Do you find yourself with a pit in your stomach on Sunday afternoons, knowing you have few precious hours of “me time” remaining before the weekly grind resumes? If so, you’re not alone. The preemptive dread we feel the day before returning to work or to our regularly scheduled obligations after time away is so common it even has a name: the Sunday scaries.
The Sunday scaries are a type of anticipatory anxiety, which is defined as increased feelings of anxiousness towards events that are yet to happen. In this case, we may be worrying about things like waking up on time after spending a couple mornings sleeping in, whether our kindergartener will make it through drop-off meltdown-free, what awaits us in our work email inbox, or the important Monday meeting we don’t feel mentally prepared for, among plenty of other things.
Unfortunately, these anxieties often function as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: our racing thoughts can contribute to poor sleep on Sunday night, which makes waking up with our alarm an even more daunting prospect, and leads to feelings of fatigue and fogginess going into the new week.
But even though the Sunday scaries are common, it doesn’t mean we have to accept them as our end-of-the-weekend fate. By prioritizing getting enough sleep throughout the week and scheduling our days in sync with our biological clock, Sunday scaries can be a thing of the past.
Here we’ll walk you through how to avoid the Sunday scaries, and how the RISE app can help–not only for a more relaxing weekend, but a productive and well-rested week ahead, every week.
Please note: This post is informational only and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice from a healthcare or mental health professional. The RISE app is designed to support natural sleep and good sleep hygiene, but it does not treat health problems such as anxiety disorders and depression.
The Sunday scaries are a type of anticipatory anxiety — feeling anxious or nervous about something that has not yet happened. In this case, that dread is Monday morning — and, for a lot of people, the entire week ahead.
It’s worth mentioning the Sunday scaries can appear any day of the week — it’s entirely dependent on your schedule (if you work in the service industry, you may experience a case of the Tuesday scaries, for instance), but Sunday anxiety is most common, as it follows the traditional working week.
But, whatever day it falls on, how do you know if you’ve got a case of the Sunday scaries? Here are some signs to look out for:
Anticipatory anxiety is grouped under the larger umbrella of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), so many of the Sunday scaries symptoms align with regular anxiety symptoms, which include:
Please note: While depression is a potential symptom, the Sunday scaries on their own don’t make for a depression diagnosis. This is because they have a designated window: Sundays. In contrast, depression refers to feelings of a persistent low mood and decreased interest in pleasurable activities that can occur at any time of the day, any day of the week.
So too, per the DSM5, a clinical GAD diagnosis is associated with having three out six of the above symptoms, with at least some of those symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past six months.
Sunday-related anxious feelings can derail our hard-won restorative downtime, negatively impact our sleep, and, ultimately, make the work week that follows more challenging than it needs to be.
But why do we have those intense feelings of dread and anxiety in the first place? While every case of Sunday scaries is unique to some extent, common triggers include:
Each of us has a predetermined amount of sleep we need each night to feel and function our best during the day. Despite what you may hear, not everyone requires only 8 hours–one study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so. 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night. When we don’t meet this sleep need, we accrue what is called sleep debt, which is defined as the amount of sleep we owe our bodies relative to our sleep need.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
Sleep debt can make our daily lives feel more overwhelming than they would feel otherwise by heightening our anxiety, impairing our memory and ability to focus, and making motivation harder to come by. Sleep debt also has further detrimental consequences on our mental and emotional health. Some examples of this include:
So when we’re regularly running around with high sleep debt, it can have unwanted ramifications on our job performance, our important relationships, the way we feel, and how we see ourselves and our circumstances. And the more strained these things become (or the more negative our outlook on them is, thanks to the degrading mental and emotional effects of sleep debt), the more scary the prospect of starting it all over again on Monday can seem.
What’s more, when we’re experiencing the ill-effects of sleep debt, the pressure we put on ourselves to catch up on sleep can lead to bedtime-related anxiety. And this anxiety can keep us awake, causing further sleep loss, which leads to more anxiety the next day, more sleep loss, and so on — a vicious cycle.
You’ll see below that the connect between Sunday scaries and sleep debt runs deep, as each of the next four Sunday scaries triggers are linked in some way to sleep loss as well.
For many of us, Sunday signals the beginning of five days of more stress and less control over our schedules.
We know this because we’ve been through it all before — five days of early morning alarms, long hours due to pandemic-related short-staffing, high stakes conference calls even when we’re feeling zapped, chauffeuring our kids around in rush hour traffic, etc. — and the feelings of dread we experience on Sundays are often triggered by recalling these past weekday challenges.
