How Changing The Way You Sleep Helps To Deal With Counselor Burnout

Last updated: April 2020

Compassion is a vital trait of any counselor; without it, it would be impossible to deal with other people’s problems and help them cope with their traumas.

Unfortunately, any profession with high emotional involvement puts you at risk of getting a burnout. This condition not only can impair your ability to heal others but may pose a lot of threats to your health as well by putting you in constant stress and generating anxious thoughts.

However, science has got good news for you!

You can significantly improve your emotional capacity and recover from burnout by providing simple changes in the way you sleep. Continue reading to know what they are.

What Is Burnout?

The term ‘emotional burnout’ was first identified in 1978 by Christina Maslach. She found that this condition among medical staff results in the triad of symptoms, such as feeling ineffective at work, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization

“Burnout often comes as a result of good intentions, because when you’re taking care of your clients, it’s very easy to overwork. However, a client’s emotional baggage can easily become overwhelming for you as well.”

Emotional burnout doesn’t come at once and has some common signs you can notice before it manifests:

  • feeling relieved when your clients cancel the session;
  • dragging yourself into work;
  • spacing out during the session and not paying attention to your client;
  • forcing your agenda rather than adapting it to client’s needs;
  • experiencing an empathy decline.

Besides these signs, people with burnout may experience insomnia episodes, anger tantrums, and anxiety.

How Sleep Impacts Your Mental Health

Sleep is not only crucial for your overall health; it can actually help you combat burnout that has already manifested.


Easily! If you’re getting the right amount of shut-eye, you’re more likely to get the following sleep benefits:

  • Relaxation and energy balance. The most beneficial effect of sleep is helping you restore the energy you’ve spent during the day. While you remain more focused and alert during a therapy session with your client, you can spot more details to work with and become more effective at solving their problems.
  • Improved emotional regulation. Poor sleep is linked to more impulsive emotional behavior. Studies show that people who sleep 4.5 hours a night or less usually have a more negative outlook. This means that you quickly become angry or sad, are more prone to impulsive behavior and less susceptible to criticism and judgment. All of this doesn’t contribute to a professional counselor image. 
  • Faster information processing. Sleep is also responsible for your ability to learn and memorize things. During the REM stage of sleep, the most active areas of your brain are hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which process information that you obtained during the day and convert short-term memories into long-term ones. Moreover, prefrontal cortex also provides you with the ability to interpret abstract ideas, which is an excellent skill for a counselor. Thus, you can see your client’s problem from different perspectives and choose the strategy that may work best for their solving.

“Good sleep also helps your brain cleanse by removing reaction products and wastes from cerebrospinal fluid. Thus, you are literally getting a ‘clear head’ every morning, which allows you to be productive at work.”

5 Steps on Improving Your Sleep 

Now, after a brief introduction in how sleep can be beneficial for you as a counselor, you need to know how exactly you can achieve a therapeutic night rest.

Below, you will find five proven ways to improve your sleep quality, which can give you immunity to emotional burnout.

#1 Build a Sleeping Routine

As a counselor, you probably know that consistency is key to overcoming any issues. Sleep disturbances are no exception, and the best way to fight them is to create a rock-solid sleep routine. 

Here’s what you can do to achieve that:

  • use your bedroom only for sleep (and sex);
  • try to get to bed and wake up at nearly the same time;
  • maintain your schedule on the weekends as well.

“Within the first week, you can experience the first effects of maintaining a schedule.”

#2 Throw the Pillow Out 

This may sound counterintuitive, but in some cases sleeping without a pillow can be more beneficial for the quality of your ZZZ by putting you in a natural position without creating awkward curves in your spine. For example, people with neck and shoulder pain find pillowless sleep more relaxing. 

Find out whether sleeping without a pillow is right for you.

#3 Manipulate with Light (And Darkness)

Your circadian rhythms are tied to the change of day and night. Moreover, lacking natural sunlight during the winter months can result in seasonal affective disorder or depression, which, in turn, increases the chances of burning out at work.

To maintain healthy sleep patterns, try to do the following:

  • Expose yourself to natural sunlight during the morning. Sunlight will reset your body clock and switch you into alert mode.
  • Create a dark environment in your room at least 1-2 hours before bed. This will boost melatonin production and help you fall asleep faster.
  • Invest in a high-luminosity lamp. Such lamps are adjustable to your climate zone and mimic the natural light. High-luminosity lamp is an especially great purchase for people who live in Northern regions or have bedroom windows facing north.

“Try to limit gadgets before bed or at least use blue light filter settings on screens. Blue light suppresses melatonin production, which may result in insomnia and poor sleep quality.”

#4 Try Meditation Before Sleep

The key to both fighting burnout and improving sleep is to manage stress factors. Meditation is an excellent example of relaxing activity, as it allows you to distract from thoughts and emotional load you’re getting from clients. You can try guided meditation with a mentor or use video guides and applications with step-by-step instructions.

#5 Avoid Caffeine

If you want to improve your sleep, then caffeinated beverages are your enemies. Period.

Caffeine triggers cortisol release and puts you in an artificial ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, which, however, has pretty real consequences. 

By inducing anxiety, you can increase the chances of burning out and become unfocused and distracted during work. Along with that, caffeine takes at least 6 hours to metabolize; thus, if you’re drinking it later than 3 pm, it will inevitably affect your sleep.

That’s why it’s better to switch to adaptogenic herbs and herbal teas. They will keep you alert and concentrated but won’t harm your shut-eye.

Information on is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified professionals with any questions you may have regarding a potential sleeping disorder.