Falling asleep at work can be embarrassing and calls for disciplinary action, especially if you work in a place that absolutely requires your devote attention (e.g. schools, warehouse, etc.). Sometimes it feels like this enormous weight of sleep is upon you and there is nothing you can do but succumb to it. If it happens every now and again then it may be behavioral. But, if it's happening all the time, that can be cause for concern. Continue reading to find out why you may be falling asleep at work and how to prevent it.
Reasons you may be falling asleep
1. Your lunch is too big
Have you ever brought your leftovers from last night's dinner to have for lunch? Or maybe you and your coworkers decide to go and get lunch. If you are feeling extra sleepy after a very large meal, then there is a chance you are eating too much. Having a fulfilling dinner that induces sleepiness is one thing. You are probably preparing to go to sleep in the next couple of hours. However, if your lunch is heavy, and you don't have anywhere to take a nap, then it's going to be very difficult for you to make it through the afternoon.
2. You are not getting enough sleep
Late night bingeing, going out with your friends, and just life may be the reasons you are not getting enough sleep. Adults are recommended to get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep. If you live a very active life or have a physically demanding job, then you may be closer to the 9 than to the 7.
Bedtime habits that eat into your sleep hours will leave you with less gas in the tank for a full workday. If you're able to take naps throughout the day, then that may not be that big of a deal. But if you have a classroom full of kids all day, then you're not going to be able to get that extra rest during the day. So it's imperative that you get the necessary rest during the night.
3. You are overstressed
If you have a heavy workload, it is easy to be so stressed that you are not getting proper rest at home, which contributes to excess daytime sleepiness at work. Getting behind at work just to get another load when you come in the next day can also lead to excess stress. Sleeping may be a response to that stress or a response to the lack of sleep you get throughout the night due to ruminating over your work stress.
Additionally, if you have stress outside of work, such as family crises, living through a global pandemic, taking care of a sick loved one, marriage and family problems, etc., this all culminates and disrupts any sort of rest you may try to get.
4. You have an underlying sleep disorder
Your inability to sleep throughout the night and excessive daytime sleepiness may actually be the result of an underlying sleep disorder. This sleep disorder may be something of which you are aware or not. Sleep apnea, for example, is a sleep disorder that is hard to recognize if you don't have a sleeping partner.
Sleep apnea is a blockage of the airway throughout the night that causes you to wake up and begin breathing again. Everytime this happens is referred to as an apnea event. You won't remember these events, but they still disrupt your sleep. Therefore, unless you have a partner telling you you pause in breathing throughout the night, you'll never know.
Restless legs syndrome, however, is a sleeping disorder that you will very much be aware of, you. may just not know the impact that it has on your sleep.
5. You work environment is optimal for sleep
Sometimes the way we have our offices and cubicles setup just promotes sleep. Working in a dark office with the lights off in a cool room is exactly the setup for a great sleeping environment. If your walls are a cool color and you don't have a lot of vibrant decor, then you may be creating a work environment that is too relaxed.
Ways to prevent it
1. Establish a sleep hygiene
If you are not getting enough sleep, part of the reason may be due to poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a routine that you do every night to train your brain for bedtime. This includes stretching, showering, eating dinner, reading, spending time with family, etc. They are activities that relax your mind enough to be able to sleep. By doing the same thing over and over, your brain will start to recognize when it's time to go to bed and start winding down to make bedtime easier. Reduce exposure to blue light, and make sure you're sleeping in a dark, cold room with no sounds.
2. Eat nourishing and energizing lunches and snacks
The meals you eat in the morning and afternoon need to be light, refreshing and energizing. You don't need a large steak and potatoes for lunch. Eating a lot of meat, especially turkey, can induce sleep because it releases a hormone that is converted into melatonin. Melatonin is the sleep hormone, and definitely not what you want floating around your body at during the day. Try different salads, sandwiches, things that make you about 80% full. If you feel bloated and tired, then you're probably eating too much and should re-evaluate what you're eating.
3. Balance your stress levels
Life is stressful, and there's no way to get around it. However, there are things you can do to balance your stress so that you can rest peacefully at night. If you have work stress from a heavy load, talk to your supervisor and team about better distributing the load so that the stress is more tolerable. Also, if possible, leave your work at the office. When you bring it home and blur the lines between work and life, then you are introducing stress into the part of your life that is supposed to be more leisurely.
Talk with your family if you are experiencing stress at home and come up with ways to address certain long-standing problems that continuously induce stress. Having conversations with people about how you feel and what you need can really open up a lot of doors.
Also, make sure to do things you enjoy and take time to have fun.. We get so caught up in serious things that we forget to nurture ourselves and continue doing the things that make us happy. That can tip the scale towards the direction of fun.
4. Talk to a doctor
If you have tried these other tips, and things aren't improving, or your partner has pointed out that your sleep seems very restless, then you may need to talk to a doctor. Sleep disorders are not mild disturbances, they can actually be very dangerous for your health. Talk to your doctor about what symptoms you're having and start keeping a sleep diary so you can give them a better idea of your normal sleep habits. Bring your bed partner if they can provide some context into how you sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping and think it may be due to an underlying disorder, click the orange button below to talk with one of our sleep health professionals.
5. Create stimulating environments
Last, but certainly not least, create stimulating environments. Turn the lights on in your office and open the shades. Light is the trigger for your brain to begin releasing cortisol, the hormone that jumpstarts everything else in the body. It also stops the production of melatonin, inhibiting the main hormone responsible for making you sleepy. Exposing yourself to more sunlight can also help with stress and feelings of depression. Add some funky lamps to your office and stimulating or vibrant pictures to your cubicle. Listen to music and have candles that smell like coffee, and lemon. These scents help wake up you brain and induce productivity.