I slept through an entire day of work

A reader writes:

I started a new senior position in a new city about two months ago and I was killing it. It was just such a great fit of the job matching my abilities- I moved several integral projects forward and took some business trips in my first few weeks. Everyone was saying it felt like I’d been here years. My boss and the head of the firm were completely tickled, my coworkers and I were clicking great — it was workplace nirvana.

Danger zone: I was saying “yes” to everything because I was loving the work and wanted my boss to know he could count on me. I have a bit of a savior syndrome so when people say they need my help, I can practically never say no, but my boss is awesome and I love this work so I don’t even want to say no!  (And he has acknowledged over the last two months that he’s thrown a lot on my plate, and has thanked me just for taking the job because he’s less stressed than he’s been in months.)

But I was in a new city, with a totally different lifestyle and schedule, and I was only getting around three hours of sleep a night. I would say that probably 65% of sleeplessness was caused by work stress/anxiety and the rest was a mix of lifestyle shake-up, like a new commute and sacrificing sleep to do things like hunt for a new apartment.

I started coming in later and later (the office is flexible, within reason), until one day last week I slept through the ENTIRE day.

I know that is completely shocking, I’m shocked too, and so incredibly embarrassed. I woke up late, emailed the administrator to let her know I was on my way in, and then when I sat on the bed to put on my shoes I must have just passed right back out again for about another 6 hours. Just sheer exhaustion, I guess.

My boss called me and left a concerned voicemail, then followed up with a concerned email a few hours later.

I was so mortified I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed home, called the doctor, got a prescription for sleep meds, and then tried to calm myself down before calling my boss to apologize and explain. Other than apologizing over and over, I’m not even sure what I said. I definitely mentioned averaging about three hours of sleep a night over the last three weeks and just generally having too much on my plate, and that I have anxiety over wanting to do everything to the best standard possible, which was making me lose sleep.

He was amazing – he was concerned about me and my health first and foremost, then also about our deliverables. We came up with a two-week work plan that he confirmed with my colleagues. They took me off one project temporarily and cut way back on my role on another. I’m also taking a few days to work “undisturbed” from home (which was his way of letting me know it’s okay to nap). He made it clear I don’t have to share anything I don’t want to, and gave me an encouraging pep talk about “being human” and “big life changes.”

On my end, I am urgently prioritizing sleep hygiene to mitigate the exhaustion, and creating lists up the wazoo because I get forgetful when I’m tired.

The problem (or not problem?) now is everyone is treating me extremely sensitively. Maybe I’m projecting because I feel like such an a-hole for letting the team down, but it seems like they’re walking on egg shells and being extra gentle. On the one hand, I appreciate it, but on the other hand I hate the reminder that I effed it up so royally. The ramifications are rippling forward 6-12 months, because of how they redistributed my workload.

I feel like I want to avoid everybody. I feel like I don’t deserve to be here, like I let everybody down and now we’re all waiting for it to happen again. A small part of me also wonders if age or gender are playing into it at all – I am a woman who is younger than the other senior members of the team, and the dynamic has been sort of like a gentleman/lady, mentor/mentee thing.

To me, this whole thing seems like an epic professional mistake. Aside from turning back time, what do I do now?

This is such a good example of how if you build up good will and standing by being a great employee, a good boss will cut you slack even when you think you’ve done something mortifying.

You had already proved yourself, so what happened reads completely differently than if you’d done it your first week on the job or if you were known to be a slacker.

Think of it this way: When someone sleeps through an entire day of work, what conclusions are you likely to draw about that person? Generally, you’re going to assume either they’re sick or they’re really cavalier about work. Your boss, and probably the rest of your office, already know that you’re not cavalier about work. You sound like you’re highly productive, on top of things, and full of initiative and drive. So it wouldn’t make any sense for them to now think, “Oh, we were wrong about all of that — she’s actually a huge slacker.”

What happened was more akin to you being sick. “Sick” isn’t exactly right, but it’s way more in that neighborhood than anything else. You were suffering from the effects of weeks of exhaustion. It caught up with you because you are a human, not a robot.

Your boss clearly understands that. (See again: previous two months of drive and excellent work, and his gratitude for your performance.)

