Dr. Amy Wolkin is a physical therapist based in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from Wellesley College in 2012, she pursued dual graduate degrees at Emory University. She graduated in 2017 with her Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees. Her clinical interests are outpatient orthopedics, women’s health, and pediatric sports medicine. She has advanced training in dry needling and pelvic floor physical therapy.
Medically Reviewed by Amy Wolkin, DPT, MBA

You are not alone if the past year has seen your stress levels go through the roof. The American Psychological Association, in its “Stress in America 2020” report, called it out nicely: “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”

One of the biggest issues raised by these increased stress levels is the need for adequate sleep, and the evidence shows that we’re not getting it. Researchers have dubbed it “Coronasomnia,”

And it impacts roughly 20% of individuals across all age groups and occupations. Why? Simply put, we’ve lost the ability to control much of what happens in our lives.

Stress doesn’t punch a nine-to-five timecard. It stays with you and is sometimes at its worse when you’re going to bed and have time to think about what’s happening in your world. It’s easy for stress to spiral out of control and leave us wide awake, even when we are tired and sleeping on a great mattress.

One group that’s been particularly hard hit by the pandemic are gig workers — independent contractors and temporary workers who don’t have the stability of a regular job on which to rely. Many of them have seen their income streams dry up, leading to anxiety and disruption in their lives. 

Despite that, gig work can be tremendously rewarding, often a labor of love by someone gifted at what they do but wants the freedom to pursue it in their own way. So how do gig workers manage to balance their stress levels with their need for a good night’s sleep? Fear not: it can be done, and with a little effort, you can return to your work refreshed and ready for the challenges of a new day.

Use the following links to jump ahead to the section that interests you most.

What Is The Gig Economy? 

When we’re talking about the gig economy, we’re referring to the rapidly expanding cohort of independent, temporary workers that currently includes more than 25% of working adults in the U.S. They are also called contract workers or freelancers, and they may work for multiple clients in their field. They are consultants, electricians, construction workers, Uber drivers, writers and much more.

The gig economy is growing for a number of reasons. Individuals may become gig workers to achieve goals including:

  • Increased flexibility, such as the ability to set their own hours and work where they wish
  • The possibility of exploring something they’re passionate about
  • The ability to choose those with whom they work
  • The hope of increased income

Companies like gig workers because they infuse the corporate atmosphere with new ideas and skills, and they don’t have to offer benefits such as health care that their regular employees receive. When the system works well, the gig worker is able to charge enough per project or hour to maintain their own benefits.

Of course, not all gig workers need their health care provided through their job because, for about half of those working in the gig economy, their side hustle is just that: a second job that supplements other, full-time work. For these people, the stresses of working 60 or 70 hours a week may be particularly acute, but the rewards can be rich and satisfying as they pursue a field that interests them.

What Are The Biggest Obstacles Gig Workers Face? 

Gig jobs are not all sunshine and rainbows, and there are drawbacks to following your dream of an independent life away from the grind of a regular job. 

Income instability

“Historically, the biggest source of stress among gig workers is income uncertainty,” says Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation. He continues, “Uber and Lyft drivers saw demand for their service evaporate overnight, but Uber Eats and Instacart delivery drivers did very well.” Gig income is notoriously fickle: one month, you’ll make goal by the first week. The next month, you can’t get clients to return your calls.

Lack of company support

Gig work may also not lead you to the freedom you think it will. Gig workers put in long hours, especially at the beginning of their career as they build client relationships, and you can’t always call in sick when you’re feeling ill or chat with your colleague in the next cubicle if you’re faced with a problem. 

A last resort

For many workers, especially young ones, the gig economy isn’t a way to follow your passion but a desperate last-ditch effort to pay the bills, especially in pandemic times. New college or high school graduates have flocked to companies like Instacart that hire independent workers because they feel they have no other choice, as businesses shut down or downsize in light of COVID economic losses.

