How Work, School, Family and Friends Can Impact Your Sleep
If you've already tried the many practical sleep tips available here at Sleep Tools, but are still struggling with sleep, then it might be time to assess your social well-being and whether work, school, family, or friends is a cause for poor sleep quality. Here we take a look at why this happens, and what you can do to about it.
Even for the strongest introverts, who would rather spend a Saturday night reading than going out with friends, social relationships are important. It is baked into how we as humans are hard wired. The only reason humans have survived over thousands of years is because we formed into and lived among tribal units. When our ancestors were part of a tribe that depended on them and that they could depend on, the chance of survival increased.
If you've worked in groups or played on team sports, you have probably seen this reality play out in modern terms. If a group or team has leadership or individuals who spread discontent and are toxic, the group suffers. Teams do not perform to their best potential and the overall well-being of the group decreases. On the other hand, groups or teams with individuals and leaders who are respectful and supportive of one another tend to build up the entire group, leading to stronger performance and overall well-being.
The reason this happens today is directly related to the many generations of our ancestors who lived and survived among tribes. When our tribe is doing well, we as individuals tend to do well.
Since sleep is a time for our brains to decompress, get organized, and rest, it can also be when the brain has time to think and process any perceived discrepancies in our social relationships. During the busy day that the 21st century has created, often bedtime is the only chance we get to think about the health of our tribe.
There are many examples of social situations that could lead to racing thoughts and emotions during the evening hours. Some of which include:
- Your best friend was recently diagnosed with a life threatening condition.
- You are getting married.
- Your boss is putting extra pressure on you to perform at work.
- You found out your friends have spoken poorly about you behind your back.
- Your parents express expectations of you that you are afraid you cannot live up to.
- Your siblings treat you in a way that does not represent who you really are.
- You've been paired with a co-worker who is a slacker and does not carry their weight.
- You are receiving a promotion that will have you supervising your former peers.
- Your teacher or professor has assigned you with more work than you feel like you can manage.
- You recently made a mistake and led down a friend, colleague, or family member.
- The list goes on and on...
Other more extreme examples could include things like:
- You are in an physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive relationship.
- You just lost a friend or family member to suicide.
- Your friend or family member recently experienced a traumatic event and they seem different.
- You recently experienced a traumatic event and you feel different.
- You are being sexually harassed at school or work.
All of these examples, even the extreme ones, happen to people throughout the world, every day. These sort of things at the least can be stressful, and at the worst can be completely overwhelming and debilitating.
And they all have something or another to do with our tribe. With the people that we are supposed to be able to depend on, or who are supposed to depend on us.
It is no wonder that people struggle with sleep when they are going through situations like were mentioned in the above examples. Their minds are struggling to make sense of the social changes in their lives, how it will impact their relationships, and their perception of their own roles within those relationships.
This happens to all of us at one point or another. Sometimes it gets resolved all on it's own and it's hardly noticeable. Other times it can take a real toll on our sleep and our overall sense of well-being. If you have the sense that this social component may be contributing to a decrease in your sleep or overall health, you are invited to try out the tips below.
#1- Practice Mindfulness Regularly
As we have discussed in previous blog posts, mindfulness practice is one of the most important things you can do to help recognize when the mind is racing, gently slow the thoughts down and turn them off, and help the brain and body relax for a good restful sleep. It is exercise for the brain, just as running or lifting weights is exercise for the body.
And it works.
#2- Write a "Lincoln Letter"
A Lincoln Letter is a letter you write to someone, without having any intention to actually share it with them. This can be to someone who is alive, or has already passed away. The most effective Lincoln Letters let it all out. They express the emotional ups or downs the writer is experiencing about the person they are writing about.
This process allows you to get the thoughts outside of yourself, on to a piece of paper or a computer screen. It allows you to process the emotions and can be a very cathartic and therapeutic activity. Then, you can complete the ritual by burning the letter, deleting it, or stashing it away someplace that only you can find.
After doing this, you may find your brain is racing less about your social relationships and can have an easier time getting to sleep.
#3- Seek Professional Assistance
When the mind is racing uncontrollably like this, it is a clear indication that it wants to process whatever emotions are in there. Sometimes we need help from a professional to facilitate healthy processing of events or emotions. The same is true for your car; unless you know how to adjust alignment, change the oil, rotate and balance tires, or swap out brake pads, it's probably best to have professional assistance.
Fortunately a highly effective treatment exists to help facilitate the processing of emotions and difficult memories. It is called EMDR, short for Eye Movement, Desensitization, and Reprocessing. You can learn about it here. And you can find a trained therapist nearest you, here.
The great thing about seeking professional assistance is they may also be able to help you with tips #2 and 4 here as well.
#4- Talk It Out
If you are having problems with someone or a group of people and you feel like they are the type of people you could have a deeper conversation with, then it might be a good exercise to address whatever the issue is with them directly.
The rule with this one is, it has to be with the intent to build each other up. If you cannot find any positive words or an approach that would be uplifting for the relationship, then you should probably skip this.
Also, timing is really important. Make sure you ask, "are you in a place where you can talk about something with me?", and give the person the opportunity to say no. If they aren't ready to listen, then you will be wasting everyone's time.
#5- Mind the "4 Burner Theory"
The 4 Burner Theory asserts that every one of us has four burners that we maintain throughout life. They consist of:
- Burner 1: Work/School
- Burner 2: Family
- Burner 3: Friends
- Burner 4: Our own physical health
The thing is, we only have enough fuel to run three of these burners at a time, somewhat efficiently. And if we want them to be fully optimal, we only have enough fuel for two at a time.
This means that if you work full time and want to focus on your own physical health, then your time and energy available for friends and family is limited.
Likewise, if you focus all your time and energy on friends and family, then your performance at work and your ability to stay physically healthy might deteriorate.
The point of the 4 Burner Theory is to help us assess where our time and energy is placed, and help us determine how we might make time and energy to focus on the more neglected areas of our lives.
So, when we say "mind the 4 Burner Theory", what we mean is: recognize that you cannot do everything at once, assess how you are doing with each burner, and make a plan to address the areas you might be neglecting.
In doing so, you might be able to rest easier at night and stop worrying so much about the things you are concerned with.
If you have a plan of action, you will be less likely to stay up at night with racing thoughts and emotions about the social relationships in your life.
Well there you go. We hope you have learned something and that you'll take that knowledge to help improve your sleep. Please let us know how it goes through our social media channels or by sending us an email! And as always, we hope you will consider buying your Sleep Tools from us and our partners.