So the problem you haven’t now isn’t “how can I come back from this epic mistake?” You already handled this well: You apologized profusely, you explained what had happened, and you’ve taken steps to adjust your sleep.

And your boss handled this perfectly too: He recognized how your workload was contributing to the problem, he modified it to be more realistic, and he made it clear that he understands you are human.

This is all very, very good, for him and for you.

I suspect that people are treating you gently because your boss probably explained you were way overextended and exhausted, as part of the adjustments he made to your projects (and possibly also because people were worried about you the day you didn’t show up). I can see why that’s rattling you though — no one wants to be treated like a delicate flower at work.

There are two things that you can do about that. One is that you could talk to your boss and say something like, “I want to thank you again for being so understanding about my exhaustion last week. I’m mortified about it, and I’m grateful that you were so kind about it. I did want to say that if anyone is feeling like they need to be extra gentle with me now, they definitely don’t! I’ve gotten the sense that people are treating me very delicately, and I don’t want anyone to feel they need to do that. I’ve handled the sleep problems, and I’m good to go!”

But the other thing is that simply by being normal and demonstrating that you’re not in fact a delicate flower, people should relax. Time and exposure will take care of much of this. So fight your urge to avoid people, because the more they’re around you being normal and reasonably hardy, the more that will overcome any worries they might have. The best thing you can do right now is to be around them and be matter-of-fact in your manner.

And truly, this is okay. You collapsed from exhaustion, your boss understands, and all involved have come together to correct the situation that led to that. Let yourself trust that your boss is not blowing smoke when he tells you that he understands, and trust that people have seen enough of your work to know you don’t crumble at the first sign of difficulty.

{ 259 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on

    Quit flogging youself. You are still valued by the organization and you will continue to go on to do a great job.

  2. Mr. PB's house

    Thumbs way up to both you and your boss/workplace, post-incident. Sending good sleep vibes your way as well.

    1. OP

      Thank you – goodness knows I could use those! Side note for any other insomniac/anxiety sleep folks, tart cherry extract and ashwaghanda came recommended by a dietician. Helping so far!

      1. Anon for this

        Entirely different situation, but I was in your shoes sleep-wise for February to mid-March and it wrecked havoc with my ability to function. Eventually, all at once, I just couldn’t and dropped all the balls I’d been juggling in a week. It wasn’t the end of the world, though it was embarrassing (for me, the profs were just concerned). When you show that you’re a good worker people cut you some slack for being human. I’m sure with a reset you’ll do just fine and they will be so glad you are still there!

      2. Lead Marketing Strategist

        Ashwaghanda has been HUGELY helpful for my energy levels! 10/10, would recommend.

  3. Wannabe Disney Princess

    LW, if it helps substitute “unwell” for tired. Since you don’t have an illness, I wouldn’t use the word sick. But you weren’t well. If you were, you wouldn’t have slept for a whole day. Adopting that mindset will, hopefully, help you reframe this. I understand being embarrassed (Lord knows, I would be!), but this isn’t embarrassing. You were overworked and overstressed.

    As far as getting everyone to treat you normal…just be normal. That was honestly my first thought. Obviously, don’t go charging straight ahead into how you were before because then the cycle WILL repeat. But keep doing good work. Keep showing up. And, eventually, they will settle back into treating you like before.

    1. Elizabeth West

      All of this.

      OP, I hope the sleep schedule is working! Good sleep hygiene is so so important for overall good health. And it’s okay to say no to stuff once in a while. :)

      1. SarahKay

        Actually, I often find that’s a great way to look at it. If a friend came to you and described what happened, what advice would you give to them? I bet you’d be way kinder to them then you are (inadvertently) being to yourself. Cut yourself that same slack that you’d cut a friend or valued co-worker.

        1. TootsNYC

          TOTALLY AGREE!

          I think that often we need to remember the converse of the Golden Rule:

          Treat yourself the way you would treat others.

          1. Indoor Cat

            Not to tangent too much, but I love the ethicist and s/f writer Eric Schwitzgebel, and he wrote an amazing blog post on a forgotten (outside of academic circles) Chinese philosopher and ethicist named Mengzi, who ended up being overshadowed by Confucius.

            Basically, Mengzi assumes most people aren’t sociopaths, and everyone is born with a small circle of empathy (all babies love their mother, even more than they love themselves, because a baby has no self-concept–kinda unusual idea, but pretty cool imo). To be wise, then, is to continually feed and grow that love until everyone is in that circle.

