help! my repetitive job is now invading my sleep!

A reader writes:

I realize you’re not a therapist or a psychologist, but I have an unusual problem that I wonder if you have ever come across before. It’s driving me crazy!

I work in a call center doing technical telephone support. The company I work for has the contract for a major and very popular company that creates and sells computers and electronic devices. Recently, our hours were increased to 10 hours a day due to increased call volume.

Like many call center employees, I am way overqualified for this job. However, the job market being what it is, I needed a job and this was a job offer, so I of course took it. I actually don’t mind the job so much, and enjoy working with most of the customers. I find I am very good on the phone with people and most of my customers love me.

A good portion of my customers are what you would call, er, technically challenged. Which I completely get. However, after sitting on the phone 10 hours a day, I get a little frustrated when I get the 50th call from the person who forgot their password and has to be led, by the hand as it were, to the internet, taught how to find the web browser on their computer, taught how to open said web browser, and taught how to click on the “forgot your password” button. Then forced to stay on the phone with them while they say “what do I do next?” when there is clearly a button on the screen in front of them that says “Continue”, and then babysit them through a password change. These calls can take forever!

Anyway, lately I have noticed a problem. After I fall in bed exhausted after 10 hours on the phone, I find I am helping customers all night, in my dreams! Last night, I walked at least five people through all sorts of complicated technical troubleshooting in my sleep – for free! I wake up at least three times a night mid teaching someone how to remove a credit card from their account or some damned thing. It’s driving me mad. In fact, I am up right now, at 5 a.m., after waking up from yet another dream where I am sitting on the floor of this call center helping frustrating customers. I even yelled “Help Yourself I am Sleeping” as I woke up.

Does anyone else do this? Is there a cure? Am I going crazy? Any help would surely be appreciated. I need to stop working 24 hours a day.

Ugh. You have my sympathy. I think this is actually pretty normal in repetitive jobs. In high school, I worked as a grocery store cashier (best job ever, seriously!) and I remember having dreams at night where I would run through the codes for bananas, tomatoes, and other produce in my head.

I don’t know if you can do anything about it, but would love input from readers who have successfully combatted this.

On the issue of the job itself, my instinct is always to find mental games you can play to make things more bearable. Can you pretend some of these callers are your grandmother? Your new boyfriend’s dad, who you want to impress? Your beloved but technically challenged niece? Or can you tell yourself other stories about your callers that will make you truly take pleasure in being helpful to them? For instance, Caller A just found out she has three weeks to live and desperately wants to see the Internet before she dies. Caller B is a time-traveler from another century, so of course needs handholding as he figures out how to save a document. And so forth.

Okay, yes, I’m weird, but I’m telling you, these mental games can be really helpful. (I first learned this when — as I’ve written about here before — my sister told me about her incredibly effective technique for dealing with visits to exasperating relatives: Pretend you’re a poor heroine in a Jane Austen novel, and you have to be pleasant to and patient with your rich relations on whose financial kindness you must depend. Pretend you are Jane Fairfax, who must live with Miss Bates!)

Whoops, Jane Austen rant.

What other advice do people have?

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. JC*

    I’m an assistant and some of my work is repetitive. I sit in front of a computer all day, scheduling meetings and doing random tasks for my boss. Her calendar is color coded and sometimes I dream of it and scheduling meetings. I dream of all the colors, all the clients, the emails, the phone calls….urrgghhh!!!

    I dreamed of it a lot when I started 7 months ago. But, after awhile, the dreams became less and less frequent. What helped was “draining” all of that stuff out of my head when I leave work. When I get home, I try not to think about any of it. I blog, watch TV, and do other things I enjoy. It helps.

    Good luck! Dreaming like that drove me crazy too.

    1. CallMeAl*

      I worked at a fast food joint back in high school. Twenty years later and I still have the occasional dream of needing to work weekends flipping burgers so I can earn a few extra bucks.

  2. Revanche*

    Actually, my job isn’t repetitive at all when you come down to tasks. It’s troubleshooting, firefighting, managing, running systems and processes and a whole host of other things and I *still* dream about doing my job at night. I think it makes a big difference if you can squeeze in some time to do something totally different for at least a solid half or whole hour between work and bed.

