The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, analyzed data from nearly 115,000 participants in the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Health, Work Environment and Health Survey in Denmark and the Finnish Public Sector Study who were followed for six years.
The researchers focused in particular on leadership quality (1), such as appreciation and ability to listen procedural justice (2)which is the perception of fairness in the workplace, support from colleagues (3) a culture of cooperation (4).
Questions about sleep then included, for example, whether people have trouble falling asleep, have poor quality sleep, or feel tired during the day two to four times a week for at least a month.
Confounding factors such as age and pre-existing physical or mental disorders were also taken into account in the study.
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Within two years, more than half of the participants (53%) reported changes in their work environment. If they were positive in one of two categories – leadership and fairness or support and cooperation of colleagues – the probability of persistent sleep problems decreased.
The biggest drop was when one saw an improvement in everyone in the workplace four areas.
“This study highlights the important influence that the work environment and stress have on our overall well-being,” Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told CNN.
“Well-being initiatives in the workplace can improve sleep. On a personal level, we can then optimize the quality of sleep itself, which can help manage stress and ultimately increase resilience to the daily challenges we face,” said Zee.
However, if the changes at work were negative, sleep problems increased – in fact, 1 in 4 people in the study with worse work environments had problems getting enough rest.
“Our findings warrant future intervention studies investigating the extent to which improving workplace psychosocial resources could facilitate remission or recovery from sleep disorders and prevent the development, worsening, or prolongation of sleep disorders among employees,” wrote study lead author Tianwei Xu, a postdoctoral fellow at in epidemiology at Stockholm University in Sweden.
Negative changes in the leadership and justice sector were associated with the greatest long-term impact on sleep, more so than negative changes in coworker relationships or collaboration, the study found.
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“This finding was predictable given the greater power of leaders to influence a positive work environment,” wrote Xu and her co-authors.
How to solve the problem?
Once you associate your bed and bedroom with poor sleep, anxiety can increase just by entering the room, experts say.
Bad sleep habits such as eating, working, watching TV and thinking in bed can reinforce this negative association.
Stimulus control therapy can help overcome the association between wakefulness and the bedroom by training the mind to see the bed and bedroom as a place for good sleep while eliminating cues for activities that disrupt sleep.
If you still can’t fall asleep within 15 or 20 minutes, get up. Keep the lights dim and stay away from the blue light emitted by electronics – watching TV or using a smartphone or computer only sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up. Instead, do something mindless like folding socks until you feel sleepy. Only then can you go back to bed.
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Stress from work worries? Whatever you do, don’t think about it in bed, advises sleep specialist Raj Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
“Instead, write a list of things you need to do tomorrow before you go to bed. You can even email it to yourself,” advises Vsevolod Polotsky, vice chair for research at George Washington University’s Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care.
Deep breathing is also a science-based way to calm your body and mind. By changing the rhythm of your breathing, you slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and stimulate the parasympathetic “rest and digest” system.
One of the most popular deep breathing methods, the 4-7-8 technique, can easily be done before you turn out the light. If you wake up in the middle of the night, try the relaxation exercise again.
Another proven technique is progressive muscle relaxation, experts say. Firmly tense the muscles in different areas of the body for 10 seconds while inhaling. Try to squeeze each muscle hard, but not to the point of cramping or pain. Then, as you exhale, relax the muscle suddenly and all at once.
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