            Famously, Mengzi advised a ruthless king to spare a village, pointing out that the king once spared a calf that was to be killed and eaten, and saying the mercy he applied to the calf should also be applied to the villagers. The king took his advice.

            It also connects to the “prejudice is learned, not innate,” theory. Some empathy is natural for most people, and that empathy can either be grown or shrunk by nurture (environment, personal choice, etc). The most dramatic evidence for that theory is Alessio Avananti’s famous Purple Hand Experiment.

            So, I’m on team Mengzi here. Treat everyone the way you would treat those you most love and care about. Intentionally expand your empathy. Make sure that empathy includes yourself.

      2. Wannabe Disney Princess

        You’re welcome!

        And while sleep is super important, so is regularly checking in with myself. I know when I feel out of whack (extra cranky/sleepy/tired/sad/stabby/etc.) I just take a few minutes and kind of poke around and what I’m feeling and why. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s something. Then I course correct. I’ve done this for years, so it’s nearly second nature to me now, and it does take practice. But as someone who’s prone to burnout, I find it an invaluable skill.

        1. BadPlanning

          After using a step counter for a couple years, I recently realized that I really need a baseline of ~10,000 steps a day. If I slack off for a couple days, suddenly I’m sort of down and out of sorts. Recently, I was feel off and restless, looked at my recent steps and said, “Self, I think we can fix this, put on your shoes and go for a walk.”

        2. Kendra

          What kinds of questions do you ask yourself to do the poking around your feelings? That sounds like a good practice that I’d like to imitate, but I’m not sure how to go about doing so.

          1. Wannabe Disney Princess

            Mostly just ask myself “Why”.

            If the answer is “I’m upset.”

            Then I ask, “Why?”

            “Because Fergus was mean to me.”

            “Why?”

            “I screwed up a report.”

            “Why?”

            “I’m a failure.”. And…tada! We’ve reached what’s REALLY bothering me. Then I can address that, no, I’m not a failure. I failed at doing the report accurately because I didn’t have enough information/time/training/etc.

    2. k.k

      Obviously, don’t go charging straight ahead into how you were before because then the cycle WILL repeat.

      This is a key point. OP, you’re clearly a dedicated worker. But don’t try to overcorrect for this incident by getting overworked again. Turn this into a valuable learning experience to figure out your limits and a healthy work/life balance.

      1. Clever Name

        This is the most important thing! Make sure you set limits and be realistic about what you can handle while still taking care of yourself! If someone is asking you to do something, and you would need to work late to get it done on time, DON’T SAY YOU CAN DO IT! I guarantee you the person asking for help is sleeping more than 3 hours at night. Take care of you! You can’t be an all star if you’re exhausted.

        1. Mary

          It really is the most important thing. OP, make sure the take-home message here is not “omg never sleep through a whole day again” but “omg never get so exhausted and overextended that sleeping through the day is a possibility”. Given that it sounds like you’ve got a great boss and a healthy workplace where people care about you not burning out, saying no and setting boundaries is *how*you build trust. If people see you taking on way too much again, that’s when their “unreliable employee” sirens are going to go off because it means you’re not managing yourself appropriately. So if this is something that’s traditionally a problem for you, make sure you’re actively scheduling time to look at your workload realistically and make sure it’s all doable!

    3. Engineer Woman

      Yes, definitely OP was unwell. And most people would be unwell from sleeping 3 hours a night for more than a week – heck, if I even averaged 50% more sleep (approx 5hours) for more than a week I’d be unwell.

      The fact that you basically passed out indicates unwellness and your body is telling you something. It’s understandable and your boss and colleagues understand. That said, I’d be mortified too… Go back to work and be normal as Wannabe Disney Princess suggests. Good advice here.

    4. Blue

      I have taken sick days to catch up on sleep. I have significant sleep issues, and occasionally I get up and I’m so exhausted that I can barely think straight. I just can’t function, so instead of going in and either getting nothing done or doing everything poorly, I email my boss to say I’m “unwell” and then go back to bed. Giving myself permission to do that has made a world of difference. (And yes, it does help that I have plenty of good will with my boss and I don’t do it often.)