For example, perhaps we know we typically have a hard time getting back into the work groove until Tuesday or Wednesday, and find ourselves putting off important tasks and dodging our bosses during this time. And this pattern may be associated with feelings of guilt or shame, and makes us feel like we’re secretly not good at our jobs. In which case our Sunday scaries aren’t so much a fear of Mondays themselves, but a fear of these unpleasant thoughts and feelings recurring.
How it relates to sleep: Anticipating the anxiety we may feel in the next week doesn’t protect us from it or prepare us to deal with it. In fact, anticipatory anxiety can have the opposite outcome by causing further stress and anxiety–stress and anxiety over future stress and anxiety–which can easily hijack our sleep on Sunday nights (and beyond!) if we’re not proactive about addressing it.
We all do it from time to time — there’s no better time to deep clean the fridge or take up running than when we have a career-defining presentation to prepare for or a thousand cold calls to make — and you might be feeling heightened anxiety and dread on Sunday because you put off important to-dos the week before, leaving yourself with tight deadlines and extra work in the coming week.
How it relates to sleep: Note that sleep deprivation makes us more likely to procrastinate, and, added to this, procrastination also affects our sleep. This is because procrastination can increase stress and anxiety, which may cause a delay in sleep timing…compounding the Sunday scaries by way of increasing our sleep debt.
There’s also the issue of revenge bedtime procrastination, where we stay up later to eke out leisure time that we missed out on — often due to daytime procrastination or poor time-management — earlier in the evening. And this leads to sleep debt, which creates a domino effect of more procrastination and more missed sleep in the days that follow.
When we’re overwhelmed by our obligations with no light at the end of the tunnel, our work-life balance, sleep, and mental health can be adversely affected, and burnout ensues. Because burnout is characterized not only by emotional and physical exhaustion, but also feelings of self-blame and cynicism related to one’s work or other obligations, burnout can cause us to feel especially weary and negative about the upcoming workweek.
How it relates to sleep: Current research indicates a strong relationship between sleep loss and burnout. For example, one study found that those who slept less than 6 hours a night were most at risk of burnout (though “work demands” and “thoughts of work during leisure team” were also risk factors). Learn more about how to prevent burnout and how to recover from burnout here.
When we let ourselves stay up past our weekday bedtimes and sleep in later on Saturday and Sunday mornings, it can throw our biological clock out of whack, making it difficult to get enough sleep on Sunday night and harder still to wake up with our alarm on Monday morning. This phenomenon is called social jetlag, which is described as a misalignment between our circadian rhythm (aka the “biological clock” that determines our predisposed sleep-wake times and natural energy fluctuations during the day, among other things) and the schedule we must maintain for our jobs, loved ones, social lives, etc.
How it relates to sleep: Our circadian rhythm is a sensitive mechanism, easily influenced by external factors, and even two days of a delayed weekend sleep schedule is enough to disrupt our sleep patterns, leading to sleep debt and increased grogginess, or sleep inertia, at the beginning of the workweek.
While those with a later chronotype (aka those who are biologically predisposed to keep a later sleep schedule — colloquially called “night owls”) are often harder hit by social jetlag, anyone who stays up later on Fridays and Saturdays, whether you’re partying or streaming Netflix, is susceptible to social jetlag-induced Sunday scaries.
Knowing what causes the Sunday scaries is half of the battle, but here are some actions you can take right away to keep them at bay:
Getting enough sleep consistently is perhaps the most crucial failsafe against the Sunday scaries. Just as high sleep debt sinks our mental, emotional, and physical health, making up lost sleep can reverse the ill-effects of sleep deprivation and make us feel more equipped to face our obligations head-on. This means we’ll be less likely to have negative associations with Mondays, procrastinate, experience burnout, or succumb to the pitfalls of social jetlag.
Keep in mind that when we’re making up sleep debt, our sleep need temporarily increases. If this seems daunting to figure out, don’t fret–the RISE app not only calculates your base sleep need for you, but can also help you work out a modified sleep schedule based on how much sleep debt you need to make up.
A regular schedule helps align your circadian rhythm — your body knows what time to wake up, when to begin winding down for the night, and when to kick up production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin to help you fall asleep.
While the weekend can be a great time to catch up on missed sleep and lower sleep debt, it’s important to limit sleeping in to roughly one hour past your usual wake time. When you sleep in by more than this it can increase your risk of social jetlag, making it more difficult — even as soon as the very next night — to fall asleep when you need to, and wake up on time the following morning (which means your efforts to pay down your sleep debt by sleeping in may result in accumulating more sleep debt over time).
Studies even show that maintaining consistent sleep-wake times can make you feel more alert than if you get the same amount of sleep on an irregular schedule.