  3. Anonymous*

    Try meditating before going to bed. Sit quietly, concentrating on your breath and let your mind go blank. When something comes to mind clear it out by concentrate on your breath. Try to do it 10-15 mins before bed. This may help your brain settle down. Your job seems a kin to riding in a car for 12 hours and when you stop to sleep you can still feel the vibration of riding. Good luck and I don’t envy you at all. :-D

    1. Kristin*

      I second this! Consider taking yoga (or working out in whatever format you choose) about an hour or so after you get off work. I do ballet on Wednesdays, but I get there an hour early and sit in the hallway and listen to the piano for the other classes and stretch while waiting for my class to start. Then I have a 2 hour class, and by the time I get home, I’m completely calm, but also completely exhausted and usually go right to sleep (except when I’m awake commenting on blogs, like right now). I don’t think about work for the entire 3 hours I’m at the ballet studio, and it’s blissful.

      Then when you get home (if it’s not too late at night), try to engage your mind in something that interests you- a book, tv, a movie, talking with friends/family on the phone, whatever. It’ll be good to have some mental separation between your work day and bedtime. Good luck!

    2. Ethan*

      I second this. I had a stint at a retail place opening the cash office for about a year. Count the deposit, put it in the computer. Count the safe, put it in the computer, etc. For a while I used to dream about doing that. I found it really helped if I could work out after work, or hang out with my roommates, or read or do something to get my mind on something else before I went to bed.

  4. Elizabeth*

    I’ve had this experience, too. Once I worked at a summer camp where every activity change (wake up, breakfast time, clean up time… all the way to lights out) was marked by a prerecorded bugel tune. It was annoying enough to hear them every hour when I was awake, but I started to dream them, as well… argh!

    But, as JC said, those dreams faded after a while. I also dreamed about my current job a lot when I first started it (I love this job, so I didn’t mind), but now I only occasionally have dreams about it, and usually only if something is stressing me out at work. I’m no psychologist, but I think that I dream about things when I’m processing them – you’ve just started this job, so you’re processing how to cope with it. Eventually, it’ll become more routine and you’ll be better able to leave work at work and spend your other time (waking *and* sleeping) thinking about other things.

    Keep your eyes open for other job opportunities, as it sounds like this isn’t your ultimate dream, but take comfort in the fact that your subconscious will stop fixating on this job once it gets used to it.

  5. Anonymous*

    As an actual psychologist, I agree with everyone’s suggestions. Making a nightly routine for going to sleep will probably help, as will creating a routine for changing your focus after work. Winding-down routines can include relaxing activities, certain comforting foods (hot chamomile tea with honey, for example), and distraction – reading, listening to relaxing music, and so on. Watching television, exercising, and having conversations will tend to wind you up rather than down. As for the after-work things, think of these dreams as though they’re songs stuck in your head. Sometimes the way to get rid of a song is to replace it with another song, so it might help to replace the images and thoughts about work with images and thoughts about something really exciting and fun. Good luck!

  6. Richard*

    I had exactly the same thing happen when I was working technical support for an ISP. I’d often dream of work, or I would talk in my sleep, talking people through setting up a router, or logging faults with our infrastructure provider. Interestingly, once when covering the ‘standby’ shift – where you would be woken up in the night by a mobile to handle technical support calls* – I actually handled an entire call, including making notes and resolving the fault, and having no memory of it the next day, even with my notes typed up in front of me, suggesting that I did it in a semi-asleep state.

    This actually worried me when I found out I was talking in my sleep; I found it to be more of a sign of being overworked than anything else, which I believe was confirmed after I switched to what was virtually the same position at another company, with the only exception being that the hours were far better. I had more free time to pursue other hobbies and activities, and this led to less odd dreams.

    * Note: Don’t ever do a job that involves this unless ‘standby’ means ‘a high paying customer might call in an emergency once in an entire week, if you’re unlucky’ – Taking 4+ calls throughout the night from standard customers, spending 20 minutes a time logging faults for most calls, and still being expected to do a full shift at work the next day really is soul destroying thanks to how little sleep you’ll get, even if you’re only doing the standby shift every few weeks.

  7. Erin*

    I think it’s a product of being overworked, too. I am a teacher (not much repetitive about that!) and I still will occasionally, when I’m stressed, have dream/nightmares about students or teaching. One in particular involving a model student biting me in the armpit. I still get nervous around her.