      1. MsMaryMary

        My body will clobber me eventually if I’ve been running on empty too long. I wake up with a splitting headache and nausea, and the only thing that helps is sleeping for 10+ hours. It took me years to realize I did not have migraines that occur irregularly every 12-18 months, but that my body was noping right out and demanding I get some sleep. It does help to have physical symptoms to call off work (my subconscious is so clever).

        1. dragonzflame

          That happens to me, too! I’ve always assumed that they’re migraines triggered by burning the candle at both ends and subbing sleep for coffee, and my body’s way of forcing me to take a rest, but I guess it comes to the same thing.

      2. NotSoSleepingBeauty

        I struggle from severe sleep issues too, but have always coped with the “suffer in silence” method. Thank you thank you for this unintentional advice! For some reason, hearing someone give themself permission to take the day off for being “unwell” (aka, probably shouldn’t drive a car level of exhaustion), made me realize I can (and should) do the same! Cheers!

    5. Pine cones huddle

      Yes! I once woke up not feeling great, but thought I was just tired and called work to say I’d be late and hoped I’d just take a little longer getting ready/sleep another half hour and that I’d feel fine by the time I got to work. Well, I ended up falling back asleep and woke up hours later with a fever and stomach flu. I called them around 1-2 and told them that I thought I was just tired but turned out I was really sick. Or a big deal other than that they were worried when I didn’t show up by 10. I ended up being sick for a few days.

    6. MCMonkeyBean

      Yes, if you slept for a whole day it was because you *needed* to sleep for a whole day. Your body was telling you something was wrong and now you’re working on fixing it!

  4. Goya de la Mancha

    ack, I have nightmares of this. Dream I’m already running late (for work or school) and then all of a sudden it’s 6 hours later!

    1. MsMaryMary

      I had an inception-style dream a couple weeks ago where I kept dreaming I overslept. Over and over.

    2. TrainerGirl

      I have a recurring dream that it’s April and I haven’t gone to class all semester, can’t drop it and have to figure out how to catch up on all the work required not to fail.

      OP, please take time out to take care of yourself with this. I’ve recently come out of a super stressful months-long situation (mom and best friend both suffered illness and I got laid off). My sleep really suffered and then, just as I was getting a handle on it, I got the flu and suffered a few complications, which have left me exhausted. I’m on sleep management now and even going to bed an hour late leaves me exhausted in the morning. I get that you want to impress everyone at your job, but it sounds like they already are and now just want to see you happy and healthy. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

      1. Goya de la Mancha

        “…I haven’t gone to class all semester…”

        Same! I usually am walking into the final exam and the teacher is just smirking at me like “yeah right”.
        Sometimes it’s even back in high school (which I have been out of for over a decade)…

      2. Jaydee

        I have those dreams too, but it’s not April. It’s the day before the final (if I’m lucky) or the day of the final, and I just found out that I was even registered for “Advanced Llama Grooming Techniques” or “Secured Transactions” or whatever and it’s way past the drop deadline so now I need to get a copy of the textbook and learn enough in the next few hours to pass the final.

      3. TardyTardis

        I get that dream, too, and it’s been at least a decade since I took any college class. For some reason it’s always a math class, and I can’t find the book, and can’t remember my locker combination where the book is, and so on.

        Oh, and it’s a test day. Of course. Though one time it was a turn in the big project day for a history class.

  5. Some Sort of Management Consultant

    It seems to me the only thing left to do is to be more gentle with yourself.
    What can you do to reprioritize your mental and physical health and build in rest and recovery in your schedule?

    I’ve found people’s patience runs out muuuuch faster when they see you treat yourself baldly when they try to help you.

    Take care of yourself!

    1. OP

      You’re right. I really need to. I burned out really badly a few years ago and it took ages to recover. You’re so right that I need to really focus on this and make it habitual.

      1. Some Sort of Management Consultant

        I know the feeling and it sucks.
        But I’ve discovered people close to you kinda get pissed at you when you dig your own hole.
        (I have the most supportive friends and family, and bosses. I just forget/ignore where my boundaries lie sometimes. )
        It’s like i lack an emergency brake, so I have to create a few of them to engage automatically.

          1. I prefer tea

            I don’t know about Management Consultant, but I’ve identified a few actions that for me signal the need for an emergency brake (great term!): if I see myself doing them, it’s a clue I need to watch out – burnout ahead.

