Here’s the one thing you can do to sleep better at night, according to sleep experts

After a long day at work, most of the time we just want to head home, get something to eat, and make it through until bedtime. That’s how you make it through the week, right? But if you want to sleep better at night, and break the cycle of weekday exhaustion, the best thing you can do is take a break after work and do something for yourself.

Obviously, that’s not always possible if you have kids or two jobs or any number of responsibilities that make “me-time” a daydream. But a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that doing anything to break up your day and get out of work mode will help you fall asleep quicker. Mostly because work is terrible, or at the very least, stressful. Caitlin Demsky, PhD, of Oakland University and her co-authors asked 699 employees of the U.S. Forest Service to rate rude behavior in the workplace, their negative thoughts about their job, whether they had any insomnia symptoms, and if they were ever able to take off from work and just chill.

They also asked them to list how many kids under 18 years old they had, how much they worked a week, and how much they drank, since these are usually all factors when it comes to sleep disorders. They found that people who experienced more negative experiences and thoughts at work reported waking up more often in the middle of the night or not being able to fall asleep at all. People who were able to detach after work and clear their heads all slept better. Demsky said in a press release accompanying the study:

"Incivility in the workplace takes a toll on sleep quality. It does so in part by making people repeatedly think about their negative work experiences. Those who can take mental breaks from this fare better and do not lose as much sleep as those who are less capable of letting go."

Doing anything, like listening to music on the ride home, getting in a workout, or meeting up with friends after work can help you sleep better. To a point, of course. Happy hour is great, but drinking alcohol frequently can mess with your sleep patterns, so it’s all about finding that balance. But sleep is so important and can make work better. Just like you can get caught in a cycle of being exhausted and burnt out, you can set yourself up for success by taking care of yourself and getting a good night’s sleep whenever you can.

Demsky added, “Sleep quality is crucial because sleep plays a major role in how employees perform and behave at work. In our fast-paced, competitive professional world, it is more important than ever that workers are in the best condition to succeed, and getting a good night’s sleep is key to that.”

Taking a break after work just isn’t possible for people who are also managing households, running to a night job, or even who work from home and are assailed by emails and Slack notifications well past dinner time. Sure, a dance party, a yoga class, or a good veg out session in front of the TV is obviously ideal, but they’re not luxuries everyone can take. Which is why the fact that the researchers surveyed “bad behavior” at work, too. Merely finding a way to disconnect from your cranky boss or setting limits on when and where you respond to work emails can also be a form of detaching so you can sleep better.

Instead of taking up valuable time as soon as you get off the clock, you can also take small breaks during the day. Like, make it a priority to not eat at your desk or in front of a computer. Take ten or fifteen minute breaks outside whenever you can and soak up some fresh air, if that’s something you can do. Taking breaks and shaking things up doesn’t make you lazy or unfocused. In fact, it actually energizes and refocuses you. Nir Eyal, a neurologist, told Psychology Today:

"When we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to help us execute our goals. But for a challenging task that requires our sustained attention, research shows briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation later on.

Not only does taking breaks help you stick with grueling work, it can also make you more creative, so you’ll have what Eyal calls “ah-ha! moments.” And if being creative isn’t your priority, it will at least make your actual work feel like something you don’t mind doing (even fun, at best). Who doesn’t want that?

So if you’re up all night worrying about the work day, take some time right before you leave or just after to process all the negativity you ran into and make a plan of attack for the day after, so you don’t have to worry about it once you leave the building. And if you can, definitely take some time between work and bedtime to shake everything else off if you want a good night’s sleep.

Filed Under