  8. Josh S*

    I, too, worked in a call center and felt I was overqualified. (Which, as a college graduate among high school drop outs, I probably was. But it was my first job, and I didn’t know what I was getting into.) I, too, found that I dreamed of work, quoting health care premiums in my sleep… so frustrating.

    Two pieces of advice:
    1) Make the job count. It feels menial, repetitive, and beneath you. But it’s your best chance to set yourself up for success in your next job. Work hard and be noticed. Don’t be afraid of being seen as an overachiever. Leave the company better when you leave/quit than it was when you started. Look for ways to make a difference, mentor the more…just-qualified…around you, ask your boss how you can improve. You’ll find that the job feels less menial and that you have a purpose there, even if your actual task seems frustrating. It will save your sanity.

    2) You’re working long days. Be sure that you find a stretch of time (20+ minutes, at least) to decompress after work. Listen to talk radio on your commute or listen to music as you run. (Watching TV doesn’t count. You don’t think about other things, you just put your mind on pause until you’re done watching.) Get your mind off the events of the day. The rest of your evening, do whatever you like, though having another pursuit/hobby is great for breaking your mind of the work thoughts. Then, for 20+ minutes before you go to bed, be sure to intentionally think about non-work related things. This could be through prayer or meditation, or simply by thinking about friends or other stuff. Anything but work. When you go to bed, you’ll have enough of a mental break that you’ll be able to sleep, hopefully unmolested by work dreams.

  9. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I love that you all are giving really good advice while tactfully ignoring my “pretend your caller is a time-traveller from another planet,” etc. suggestions.

    1. CJ*

      Hee! I was just going to say I liked your suggestions.

      I sometimes do the same thing – I once spent an hour and 20 minutes on the phone with a lady, walking her through a process that would have taken the average person just ten or fifteen minutes.

      I just pretended that getting her from start to finish was my ONLY task that day, and thus I had all the time in the world to help her. Staying calm and not getting annoyed helped me to just let the whole thing go. I was able to hang up and didn’t carry it around for the rest of the day the way I would have if I had let myself get irritated.

    2. Jamie*

      This really does work. I get enough sci-fi from my husband’s tv habits – so when I have a user who needs extra help I keep my patience by imaging that I’m giving tech support to one of the Walton’s – or perhaps someone from Little House.

      The lack of tech skills in some people…let’s just say it isn’t much of a stretch sometimes.

      And when I’m feeling less crazy the old standby – I treat them the way I would want someone to treat my sister. Who is a lovely and intelligent person, but not very tech savvy.

      The best compliment I ever received at work was that I have a way of explaining things to people without making them feel stupid. That wasn’t exactly a career goal, I hadn’t ever thought about it, but it was nice to hear.

      I do, however, roll my eyes so hard when I’m driving home sometimes that I am afraid they will freeze that way…but that’s between me and my car.

    3. KellyK*

      I like your suggestions. I think they turn something dull and repetitive into something creative and fun.

  10. Suzanne Lucas*

    I don’t have good suggestions, but when I worked at Burger King I used to find myself answering the home phone with, “Welcome to Burger King. May I take your order?”

    Sigh. Good luck!

    1. Alli*

      Yup! I used to waitress and it took probably a good 6 months after I quit to stop having the dreams where I can’t keep up with the orders and tables keep getting sat and the computer system just crashed….and then I’d wake up in a cold sweat.

      1. Natalie*

        I have answered my cell phone with my standard “Good morning, [Company name]”, using what my boyfriend calls my “work voice” before. Bleh.

        1. Liz in a library*

          I do that all the time. If you call me when I’m tired, or during the week any time, you are likely to be greeted with “X University Library, this is Liz; how may I help you?”

          1. Rana*

            I can still recite the standard greeting for a company I worked for while in high school–which was over twenty years ago.

    2. Richard*

      After moving from one ISP’s technical support desk to another, The first call I took I automatically answered with my old employer’s name. Thankfully, their name sounded a lot like another word for network, so it went unnoticed :

      I think I did once answer my own mobile with ‘Hello, welcome to technical support, how can I help you?’ though. Oops.

    3. Ariel*

      I have two part-time jobs, and it often takes me at least a couple of seconds to figure out which one I’m answering the phone for.