            Here’s a weird one, but if I’m in my car at a stop light and the car before me moves an inch forward: if I stay where I am, I’m good. Logically, I know that moving an inch ahead doesn’t accomplish anything. But if I nudge my car forward whenever the car in front of me does, that’s a red flag. I did it without thinking, and it means I’m impatient and stressed in other areas. If I’m not careful, I’ll start doing other things without thinking because of stress.

          2. Lora

            For me it’s if I stress-eat. I only stress-eat when I am really truly sick and stressed out, not for anything trivial. I stock my fridge with healthy stuff, and have to drive out of my way for treats, so if I’m driving an extra 20 minutes for croissants, it’s Bad and time to back off and rest, take a hot bath, sip some wine, chat with a friend and snuggle my pets.

          3. Canadian Natasha

            I also have something like that: If I find my jaw getting tense and/or if I start realizing I’m paying too much attention to my breathing (it feels like it’s hard to breathe regularly or else I’m shallow breathing a lot) then I know I need to give myself a bit of a rest and think about what may be causing me stress.

          4. Oranges

            I have a variety of “brakes” that vary in intensity. Although I think of them as warning signs.

            My personal analogy: Depression is a giant bog and I have to follow a path through it. Normally (now) the path is firm and I can see it pretty clearly. If I’m not wanting to go to my friends house that means the path under me is slightly boggy and I should be careful/more alert for other signs. However if I’m not wearing my seat-belt that means I’m in a part of the bog that’s dangerous and I need a guide (therapist) to help me back to the solid ground but it’s not an emergency. If I’m not doing laundry and blowing off all the things and not doing anything but play games or read? Get help today. The ground under me is treacherous AF and I’m already waist deep.

          5. Some Sort of Management Consultant

            The others have already given you good advice but here are some of mine:

            – My automatic answer is no longer yes, it’s “I have to check my calendar.”
            – My friends and parents know my signs by now (when I stop answering my phone, it’s time to be a little more forceful in their checkups.”
            – I rarely work longer than 5/6pm,unless there’s a crictical deadline. (Not possible for everyone, I know.)
            – My sleep is holy. it had better be an emergency if I’m gonna be cutting out my sleep time.

            – I schedule “rest weeks” after a hectic period where I say no to all extra curriculars, all work social outings and stuff that are not explicitly my job.

            – If your schedule is in any way flexible, I’ve found that taking a morning a week/every two weeks to sleep in a little (say come in at 9.30/10am) it restores me QUITE a lot.

      2. AJ

        Don’t know how transferable this is, but it might be helpful. An Airbnb host I once had was working on managing her diagnosed eating disorder (she brought up the topic and told me about it). I noticed she had a chart on her fridge for meal planning/making sure to get enough calories/vitamins/minerals. There was a plan for each meal and snacks and boxes to check off. Maybe you could make something similar but with self-care items like, 15 min break, full lunch break, 8 hours sleep, day off, other things that will help you to relax, rest, not go overboard at work etc. You could have daily “must haves” and/or a weekly points total to achieve.

        1. Sarah in Boston

          Habitica might be a good way to track/motivate this kind of thing. I was (and am intending to get back to it!) using it to remind myself to do 10 min of cleaning a day, call one of the friends I don’t see often once a week, walk x number of times per week and so forth. I loved it for that kind of to do list rather than the one-off kind of to do list. And I got points to upgrade my avatar’s outfits and pets by doing so (I am motivated by gamification so YMMV).

        2. Elizabeth H.

          I literally have a calendar on the wall that’s a star chart. I have different stars for all the different good habits I want to practice. I’m 30! It is so great. (I use some kitty stickers too, for quitting smoking)

      3. WannaAlp

        I think it’s really good that you are taking steps to address this now. I don’t want to scare you, but I wanted to let you know my experience in case it helps to know what you’re trying to avoid.

        I experienced an extensive period of burn-out several years ago, over a period of several years. I knew it wasn’t good at the time, and I tried to make things better, but I couldn’t. After a decade or so, my health started collapsing, and I knew I had no option but to walk away from the career I loved and was good at.

