Workplace Wellness: Getting Enough Sleep to Remain Alert at Work

12.06.23
Workplace Wellness: Getting Enough Sleep to Remain Alert at Work (Getty Images)

ChicagoIt’s midnight and you still haven’t slept — kind of. 

Whenever you're not tending to a baby who’s still learning how to sleep hours at a time without your help, sometimes you do get to close your eyes. But, because you know that you’ll have to get up again, you can’t even allow yourself to enter a deep sleep. Instead, you're stuck in a weird plane of alertness and drowsiness, a common place in the first year of your child’s life. 

Fewer hours of sleep affects people in different ways. 

Everyone doesn’t need the same amount of it to function properly. For the very rare few, four hours a night might be enough to start work the next morning with the energy of someone who’s about to compete in a triathlon. For others, sleeping that amount or less each night for weeks or months at a time feels like you’ve completed one of the hours-long races and that you're faced with another one when it’s time to clock in. 

As the dad of a seven-month old, I fit into the latter group. Not every night is fated to be a sleep deprived one but in truth, most of them are. As much as we love taking care of our daughter, my wife and I have sometimes dreaded the approach of the night because of it, for our own respective reasons. 

My primary reason has been my inability to properly balance my nightly responsibilities with the ones I take on when the morning comes. My days are filled with writing, interviewing, emailing, calling, listening — all functions that demand attention, focus and traits fueled by proper sleep. I can’t say that I have a good answer for striking the right balance yet, but I have found some things to be helpful. 

Go to bed early 

The way my wife and I see it, going to bed early offers us more opportunities for sleep. Our daughter tends to sleep with no trouble in the first few hours of the night and wakes up frequently after midnight. So, we’re more likely to put in more hours if we turn in at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., as opposed to 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Of course every baby is different, so use discretion. But the idea is to try to shape your sleep schedule around your baby’s. When they're in deep sleep, you should be too. 

Talk with your boss

Tell them what you’re going through and how it’s affecting you. Ask if they might be open to a flexible work arrangement, where you can finish your work at a time that’ll allow you to sleep more. Fortunately, my boss has been understanding and has allowed me to work from home and to shape my schedule around my needs. Even when I do work and feel fatigued, it’s nice to feel seen and understood at work. 

Talk with your partner

Is there a better way to split up the nightly responsibilities? Can you have designated shifts, where one person takes care of the baby for a few hours, so the other can get solid rest? Maybe one of you just doesn’t need the same amount of sleep to function. If so, what is that person willing to take on to lighten the nightly load? Negotiate with your partner to figure out what will work best for the whole family. 

Noah Johnson (he/him/his) is a Chicago-based journalist. Follow him on X: @noahwritestoo.

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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