  11. Jessica*

    My husband has long called me insane when this happens to me. I notice that it happens during high-stress times when I need sleep the most. I end up waking up feeling as though I haven’t slept one iota and have been working all night. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’ve found that when I wake up in the middle of doing something, if I write down what I was doing (even if it’s not something I need to remember), it leaves my mind. This also works for things that I keep going over and over in my mind, including earworm songs that I can’t get out of my head and wake up singing in my head in the middle of the night. (Maybe my husband is right and I am insane, now that I think about it.)

    Since I notice this happens more when I’m stressed or pressured, I try to alleviate some of the pressure when I’m awake by organizing things before I leave work for the next day (my job isn’t repetitive either, really, and I still have these dreams). I also try to leave work at work, which has really helped. I don’t think about work when at home. If I remember something that I need for work, I email myself and forget it. For me, somehow, the key is writing it down in some manner, even if I don’t need to remember the info. Am I dreaming about talking to an irritated parent? I write down the solution the parent’s problem, and I go back to sleep. Sometimes it just brings up another work issue, but sometimes it alleviates enough of the work-brain pressure that I can sleep without thinking of it. (And sometimes nothing works, and I just work in my sleep all night. Gah!)

    (I have done the phone thing at work before. I worked at a state office and had a four sentence spiel and my name before letting the caller talk that I had to say or I’d get reprimanded. After I left that job, I once answered the phone at my new job with the entire spiel. I was so embarrassed but luckily the customer was understanding and just laughed at me.)

  12. Bertrand*

    Hello,

    I worked as a store manager for 10 years and still catch myself as I hand over cash in a store, stopping myself from saying, “Thank you. Have a nice day and come see us soon.”

    Whenever I ask a cashier if this has ever happened to them, they always answer, “All the time.” It’s an easy way to get a smile from a surly cashier.

    I stopped dreaming I was late in my morning paper route in my late twenties. I actually stopped that route when I was 16.

    Right now I am a computer programmer doing work at a new place for the same salary I was making ten years ago. However the work is very stimulating and involved mentally. At the end of the day I am bushed and I sleep like a log at home. I have never dreamed about a programming problem.

    Keep up the good work!

  13. Chris*

    I worked in one while I was in college. I kept hearing the “whisper” in my sleep during certain dreams. Here is what I found. When I left work, I left work. The badge came off, I changed out of my work clothes and did something else. Get a hobby or something to break up your day.

  14. SME*

    All the after-work decompression suggestions here are fantastic! I think I’ll try some of them, even though I’m long past the dreaming of my job stage at this particular position. :) I also wanted to suggest a mid-day brain break. Assuming that you take an hour for lunch, I’d suggest doing something completely different with that time – take a walk, read a book, catch up with a friend on the phone, etc. I generally either read or talk to friends in different time zones while I’m on my lunch break, and by the time I go back to work I feel completely refreshed, and the second part of my day doesn’t seem nearly so tedious. Maybe that would help you during your waking hours as well?

    1. Anonymous*

      Trust me when you work in a call center, the LAST thing you want to do in your spare time is be on the phone with ANYONE.

  15. Anonymous*

    I had a job which I loved but the last 4 months were hell and while I’d never dreamt about it before that the last 2 months there I started dreaming that the people around me were murdering me. Always fun and exciting new ways to die. It was aweful. It only took a couple weeks for them to go away once the company finally closed up and laid me off. So even really bad dreams can go away. There is hope!
    Since I’ve taken a boring repetitive job for which I am absurdly greateful right now, cause after that a little boring is very nice. But I’ve been spicing it up by playing mind games with my coworkers to get them to work harder (they’ve doubled how much work they do since I started, each person has their own buttons and if you push them just right they work harder, yes I’m evil, yes it is fun). I also try to figure out the life story of each person I work with. Everyone had their own tale and trying to come up with what that is while I’m doing the repetitive stuff with them. This makes things go much faster.
    Then when I get home the first thing I do is change out of work clothes. I ride the bus so I have time to mentally shift out of work mode which helps so much as well. But really if you have a job you can leave at work it is so much easier if you make a routine, your commute should be your done with work dance!