Bonus tip: Taking a nap instead of sleeping in can help you pay back sleep debt without as much risk of circadian misalignment. But as a rule of thumb, don’t nap past the afternoon or for longer than 70-90 minutes, the length of a full sleep cycle, or you’ll run the risk of disrupting your nightly sleep.
Morning grogginess (the official term is “sleep inertia”) is a phenomenon we all experience for 60 - 90 minutes after we wake up (though in some cases it can last up to four hours), when our bodies and brains are still purging the leftover sleepiness chemical adenosine–which we rely on for sleep.
During sleep inertia, we can experience:
This means that we can’t expect ourselves to be operating at full power as soon as we roll out of bed. Frustrating, sure, but it’s simply a fact of our biology–if you’re in the habit of waking up with mere minutes to spare on Monday morning and immediately jumping into work or childcare, it’s no wonder you feel bleak on Sunday evening.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the severity and duration of sleep inertia:
But keep in mind that no matter what, you’re still going to need some time before you’re at your best. Make sure you give yourself a buffer between waking up and initiating focus-intensive projects or attending important meetings (we recommend setting an alarm for at least 90 minutes before you need to be at your best). And above all, be patient with yourself–even when we’re doing everything right, sleep inertia spares no one!
Aside from minimizing sleep inertia, consider making your Monday morning less dread-inducing by blocking out some “me” time before the hecticness of the week takes hold.
This will also give you time to move through sleep inertia naturally, without pressure to be productive or “on” before you’re ready.
We cover how to structure an energy-boosting morning routine here, but you might consider building some combination of the following into your Monday morning:
As well as creating a Monday morning routine, you want to develop a game plan to help you make the most of every weekday.
To do this you’ll want to schedule your days in accordance with your natural energy peaks and dips.
As touched on, our circadian rhythm isn’t just responsible for our sleep-wake schedule, but also our natural energy fluctuations during our waking hours. The precise timing and duration of our energy peaks and dips depends on both the person and the day, but the overall pattern is consistent:
Ideally, you’ll use your two daily energy peaks to take on tasks that require more focus and/or emotional strength, like writing important emails, high-pressure calls, or initiating difficult conversations.
Then use the predictable afternoon slump to knock out easier tasks like data entry, routine emails, errands, and household chores.
Aligning our schedule with our energy means we’re more likely to accomplish what we set out to do during these periods, which helps with time management and makes it easier to fully disconnect during our fun days. It also helps us create a game plan for the upcoming week — making us feel more prepared, perhaps avoiding procrastination and burnout.
Our nightly wind-down routine–a facet of the larger sleep hygiene picture–is one of the most impactful habits we can build to minimize workweek-related anxiety, stave off burnout, and improve our sleep.
A good wind-down routine prepares our bodies and brains for healthy, naturalistic sleep by creating a buffer between the stress of our obligations and our bedtime.
Your wind-down routine should begin in the hour or two leading up to bed every night and should focus on calming activities.
While what constitutes “calming” looks different for everyone, here are some baseline suggestions to build on:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their nightly wind-down routine and reminder.
To stay on top of your sleep debt, your nightly wind-down routine is essential not only on Sunday, but should be practiced throughout the entire week. And, as we’ve already covered, the less sleep debt you have (the goal is less than 5 hours over each 14-day period), the less scary your Sundays will seem.
The RISE app suggests when you should begin winding down — this is known as your “smart bedtime.” We take into account your previous night’s sleep to best time your wind-down period so it aligns with your ideal bedtime.
With RISE, your Sundays don’t have to be scary. By focusing on reducing sleep debt, aligning your schedule with your natural energy peaks and dips, and building dedicated self-care time into your days and nights, the Sunday scaries can soon be a thing of the past.
Yes. While it’s not a scientific term or medical diagnosis, the Sunday scaries are a form of anticipatory anxiety commonly experienced the day before returning to work (or our regularly scheduled obligations) after time away. Symptoms include feelings of dread, uneasiness, irritability, and even depression.
Factors that contribute to the Sunday scaries include ongoing sleep deprivation, negative associations with returning to work, burnout, procrastination, and social jetlag.
The Sunday scaries, sometimes referred to as the Sunday blues, are a type of anticipatory anxiety that manifest similarly to regular anxiety. Feelings of dread and uneasiness, irritability, depression, and trouble sleeping are all potential symptoms.
You can improve your experience of anxiety related to the Sunday scaries by focusing on reducing sleep debt, striving for a consistent sleep-wake schedule, building more downtime into your mornings and nights, and scheduling your days in alignment with your natural energy peaks and dips.
For those who don’t have a traditional Monday-Friday workweek, Sunday scaries can occur on a different day of the week. But if you’re experiencing Sunday scaries symptoms daily as opposed to weekly, we recommend consulting with a medical professional.
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