        But there was a huge aftermath. I learnt that repeated exposure to stress/overwork means that your stress resistance lowers so that it makes it much easier for you to be stressed on future occasions (not good). Also I learnt that stress is linked to problems in the immune system (auto-immune diseases and inflammation and more).

        To cut a long story short, I am now in a different career, which is low on deadlines and stress (thank goodness), and I managed to recover most of my health, but my stress resistance was shot. The next time I got super-stressed (family crises) I wound up with food allergies flaring to the extent that I now work part-time in order to prepare all my own food and take care of other aspects of my health. Travel is now very restricted for me, in order to stay well.

        It’s a high price to pay, and simply being aware of the issues and trying to avoid stress isn’t enough. Your body knows what it’s experiencing and will have whatever reaction it’s going to have.

        1. OP revisiting

          Welp. This turned out to be the most clairvoyant of all the comments. I did ultimately get diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases and now I’m working on managing them. You might be interested to look into the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP). It’s a very restrictive diet/lifestyle guide that is intended to reduce inflammation as much as possible. Many people achieve remission with it, so I’m hoping I’m one of the lucky ones. Take care of yourself!

    2. Angela Ziegler

      So true! One of my friends in at this stage right now; she’ll just fall asleep for 10+ hours every once in a while because she doesn’t give herself breaks or chance to rest. A lot of it is socializing and driving long distances to spend time with friends and family on a regular basis whenever she’s not working, so she’ll just pass out for hours when a rare quiet day appears. It’s just too much of a hectic schedule, especially on a constant basis. I hope she slows it down soon since it hasn’t helped her anxiety or mental state. Sometimes you have to set aside ‘recharge’ time so you can be more active later on!

    3. Legal Beagle

      Great advice. For your “savior syndrome,” it may be helpful to think of the airplane rule – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you are exhausted, burned out, and scattered, you can’t support other people the way you want to. (Not to mention do your own job well.) By setting limits on what you say yes to, you’re protecting your ability to be a consistently solid employee and coworker, which is much better for you, your colleagues, and your employer.

      1. Emmie

        And be careful about saying yes to everything again at work. I know it’s hard to turn things down. If it helps, work with your boss to prioritize new task requests. Is this work you really need to do among all of your other priorities? Hang in there. You have a lot of good will built up. Maintain your professionalism, work quality, and sleep schedule. I wish OP well!

      2. Jennotype

        I really like this analogy. Another one I often use is to think of myself as a jug and the various responsibilities/roles I have as glasses that I need to fill with my energy. You can’t pour from an empty jug, so another responsibility I have is to make sure that I do whatever activities are required to fill the jug. For me that’s nights to myself, plenty of books, dancing and restful time with family and friends. Your jug may need something different!

        Good luck OP!

  6. Marillenbaum

    It sounds like the only problem here is that you’re beating yourself up. You were literally exhausted, and your boss responded appropriately. You are a great employee, and you both built up a store of goodwill and bounced back. I think you’re being really hard on yourself, and while I understand the impulse, it isn’t one that’s going to help you.

    1. OP

      Everybody here is so wonderfully kind. I’m feeling better than I have since it happened, thank you

  7. TCO

    OP, everyone here is doing the right things–you’re taking responsibility for your health, you’re doing a great job at work, and your boss and team are trying to support a healthy work-life balance. If I were your boss I’d feel lucky to have such a great employee and I’d feel horrible that I allowed your workload to get so extreme as to affect your health. Your boss is probably just as eager to put this behind him as you are! And it will blow over soon. Take care of yourself and keep crushing it at work (but within reason!) and everyone will forget about this sooner than you think.

    1. OP

      You know, I’m wondering if I’m freaking out because of my last job. 3 months in, I had a back spasm that kept me home for 2 days (with notice/communication) and I was almost fired for it. That really colored my perception of what’s acceptable to a boss in your early months. Time to reflect and recalibrate.

      1. Fiddlesticks

        Yikes, yeah that definitely sounds like some lingering malaise from a toxic job. I’m glad you’re working on taking care of yourself, that your boss and team all seem to be handling this really well — and just think, you’ll have an AMAZING icebreaker story one day when you have to mentor junior employees!

      2. ContentWrangler

        That gives so much context to your response. This boss is clearly nothing like your old one. A boss who recognizes their employees are humans and not work-extruding machines would never fire someone for something like that.