  16. Dawn*

    I worked as a cashier at a grocery store from 1991-1997. To this day, I still dream that while I am making the closing annoucement over the PA system, customers are still streaming in the door, not caring one bit that the store is closing. Someone is trying to lock the door, but they keep pushing past. Drives me insane! Of course, I’m someone who still dreams about not being able to find/open my locker in high school (graduated in 92), not having my schedule and knowing where my classes are, etc., so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    I’ve found two things that work really well for me: reading in bed; or lulling myself to sleep by thinking of my upcoming vacation to wherever. Not just thinking about it though. Actually imagining every place I will go, the things I will do, the people I’ll see, the atmosphere, how I’ll feel, etc. For some reason this puts me to sleep in no time. Sets me up for some nice dreams sometimes, too. If you’re not planning a vacation, then just make something up . Imagine your dream vacation and plan every detail as your laying in bed.

    1. Suzanne Lucas*

      The locker code and the I don’t know where my classes are dream! And I also used to have the dreaded “it’s finals week and I have forgotten to attend a class all semester” dream. Aack.

      I guess it’s been a few years since I had that particular nightmare. I’ll probably have it tonight.

    2. Anonymous*

      I constantly get the dream where I don’t know what day it is and can’t remember which classes I have today or where they are based. Half the time I’m not even in my own school or college!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ugh. I periodically have a dream where I’m back at college and I realize that I haven’t gone to any of my classes the whole semester. Oddly, I then alternate between panic and not really caring.

        I also have a dream where I’m putting in my contact lenses and they’re the size of plates, but that’s another topic.

        1. Dawn*

          LMAO at the one about the contacts!

          Yes, I’ve had that same dream that I’ve skipped the who semester, or year, done no homework, etc., but yet I still pass an exam with flying colors.

        2. Liz in a library*

          Mine is always that I’ve forgotten just one class, which I realize the day before the end of the semester. After college, since I was working at a college, it just never stopped coming. Now that I’m working at a school on the quarter system, I get this nightmare about 4 times a year…

          It’s always an oddly specific and bizarre class too, like Socialist Symbolism in the Early Works of Shari Lewis. That tends to be burned on my brain when I wake up. ;)

        3. Anonymous*

          I’ve had dreams about giant contact lenses too! But in my dream I don’t think I realized they were so large, I just couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t go in my eyes.

        4. Kathy*

          I have had that exact same dream, too!!!! Realizing that you haven’t attended a class in a long time. How strange (and I feel so much better now! :))

        5. Andrew*

          I know I’m late to this thread but I am amazed–I have had that exact same dream about the contacts.

      2. Dawn*

        Sometimes I dream that I am wandering the school trying to find my classes with no schedule and can’t find the admin office to get it, or I’m on the bottom floor and my next class is on the fourth floor and I don’t know what classroom it is, what time it is, or even what subject it is. It’s crazy that after almost 20 years I still dream of this stuff! Must be some deep-seated fear of not knowing where I’m headed in life or something.

      3. LJL*

        Every academic I’ve ever known, no matter how far up in administration or how long they’ve had their doctorate, still has a recurring dream dealing with some part of the dissertation, usually the defense. Me included.

    3. Jessica*

      This is hilarious, becuase I have the locker dream still, too. I also have the “I can’t find my class schedule and I don’t know where I’m going and my locker won’t open and no one will help me” dream. Strangely, those dreams happen less often now that I am actually back at university for a second degree, which I don’t get. You’d think I’d have the “I didn’t study for the test! Oh no!” dream more often and not less often now that I actually have tests again.

  17. Joanna Reichert*

    LOL – LOVE the idea of creating scenarios to help you deal. I’ve been in CS for years but have never thought to take that approach to keep my sanity. Maybe I’ll start pretending my customers are from Mars and don’t understand Earth customs ; )

    1. Dawn*

      I just had to comment , although it has nothing to do with dreams. The mention of Mars tripped this memory. I work for a bank that came into being about 10 years ago. On opening day I got a phone call from some woman, not a customer, who claimed that her boyfriend worked on Mars. I said to her that it must be a really long commute (yes, I played along LOL) and she told me that he would stay on Mars during the week and then come back to Earth on the weekends. Occasionally they vacationed on Venus when he was able to get away from work. Then she went on to tell me that she had an account at X bank and she called it her “Meow” account. She had another account at Y bank and she called it her “Woof” account. I truly thought I was on candid camera or something! This woman was dead serious though. Then I thought maybe an employee from another branch was playing a joke on me. Crazy stuff!

