Are Your Coworkers Messing With Your Sleep?

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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Are Your Coworkers Messing With Your Sleep?

You might leave the office at 5 p.m. but that doesn’t mean work isn’t following you home, especially if you work in a hostile or stressful environment.

Not only can rude comments in an email, constant interruptions in a meeting or a coworker taking credit for your idea undermine your confidence, but they can also wreak havoc on your health. Thinking about work events during non-work hours has been linked to cardiovascular disease and negative mood; negative experiences with coworkers are also associated with insomnia, including trouble falling asleep or waking up during the night, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.


Researchers followed 699 employees and found workplace incivilities were linked to higher rates of insomnia. These negative experiences at work make it harder to unwind after hours and may leave you worrying about what happened — or might happen — during your 9 to 5.

“It’s not a surprising finding given what we know about the impact of emotion on sleep,” says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, instructor at Harvard Medical School and past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Losing sleep over what happens at work could lead to more significant health issues. Epstein notes there are links between insomnia and mental health issues such as depression, making it even more important to address rumination and improve sleep.

If you bring workplace drama home, your partner could suffer, too.


A new study expanded on the original research and found couples who worked for the same company or in the same occupation were more apt to lose sleep when their partners were dealing with workplace incivilities such as rudeness and disrespect.

Lead author Charlotte Fritz, PhD, an associate professor at Portland State University, explained, “Because work-linked couples have a better idea of what’s going on in each other’s work, they can be better supporters. They probably know more about the context of the [uncivil] act and might be more pulled into the venting or problem-solving process.”

Even couples who don’t work together (or in the same industries) can be affected, according to Epstein.

“If your partner is tossing and turning and having trouble falling asleep, it will impact your sleep, too,” he says.


Workplace policies that host trainings, establish zero-tolerance policies and investigate complaints can help. If you’re dealing with negative behaviors in the office, try these strategies for unwinding after work and increasing the likelihood of getting a good night’s rest:



An 8-week course in mindfulness-based stress reduction was associated with decreases in rumination and improved mood. “Meditation can help you relax and shut off the events of the day to help you get to sleep,” Epstein says.



At least 40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise was associated with decreased rumination, according to 2018 researchExercise also improves sleep. In fact, one study found getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week reduced insomnia.



Following a ritual, whether it includes readingmeditating or soaking in a hot bath, helps you unwind before bed; a dark, quiet, cool room sets the stage for sleep. “Our bodies like routine,” Epstein says. In addition to preparing your body for rest, the comfort of a bedtime ritual makes it easier to forget the stresses of the day.

Dealing with workplace incivilities — and spending your off-hours worrying about them — could increase your risk for depression and burnout so it’s important to deal with the issue.

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


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