Find your own benefits

If you work for a company, there are benefits, from health insurance to paid time off, that you don’t have as a freelancer. For many, healthcare is a deal-breaker, and they need to keep their day job for the insurance while pursuing gig work on the side. For others, the lack of vacation time makes the gig world difficult. There are the intangible drawbacks, too. If your computer breaks down, you can’t get it fixed with a quick call to IT support when you’re working alone at home from the spare bedroom. 

How Do Stress And Sleep Impact Each Other? 

Stress may hit you in a number of different ways. Acute stress, the most common type, is brief but painful. It’s often caused by negative thoughts that can overwhelm you when you get into bed but can’t sleep. Episodic stress is what happens if you experience acute stress at regular intervals or through frequent triggers. It can lead to ill health, both mental and physical. Chronic stress is the most serious of the three. Here, you are living your life in a place of chaotic darkness and worry. It often requires the help of a counselor to sort out the reasons and treatment.

Stress’s impact on sleep

“Stress can disrupt sleep since it activates the arousal system and can make the body think there is a threat to our wellbeing,” says Martin Reed, MEd, CHES, CCSH, a certified clinical sleep health educator and the founder of Insomnia Coach. “In order to defend us from this threat, it will often suspend sleep since it cannot tell real danger apart from imagined danger.”

So when you’re lying in bed at 2:00 a.m. wondering how you can possibly meet this week’s deadlines or where you’re going to find the money to upgrade your computer to professional standards, your body is interpreting that as a danger — which, to be fair, it may be. 

Sleep’s impact on stress

Sleep, meanwhile, can have an impact on stress. “Stress, fatigue, and lack of sleep can form a vicious circle,” says Sean Roberts, content manager at OptimumSleep. He points to a study at the University of California Berkeley that indicates that sleep loss may trigger brain activity associated with anticipatory anxiety. 

“Anticipatory anxiety is fear and worry around things that may happen and are often not predictable or controllable,” he says. “This research has found that sleep deprivation can trigger brain activity in the amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing. This activity mimics the same neural activity seen in sufferers of anxiety disorders.”

What Are The Best Ways To Manage Stress For Better Sleep? 

So what’s the solution to the sleep/stress cycle conundrum? There’s no magic bullet, unfortunately, but there are small lifestyle tweaks you can undertake that make it more likely you’ll fall asleep and break the cycle. 

Avoid late-day technology useThe blue light that emanates from your cell phone and tablet blocks melatonin, which tells your body it’s time to go to sleep.
Establish a night-time routineBe consistent with your evening activities, and include quiet ones such as reading, taking a warm shower, or drinking a glass of warm milk. 
Exercise regularlyExercise gives your body a workout that it needs to stay healthy, and it can promote sleep. Just don’t leave it for too late in the day because your body needs time to wind down after a workout.
Set boundaries around your workSet a “curfew” for talking and thinking about work issues, say 10 pm if you go to bed at 12 pm. It may help to write out your worries earlier in the day — and then resolve to leave them on the page. 
Prime yourself for a good night’s sleepMake sure your mattress, blankets and pillow are comfortable for you. Keep the room as dark as possible, and put up noise-canceling shades if you live in a busy area. Leave your technology to charge in another room.

A Gig Worker’s Affirmation 

One tactic that can help you get a good night’s sleep is reciting affirmations to yourself that bolster your sense of yourself as a caring, intelligent individual who is skilled and capable. Saying these words out loud or in your head can put your mind at ease and make it easier to end the worries churning in your mind. Here are some sample affirmations, but you can write your own to suit your situation.

To download your own copy click here

Here’s The Bottom Line

If you’re one of the roughly 59 million Americans who are employed either part or full-time in the gig economy, you know that there are stresses that come with the freedom of gig work. Lack of healthcare and benefits, income instability and more are all valid reasons why you might be feeling less than confident. The best prescription? A good night’s sleep. When you get adequate rest, the worries that dogged you at midnight will seem far more manageable. So try out some of our tips and read our affirmations — or write your own — and you may find that the world is a lighter and brighter place for you and your work.