  18. Jamie*

    I don’t know how to make them stop – my job isn’t repetitive but involves a lot of troubleshooting and I still get these all the time when things are particularly hectic at work.

    However, and this is totally true, I had a horrible networking problem I just couldn’t solve once and it was consuming me and the answer came to me in a dream where I was working on it.

    Obviously, unless I was visited by a ghost who spends the afterlife giving network admin advice, I knew the answer but couldn’t tap into it due to being busy and stressed.

    So while I would take the great advice others have given on how to make the dreams stop – if you do have one you might as well try to see if your subconscious is trying to solve your work problems for you.

    1. lm*

      That’s happened to me often enough that I keep a notepad by the bed to write down all dream ideas. I once dreamed a whole chunk of code that finally solved this issue I’d been working on for weeks.

  19. Original Poster*

    Oh my God this is so awesome guys, thank you so much!
    There are some excellent ideas here.
    I’ve been thinking about this problem while reading your replies and have come to some conclusions.
    I bike to and from work every day (5 kilometers each way) and I don’t get off work until 10:30 p.m. So when I get home at about 11 what is the first thing I do? Make a POT OF COFFEE!! Duh. So, I am already pumped up with exercise from my bike ride and then I pour a pot of caffeine into my body. Sometimes I eat my supper too, which is always a real meal and not a snack. So when I go to bed I’m all stimulated. Which can be a good thing sometimes, to be all stimulated when you good to bed, but not for me right now!
    I love the idea of imagining the life stories of some of my more difficult customers. I am a writer by trade and many times I have spent my downtime between calls writing (see my forthcoming novel based in a call center, lol) but right now there is no down time (nine seconds between calls) so I can just pretend while ON the call! Awesome idea.
    I also think some of the reason I am dreaming so much about this job is because deep down I feel it is beneath me. There, I said it. I feel I am “too good” to be working in a call center. This is an issue that I am working on because really, why would I be too good to be working anywhere? Does that mean I look down on the other employees? That I think I’m better than them? No, actually, I don’t. But most of them are, like, 20, which to me is a child, and I do struggle with that.
    I’m getting a kick out of all the stories here. I don’t answer my home phone with my technical support spiel, but once, while on a call with a customer, I was emailing my husband at the same time (big no no, I know) and when I hung up with the customer, who was a very nice man, I ended the call by saying, “okay, bye, I love you.”
    Luckily, he had a good sense of humor!
    Thanks again for all your awesome suggestions.

    1. Jamie*

      Yikes – the misdirected “I love you” – that’s the worst!

      One of my consultant’s has the same first name as my husband – and I’ve ended phones calls with him like that. Twice. Fortunately he has a sense of humor.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’ve worked for more bosses that have the same name as my husband than not…. I’ll admit a few emails have gone to the wrong one!

    2. Beth*

      I used to have serious issues falling asleep and staying asleep. Definitely no caffeine before bed! :) You could try chamomile or sleepytime tea instead if you like the comfort of something warm before bed. The biking probably helps blow off some steam after sitting for 10 hours, so that’s not a bad thing. Could also try taking a natural sleep aid like melatonin. Journaling before bed helped me, too, since I could vent and let it all out on paper and then let it go. Good luck!

  20. De Minimis*

    I’ve worked a number of repetitive jobs in the past—at Subway, also data entry jobs and factory type work. Each time I would dream about the job at night and often not be able to fully sleep because I was still attempting to work in my sleep.

    I think the brain is attempting to process the visual information and motor movements associated with the job, and once it does, things return to normal.

  21. Emily*

    When I’m feeling bored or frustrated with mundane tasks at work, I try to break up the day (and bust through my funk) by imagining I’m a Private Investigator or a spy operating undercover as a marketing coordinator and I can’t blow my cover. Or that my job is somehow as important and intense and requires as much commitment as Olivia Benson’s on Law & Order: SVU, my favorite show. Not only does this distract me from my waking frustrations and refresh my workday, but I think engaging my imagination during the day primes my unconscious mind for more diverse and interesting dreams!

