From social media to emails on our smartphones, it’s never been easier to stay connected to work. However, the always-on culture is having a huge impact on work-life balance – affecting our personal lives and making it difficult to switch off from the pressure.
Work experiences are invading our subconscious, causing us to stress so much that we lose hours of sleep and linger on work concerns even while resting. For employers, it adds up to an increasingly tired and less productive workforce.
But just how hard is it for workers to free themselves from this culture? And what effect is it having on the quality and quantity of our sleep? To find out, totaljobs teamed up with psychologist Dr Ian Wallace to ask 2,000 people about their dreams and nightmares about work.
After analysing the survey data, here’s what Dr Wallace found out about the contents of dreams and nightmares, and his simple tips and advice for getting a good night’s sleep…
What is a dream?
What do we know about these thoughts and images that happen while we sleep? Well, they are not a random occurrence. A dream is how we naturally resolve the accumulated emotional tension from all the information and experiences we unconsciously absorb every day.
Dreams give us meaningful insights into specific challenges we’re encountering daily. They raise a problem and draw on past experiences to help us understand how we can make the most of future opportunities.
The survey shows just how far work is invading our dreams and affecting the people we work with. We’re just as likely to dream about our colleagues as our family (34% of respondents compared to 35%) and even more so than our personal relationships or money.
Decoding our work dreams
Most of our accumulated emotional tension is generated from encountering conflicts and challenges at work, particularly with colleagues. So, it’s natural that our jobs count for a lot of our dream activity.
However, the work environments and colleagues we create in our dreams are not those actual places and people, but rather symbols of personal realisation and development.
Getting that dream pay rise
Examples include being promoted or getting a pay rise – both are subtle ways during sleep of recognising your untapped talent, which is waiting to be brought to the surface.
A dream about being promoted symbolises an opportunity for self-promotion to others within your working environment, rather than wait for other people to acknowledge your talents.
Similarly, a dream about a pay rise reflects an opportunity for you to recognise the increasing value of your own abilities. A dream about quitting your job does not symbolise a desire to ‘give up’, but an opportunity to connect with your deeper purposes and needs.
My colleague’s a dreamboat
Dreams about colleagues are some of the most common work dreams we have, whether that’s through confrontation or even getting intimate! This can cause you to wake up feeling relieved or confused, but all the characters that you create in a dream are fundamentally reflections of your own individual characteristics.
A fifth (21%) of workers dream about being in a relationship with their colleague. This is more often than meeting their favourite celebrity (18%), and remarkably just short of winning the lottery (28%).
Fear not, however, because a dream of being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re secretly in love. It suggests that you now have the opportunity to develop the personal quality that you associate most with them when you wake up.
A nightmare to work with
Thirteen per cent of people have dreamt about telling their colleagues what they really think or feel about them. This type of candid dream is being honest with yourself, recognising your own talents and the opportunities you have to improve them.
We often keep our capabilities concealed in case others criticise, but in a dream we proudly exhibit them, encouraging us to do so in real life.
Work can sometimes be a scary place, inspiring many nightmares and raising insecurities we didn’t necessarily know we have.
Our research found that a third of people (29%) have had nightmares because they dwelled on mistakes they made at work. A fifth (19%) of respondents said they had nightmares because of a lack of job security.
However, it’s important to remember that a nightmare is a particular type of dream experience where your emotions are heightened, and a situation feels out of control.
You create a nightmare not to scare or upset yourself, but to make yourself aware that something is out of balance in your waking life. This is true of work nightmares, particularly when we feel we’re losing control or aren’t sure where we’re going.
You’re getting sacked in the morning
A common work nightmare concerns being sacked (10%). While it may stem from a feeling of lack of security within a job, this nightmare indicates a chance to step out of your comfort zone and make your own career choices. Ironically, this involves demonstrating leadership skills and can often result in promotion.
Similarly, 13% of workers across the UK have had nightmares about being late for work. This can often cause us to wake up startled and in a rush, but the dream itself shows you realise you need to take prompt action rather than constantly planning.
An everyday nightmare
Even more ambiguous, commonly recurring dreams such as falling (35%), being lost (28%) or your teeth falling out (21%) symbolise a deeper opportunity for self-reflection in the workplace.
Falling represents a situation you may be trying to over-control, a note to your inner self to relax your grip on a situation.
Being lost symbolises an opportunity to achieve an ambition that may have once seemed completely beyond you. Dreaming that your teeth are falling out indicates you need to be more assertive with what you really need in the workplace by becoming more self-assured.
The positive and healthy outcome from any nightmare or dream is the resolution of accumulated emotional tension from waking life. So, the next time you have a work dream or nightmare, consider the underlying conflict that might exist and the steps you can take to resolve it.
3 steps to getting a better night’s sleep
We’ve discussed what many of the most common work dreams and nightmares mean, and how we can resolve the conflict they represent. However, there are also some basic steps workers can take to have a better chance at a good night’s sleep.
1. Leave work at work
The most powerful way to achieve a better night’s sleep and avoid nightmares about work is simply to make your bedroom a cosy and comfortable haven for sleep.
It can be tempting to let your work life intrude into your sleeping haven. It will inevitably lead to poor quality sleep, which in turn will result in poorer quality of work the next day.
So, banish all electronic devices like computers, tablets and phones from your bedroom. Even though you are not using them for work-related activities, these devices will over-stimulate your mind and prevent you from achieving the level of relaxation you really need for a good night’s sleep.
2. Can the coffee
It’s advisable not to drink coffee in the evening, or even late afternoon. You may justify it by declaring that it’s keeping you alert, as you perhaps finish off an important piece of work.
But the reality is, having caffeine in your system will continue to work through into your sleeping time at night. The result? A restless sleep and a greater chance of frequently waking up.
3. Bin the booze
Even though you’ve had a very busy day and are intentionally trying to wind down, it’s better to limit your alcohol intake in the evening. It can be tempting to have a couple of glasses of wine to relax and take the edge off a long hard day.
Alcohol acts as a sedative and can help you get off to sleep, but the effect wears off and it becomes a stimulant as the body processes it. This will cause you to wake up in the early hours, where your mind will inevitably turn to work issues, resulting in restless wakefulness rather than restful sleep.
Time to sleep easy?
Take the steps you need to ensure you have a healthy night’s sleep. If you better understand your own sleep patterns and the role dreams and nightmares play in your working life, you’ll find that a great work-life balance really can be the stuff of dreams.