      3. Frank Doyle

        Your previous job was toxic. It’s unreasonable to punish someone for getting sick, no matter how long they’ve been working. You say that you feel like you “let the team down” by what, missing a day of work? If someone feels “let down” because their coworker misses a day of work because they’re not feeling well, that person is a jerk. Your coworkers don’t sound like jerks, and your boss certainly isn’t.

      4. k.k

        Bad workplaces can really mess with your perception of what is normal office behavior. There was a thread a while back here with people sharing the things they got used to, and some were really wild. Your current boss sounds great. You’ll just have to practice reminding yourself to believe your boss when they say that this is okay, you’re doing fine, etc. and get your former bosses’ voices out of your head.

      5. Not So NewReader

        I think you have this nailed, OP.

        Just as you want a fair chance at this job, give your boss and others that same fair chance you seek/deserve.

        I don’t know what prompted you to think they were tiptoeing around you, OP, so I could be wrong, but I think they were just being kind. You remember what kindness is, you had that in your life before Toxic Job. So reframe: They are not tiptoeing around you, they are being kind to you. Make this your new go-to explanation for what you see. Tell them thanks, you really appreciate it. Then if you are okay with X thing, say so. Or if you need help with Y thing say that.
        You will have opportunities to pay it back, they are showing you their work culture. Soon you will be fine and someone else will need some thoughtful gestures, so it will be your turn to treat them the way they are treating you now.

      6. Kat Em

        I also freak out due to how I was treated at a former job. I’ve been here since December, and I’m juuuuuust starting to feel comfortable for apologizing for mistakes and moving on. It is SUCH a weird feeling.

  8. Fake Eleanor

    From the headline, I thought LW had slept through the entire day *at work*. Somehow.

    This seems less egregious and more a sign that LW needs to take better care of themselves.

      1. Naptime Enthusiast

        I imagine coworkers would eventually wake you up. Or at least hope so.

        Either that or wrap me in a warm blanket and a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

        1. TootsNYC

          that’s what I would do! As long as I could believe that you didn’t need medical attention.

          Because you would be unwell.

        2. Legal Beagle

          Either that or wrap me in a warm blanket and a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

          This sounds great.

        3. Not So NewReader

          I think OP’s cohorts would throw a blanket on OP and a DND sign on the door. It sounds like a wonderful workplace.

    1. MsMaryMary

      At OldJob we once heard thunderous snores coming from a conference room. By the time we mustered up the nerve to interrupt, the sleeper had vanished. Ironically, we had sleeping/mothers rooms, but this person apparently preferred to nap in conference rooms.

  9. McWhadden

    I know someone who woke up with a headache and was still sleepy so wasn’t super paying attention to what she was doing and then ended up taking two Advil PM instead of Advil. She basically did the same thing you did. Had emailed for an hour late (to get over the headache) and ended up passing out because of the Advil PM.

    And, now, years later at the same job it’s just a funny story. These things are rare but they happen. And as long as it isn’t chronic that’s OK! You had an issue and you immediately took steps to repair it.

    The only remaining issue is you are beating yourself up over it.

    1. Foreign Octopus

      Reminds me of President Bartlet accidentally taking both the Vicodin and the percocet and being out of his mind for the rest of the day on The West Wing.

      And please stop beating yourself up, OP.

      You’re doing a great job at the work you love in an understanding and supportive workplace. I think once you feel more rested and maybe a month in the future, you’ll look back and realise that it’s the exhaustion speaking right now.

      Please take care of yourself, and then go back to knocking it out the park in a healthy manner like the amazing person you are.

    2. Gen

      Yes a guy I worked with got trapped on his bed because of a back problem after he’d already said he was on his way to work. We in the office freaked out that he’d been a car accident or something because he was the most reliable person on the team. Once he finally made contact everyone was so relieved that he wasn’t dead or (seriously) injured. He did have some issues for a week or so after that with being unable to stand so we were a bit delicate around him but I think we probably would have been for exhaustion as well.