    As for gaining more control over the content of your dreams, the practice that’s worked best for me is very precise, isolated stretching in bed before or as I fall asleep. For example, I’ll focus on my feet and spend 5+ minutes working out all the kinks and tension from each toe up to my calf. Or, I’ll concentrate on my hands, finger-by-finger, up to my wrists, and on to my shoulders. This seems to reign in my mind. I usually doze off before I get to a second area, and the benefit of focusing on certain muscles is that I can alleviate those occupational aches that can come from repetitive tasks.

  22. Anonymous*

    Some suggestions:
    -Change your ring tone (if possible). I know it sounds silly, but sound and smell really influence our dreams.
    -Change your desk. I don’t mean new pictures, I mean swap with a coworker to another space, it will make you feel like you are working at a new job (sounds lame, but works).
    -Don’t use the same personal products (lotions, etc) at home and at work. Use one for work and one for home. Again, this has to do with familiar smell. If you only use your home stuff at home, it will help you forget work.
    -Don’t talk on the phone or watch TV an hour before bed. Read something that you enjoy that is nothing like your work or life (Sci Fi works wonders).

    Hope those help!

  23. Call Center Manager*

    I’ve been a call center manager for over 10 years now. I am good at my job and enjoy it, which makes me perfect for it. Call center work is not for the faint of heart.

    I get through my day by remembering that without those frustrating customers, there would be no reason to employ anyone, even the most over-qualified.

    I sleep like a baby knowing that every day I’m helping someone using my knowledge and expertise.

    1. peter*

      call center managers don’t really take calls.
      Their stress levels are usually less than the bottom employees who are actually getting the job done.
      :)

  24. Julie*

    I just had to comment on the “mind game” thing. For a while, I worked as a subtitle editor, and I’ve found one thing that works very well for me when I’m dealing with an annoying conversation partner or someone who just won’t shut up (you know the type) is to imagine I’m subtitling them in my head. Where would I put the punctuation? How would I deal with all those sentence fragments when they interrupt themselves 7 times before getting to their main thought? How would I deal with all those false starts and unnecessary “likes” and “y’knows”? It sounds stupid, but it really does make the conversation more bearable.

  25. molly*

    I work as a statistical programmer and I dream about work often. I dreamed about it a LOT when I first started my job because the techniques I was using were so new to me. 2 years later I don’t dream about it as much unless I am stressed by a project like I am now. I dream of subsetting data or checking the numbers in tables.

    I don’t think dreaming about work has anything to do with repetitiveness but whether, how intense it is.

  26. Cecelia*

    This used to happen to me all the time when I was a waitress. I thought I was the only crazy one! I can’t even tell you how many times I woke up in a panic, thinking “why am I sleeping table 4 need ketchup!”

  27. mini_pixie*

    I just had to share a work dream I had years ago.

    I was working as a receptionist for a very small company, and one night I fell asleep on the couch while my husband was playing video games. I dreamed that I was at work, sitting in the back office with a couple of the sales guys. I answered the phone in my dream, and the call was for Paul. I put the call on hold, and got ready to call out “Paul the phone’s for you” when my husband kissed me to wake me up. I was just awake enough to say “Paul” out loud and then realized what was happening.

    Oh, he teased me for that so bad! He kisses me and I say another man’s name! Not just another man, but one of the old salesguys from work! I had a hard time living that down :) We instituted a strict no-kissing-sleeping-people rule after that!

  28. littlemoose*

    I’ll join the chorus: when I worked retail full-time, I would dream about the store almost every night, even when I didn’t work that day. I think one reason for this might be that these types of jobs – call centers, retail, waitressing, etc. – require using a ton of short-term memory all day. I’ve read that one function of dreams may be to “empty” the short-term memory, so maybe that’s why we dream about this type of work at night. Anyway, if nothing else, maybe it helps to know that this is a pretty common occurrence.

  29. Cruella*

    Thought I’d share.

    The “Evil HR Lady” addresses being “overqualified” today

    http://www.bnet.com/blog/evil-hr-lady/why-you-are-not-overqualified/2458

    When I first started working, I was a cashier, pre-scanner era, back when you had to remember what was on sale and everything was marked with a sticker. I probably checked groceries in my dreams for the first 2 months I worked there. We looked it up in a dream book and repetative dreams about tasks are usually caused by anxiety over performing the task correctly. Because I am a perfectionist, I was apparently both consciously and unconsciously concerned with my performance.
    Once I mastered the cash register, store operations, memorizing weekly sale items, the dreams stopped.

