Burnout and Sleep

This is a fact sheet about Burnout and Sleep. Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Improving sleep may help to recover from or even prevent burnout.

Man asleep at desk. Photo by Eman Genatilan.
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January 12, 2024
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Things you should know:

  • Burnout is a common occupational syndrome characterised by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism and low personal accomplishment at work.
  • Burnout affects people emotionally and physically, and their behaviour can also change.
  • While closely related, burnout and stress are different phenomena, and it is often much harder to notice when burnout occurs.
  • Work, personality, and lifestyle related factors can contribute to burnout, and among these factors, poor sleep is one of the biggest contributors.
  • The relationship between sleep and burnout is likely to be bi-directional, so improving sleep may help to recover from or even prevent burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is characterised by feelings of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. It can also involve cynical or negative attitudes towards one’s work, reduced personal achievement and satisfaction at work and feeling overwhelmed and unable to meet work demands (1). Burnout is not a medical condition but is an occupational syndrome (2). It is often the result of chronic and poorly managed workplace stress (1). Recent research indicates that up to 88% of workers experience burnout (3–5), making it a common syndrome.

Burnout can affect people emotionally and physically, and their behaviour can also change (6–8). We have highlighted some of these common symptoms below.

People may experience all, or some of these symptoms. Catching and addressing these symptoms early may help to prevent the worsening of burnout over time (9).

Burnout vs Stress

Stress and burnout are different. Stress is usually characterised by emotional and physical hyperactivity and over engagement (10). Burnout, on the other hand, is an outcome from the long-term build-up of stress, as a result of which, an individual’s physical and emotional resources become depleted (11). People are usually aware of being under a lot of stress, whereas the signs of burnout can be harder to notice as they tend to emerge over a longer period of time.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout can be caused by a variety of different work-related factors or stressors. Evidence also suggests personality and lifestyle related factors may impact on one’s risk of developing burnout. Below we have highlighted some of the key work-, personality- and lifestyle-related factors shown to increase the risk of burnout (12).

Burnout and Sleep

As with other mental health conditions (see Mental Health and Sleep), sleep and burnout have a bi-directional relationship (15). This means poor sleep can affect burnout as much as burnout can impact sleep. Regularly having less than the recommended amount of sleep (see our How much sleep do you really need? fact sheet for further information), or having a sleep disorder, are two factors that are strongly related to burnout (13,14,16).

Dealing with Burnout

Research investigating the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing burnout symptoms (e.g., mindfulness, cognitive-behavioural therapy) are still emerging and conclusive recommendations universally applicable to all occupations have not yet been identified. Nevertheless, there are a number of general strategies based on current research that may help to alleviate burnout symptoms and guide towards recovery. We have highlighted some of these strategies below.

Burnout awareness

It is important to recognise that burnout has occurred (17). Having an awareness of our own mental state and the signs of burnout, such as poor sleep (14), can help. It’s also important to self-reflect and examine the factors which may have led to the occurrence of burnout. Identifying these factors is vital as they may need to be addressed to prevent further worsening of burnout. It is also important to be aware that because burnout is a complex issue, the factors and causes contributing to burnout may vary significantly from person to person and between workplaces (17).

Talking to others about your burnout

It is important to notify the workplace about your burnout because addressing organisation-related causes of burnout might be even more important for recovery than individual interventions (18).

For individual support, seek support through an Employee Assistance Program or talk with a mental health or primary care professional.

Looking after yourself

Lastly, looking after your basic needs when experiencing burnout is more important than ever, so taking a break from work to reset might be essential.

Due it’s restorative function, sufficient and good quality sleep (19) might be particularly important. Try to aim for 8 hours of sleep per night (20) and implement healthy sleep habits (see Sleep Hygiene: Good Sleep Habits).

Try to eat healthy meals, drink plenty of water and aim to exercise regularly. Exercise has benefits for physical and mental health and can help improve sleep (21).

Although we may wish to isolate when feeling burnt out, it’s important to maintain social connections (22). Connecting and socialising with family, friends, co-workers or with other like-minded people can be a good way to relieve stress (23).

Burnout is often associated with depression (24), so doing meaningful and enjoyable things can help improve our mood (25). Seek out activities that bring you joy and pleasure.


When returning to work, it’s important to make long lasting changes by removing or reducing factors contributing to high stress. Re-evaluating priorities/standards at work and setting boundaries around work commitments is important, as well as ensuring regular breaks in your work schedule and relaxation time outside of work.

Further information

Download a PDF of this Fact Sheet

Other useful links:


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  2. World Health Organization. QD85 Burnout [Internet]. ICD 11: International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th revision). 2019.Available from: https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http%3A%2F%2Fid.who.int%2Ficd%2Fentity%2F129180281
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