QUESTION: How do I stop thinking about work at 3am? What tips can you offer so that I make sure work stress doesn't get in the way of my sleep?
The book of Psalms, chapter 127:2 might be a good place for you to begin the journey of understanding your predicament. It reads as follows “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for He grants sleep to those He loves”.
Sleep is critical. For example, growth takes place during sleep. It is most important during adolescence and infancy. Illnesses and any form of pain are incompatible with restful sleep.
Different people can survive on different hours of sleep, and also that some people like to go to bed late, while others are early risers who by 6am have done half a day’s work. These differences are in part biologically determined.
In your case, you tell us that the problem is that you wake up at 3am thinking about work. To any doctor, waking up at 3am is an indication that you might be suffering from a depressive illness.
To put it differently, when a doctor is examining you, he or she is not only interested in whether you have a sleep problem or not, but he will also ask about the sleep pattern. In many instances, the pattern holds the key to the diagnosis.
When you go to a pharmacist and say that you need a sleeping pill, chances are that you do not explain whether you have a problem initiating sleep or as in your case the fact that you have no problem falling off to sleep but sleep vanishes at 3am.
Difficulties initiating sleep are more commonly associated with anxiety. Others might state that although they sleep at night, they wake up in the morning feeling as if they had not slept a wink.
Chronic fatigue syndrome might be responsible for some cases of waking up feeling very tired even after what seems like a full night of sleep.
Conditions such as arthritis are common causes of lack of sleep in the elderly. Painkillers and other remedies, rather than sleeping pills might be the solution to this problem.
What came first, poor performance at work or loss of sleep at 3am? As we have seen, depression can lead to poor sleep as well as lead to poor performance at work.
No simple tips can ensure your work stress doesn’t get in the way of your sleep.
Having said all of the above, my advice is to take the problem you have to a mental health expert because as you have now seen the subject of sleep is anything but easy and you must make sure that you get to the bottom of the problem before you either decide to change jobs or more commonly and equally unwise, go to a pharmacy to get a sleeping pill which is often the first step to addiction.
Dr Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant who has authored several scientific papers and books