    My daughter just recently started her first job and was just telling me she kept having a dream where she is constantly ringing up orders.

    I guess it’s hereditary …LOL!

    1. Richard*

      I also am not a fan of this idea of being ‘overqualified’ for a position, simply because it’s a lower rung position in a different industry. When I was out of work, I’d turn my hand to anything; working in retail, in bars, and the like.

      I agree with most that these jobs are not mentally taxing once you get into the swing of things, but that doesn’t mean that you’re overqualified for the job (if anything, you’re perfectly qualified for the job!), or that you can’t get anything out of it. Even though you’re not flexing the muscles of your industry, these positions employ a lot of the same soft skills that are important in most workplaces, such as working with customers face to face, or dealing with difficult customers. It’s a perfect opportunity to develop these within yourself.

      Take this opportunity, whilst looking for something that matches more to your specific expertise. Just do yourself a favour and don’t complain about having to work in such a position in the meantime; you’ll find that your job satisfaction will improve a lot more if you do.

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  31. Anonymous*

    I too worked at a grocery store and packed boxes/bags for customers and had a certain way I like them packed (heavy on the bottom, light items on top, etc). I used to dream at night about packing boxes and bags. My friend worked at an ice cream store and used to dream about scooping ice cream and asking if the customer wanted hot fudge.

  32. GL*

    One of my jobs was about managing people who were disabled or elderly and their money, with all the stresses that come along with that (most of them in the form of them having not enough money, or having too much and family wanting control of it)–myself as well as several of my co-workers would occasionally be woken up in the middle of the with one of those “a-ha!” moments with a solution we had been trying to find. Dreams are great for processing what you experienced during the day. :o)

  33. Jon*

    OMG This is happening to me right now.

    I can’t believe how my frustrations are so clearly described here.

    A call center is one of the most stressful jobs there are. Certainly its the most stress-packed job I’ve ever had.

    People depend on you to do their job, but you still earn less than they do. Funny huh?

  34. Giskard80*

    This recurring repetetive work invading your dreams..I have been haunted by this for years, and its not confined to working people.. all you need is a repetetive motion that happens for x amount of hours a day. The following night, you seem to dream this 3 second clip over and over again, and wake feeling exhausted. I would like to share my theory on this. Also Id like to point out here that I am not a psychologist… so this is a layamans opinion and may be wrong. But it seems to be brought on by PATTERNS. For example, a seasonal job where you handle 50 billion blueberries a day. The following night, you dream of blueberries..Its like the wallpaper of the dream, if not the main subject. I would like research to be done following the idea that light and situational orientation being constant, brings the onset of this annoying problem. If you have dreams about repetetive jobs, try switching places with a co-worker. The light angle will be slightly different, your eyes will adjust to it, and since it does not follow the repetetive image in your brain, your brain is forced to re-evaluate the situation. In similar context, the person who does tech support for a living. There are several constants that you dont really think about that may bring the onset… The headset worn always on the same ear…the posture used while sitting.. the lighting.. the chair height…the positional action of typing, without needing to look at the keys. When we see things the first time, we store a mental image to memory. This FOR SOME PEOPLE means that they glance at something without really seeing it..they see a fraction of it, and fill the rest in with the mental picture. This is done much more when you are multitasking, because to see each thing as a new input every time you see it takes too much time. So we use the mental pictures and RELY ON THE CONSTANT STRUCTURE OF OUR MENTAL PICTURES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL INPUT. Solution..change your surroundings. Flip your desk around, open a blind. Try working without artificial light. And avoid recurring patterns, even if it means changing the font or color, or POSITION of your screen or seat. Also, if you listen to music while working it may help change the mood often enough to ease this problem.

  35. sleepless in saint john*

    I found this page today while searching for help! I work 8 – 12 hrs a day 5-7 days a week. I am a tech support agent for cellphones. The problem is I am exhusted as I feel I don’t ever really stop working!

    When I finish work, it takes me 2 hrs to unwind and be able to fall asleep but then i just work all night as well – trying to troubleshoot cellphones until my alarm goes off at 5 30 am. Im so tired and I wish I could just go to bed and not work in my sleep!

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