surprise that many people find their minds racing with concerns surrounding work before returning after a short break. 

It takes the human body and mind around 3 days away from work to fully de-stress and relax.

As many of us work a 9 – 5, Monday to Friday shift pattern, this rarely leaves enough time to fully unwind before restarting our regular schedule.

Concerns can be ignored or buried at the back of the mind for a day or two, but the night before work, you’ll likely involuntarily think about everything that awaits you when you wake up.

Set aside some time before bed and create a list of all work-related concerns that are on your mind. The Journal of Experimental Psychology found that people who make a to-do list before bed fall asleep faster.

If you’re worried about things awaiting you at work in the morning, journaling these concerns can also help you remove the racing thoughts from your mind, clearing your head ahead of sleep.

Resist looking at work emails before bed to steel yourself for what’s coming. The Journal of Happiness Studies stated that periodic leisure time and disconnection from work are vital to mental health.

why can I never sleep before work?

Change of Sleeping Pattern

You’ll likely have a set weekly routine if you have a 9 – 5 working pattern. You’ll rise at the same time each morning and aim to sleep at a similar time at night to ensure you get enough rest.

Busy, working people often have limited time to enjoy leisure activities when following this pattern.

You may seize the opportunity to stay up later despite no external forces preventing you from sleeping. Frontiers in Psychology describes this as “bedtime procrastination.”

Social media users have popularized the term “revenge bedtime procrastination,” used to explain a decision to stay up later than usual to catch up with entertainment, socialize with friends, or have time alone to think and enjoy the act of being alive and not working.

Bedtime procrastination can shatter the rhythms of a sleep-wake cycle established during the week. Sleep and Biological Rhythms warns that rising later on weekends will likely increase sleep inertia in the following mornings.

Imagine you work Monday to Friday and stay up late on Friday night, perhaps with stimulants to fight sleepiness. You may lay in on Saturday to repay some of the sleep debt you accrued, then do the same on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

When Sunday night arrives, your body has adjusted to a new pattern. You won’t feel tired enough to sleep until much later than you would on a traditional weeknight, especially if your mind is racing about the working week ahead.

Napping During the Day

Naps on non-working days can be an effective way to repay sleep debt accrued during the week, especially if you’re prone to working long hours.

Napping can disrupt a reliable sleep cycle, so approach getting additional sleep cautiously.

If you nap in the afternoon, set the alarm and keep the rest to a single sleep cycle – 2 hours at most. If you sleep for too long, you risk struggling to fall asleep in the evening.

If your body grows dependent on additional opportunities to sleep, it falls into a natural rhythm and expects more daily rest. The body usually experiences an energy lull in the afternoon, and it may be hard to stay sharp when you’re used to resting.

Decreased Physical Activity

After a long week at work, you may relish taking it easy and minimizing physical activity on your days off. While the idea of a “lazy Sunday” is appealing on paper, it can prevent sleep when the sun goes down.

A chemical in the body called adenosine is responsible for feelings of sleepiness at night.

Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that depresses the nervous system’s activity. The more we move and act during the day, the more adenosine dissipates, creating feelings of tiredness.

If you remain static, your body is less likely to break down adenosine. Staying on the sofa and watching TV all day will mean you’re weary at night but not tired enough to fall into a deep and natural sleep.

Make an effort to get physical exercise on a non-working day, even if it’s taking a brisk walk in the afternoon. If you can go for a jog or to the gym, that’s even better. Just stay active.

what to do if you can't sleep before work

Lifestyle Changes and Use of Stimulants

Part of the appeal of a non-working day is the chance to engage in activities that are impossible at other times due to a busy schedule.

Devoid of the responsibility of work, you may use more stimulants, drink alcohol, and vary your diet.

Avoid these things the day and night before you return to work. While appealing, a carbohydrate-dense breakfast or lunch may create energy peaks and drops that interfere with your sleep cycle.

Equally, avoid caffeine and other stimulants. You may rely on coffee to get through a working day, but avoid it during non-working time for at least 6 hours before heading to bed.

Alcohol needs to be treated with caution. While alcohol is a depressant rather than a stimulant, Sleep Medicine Reviews confirms that alcohol reduces the quality of rest.

The sedative effects of alcohol may help you doze in the short term, but the risks of nocturia and dehydration are significantly enhanced.

You’re likelier to wake in the night and struggle to fall asleep again, especially once the inhibition-suppressing qualities of alcohol wear off and your mind is filled with thoughts about work.   

Do your utmost to maintain the same lifestyle and schedule as you would on a working day.

Should I Go to Work if I Didn’t Sleep the Night Before?

If you fail to get adequate sleep overnight, going to work in the morning can feel overwhelming. Deciding whether you should force yourself to rise and work depends on:

  1. Safety considerations that surround working while tired.
  2. What will you do instead of working?
  3. How flexible and lenient is your employer about unplanned time away from work?
  4. How will an employer cope with your absence?

If your job involves operating heavy machinery, driving long distances, or anything else that could place yourself and others in danger due to tiredness, you shouldn’t attend.

The Nature and Science of Sleep stated that a lack of sleep could impair decision-making.

The study suggests that people operating under a cloud of insomnia are more impulsive and likelier to make riskier choices than when well-rested.

If you’re not working, use the time to repay some of the sleep debt you accrued the night before. Ensure you don’t disrupt your sleep pattern so much that insomnia returns in the evening.

How your employer reacts to your absence will also affect your decision. Worrying that your boss won’t accept your request for a day off with good grace will add to your stress and anxiety.

Ask yourself if your co-workers can cover your absence. If missing a day of work means you’ll have twice as much to do tomorrow, you may be better off working through the day.

An inability to sleep the night before returning to work after a short break is natural. Adjust your lifestyle and sleep-wake cycle to avoid disrupting the body’s rhythms.