      One thing I’d change from Alison’s advice, don’t says your ‘ready to go’ unless you really truly are. Problems like exhaustion and overwork tend to be cyclical because after a collapse we start to recover, feel a bit better and feel guilty so we overwork again, collapse again, start to recover etc in a downward spiral. Be kind to yourself OP you’re clearly a valued employee

      1. Fiddlesticks

        I discovered I have some chronic neck/shoulder and joint issues when I woke up one day and couldn’t extend my right arm (imagine a chicken wing), and thus, could not get dressed to go to work. I had to call my manager and tell him I could log in and handle emails/workflow, but that I had to do it from my house, and I think out of pure reflexive nicety, he foolishly asked, “What’s going on? You okay?” and because I was salty and in pain and my physio appointment wouldn’t be until the next day, I said, “Well. My arm is jacked up and I can’t really put on a shirt.”

        Good times.

      2. Not So NewReader

        Cyclical. Advice worth its weight in gold right there, OP. We have to interrupt the cycle by taking better care of ourselves.

    3. LouiseM

      +1. A very similar thing happened to me (I described the whole embarrassing story downthread) and in truth, everyone but me forgot about it very quickly. And for me, it became a funny story to tell at the bar with my buddies.

      1. Natalie

        I did this once *at a bar* (or rather, right before going to a bar). It was a truly strange experience.

  10. SarcasticFringehead

    “I feel like I want to avoid everybody. I feel like I don’t deserve to be here, like I let everybody down and now we’re all waiting for it to happen again.” I know you don’t have a lot of extra time right now, but if you can, talk to a therapist about these statements. You acknowledge that you have some savior syndrome, which has already affected your ability to live your life and is most certainly affecting your physical health.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I am wondering if OP’s exhaustion is interfering with their ability to clearly identify what is happening. I have had some exhaustion myself and, gosh, I jumped to the wrong conclusions, made stupid mistakes and so on. Everything took twice as long because I had to do it 2 or 3 times to get it right once.

    2. Starling

      I have to agree here, particularly since OP mentioned a previous burnout experience. Talking to a therapist can be a really good way to get coached into taking better care of yourself, IME. If OP is passing out from exhaustion, then she could definitely use some coaching while transitioning to this new job.

  11. Oranges

    You passed out from exhaustion. Key wording there is “passed out” because your brain needs sleep. It’s the one thing that it’s almost* impossible to die from since your body will just say nope.

    How important is sleep? Scientists wanted to know what happened when we went without sleep and did some experiments on rats. They rigged something that would wake them up when their brains went into the first stages of sleep. They died in 2-ish weeks. Then the scientists tried a variety of methods besides sleep to see if they could get the rats to live longer. Warmer cages because the body’s thermometer was acting up, extra food, stimulants, etc. None of them worked. None. Of. Them.

    Sleep is not optional. Your body passed out just like it would if you had low blood sugar. Well, except that if you were in a diabetic coma that would have a different resolution. You didn’t slack. You didn’t eff up** you are human.

    *Scientists did manage to kill the rats but no humans have died that we know of as the time of that study.

    **You did eff up on thinking sleep is optional OR on not getting help for insomnia earlier. Personally, I don’t get help right away when my depression is acting up because it’ll get better on its own or not. I need more data to know what type this flair up is. So I can see how it happens. Understandable.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Well, people do die from Fatal Familial Insomnia, which is viscerally horrifying but thankfully very rare.

      1. Oranges

        Holy crap that is scary. However since the brain damage/death could be from the genetic disorder or from sleep deprivation I’m calling that a grey area in my head.

        I think that the study was talking about pure sleep deprivation? It’s been awhile since I read it and there are a lot of these studies. This one was interesting to me because they tried other methods to keep the rats alive.

        1. London Bookworm

          Depressingly, I think there is some anecdotal evidence from historical instances of people kept awake as a form of torture that it will eventually kill you. It certainly has been confirmed to cause hallucinations and other distortions of reality.

          1. Snark

            My dad was the subject of some military experiments on sleep deprivation. After 50 hours or so, he was experiencing some very weird multisensory hallucinations and time was behaving in weird ways.

            1. London Bookworm

              That is both fascinating and terrifying. I’m wondering if OP has read the book Why We Sleep. I haven’t read it, but I have heard Matthew Walker speak and he really drove home how vital sleep is to our functioning.

            2. SilverRadicand

              I totally believe that. Towards the end of basic training, I had to sit in an office building for a bit and I could swear I saw the ship in a picture sail out of the frame.
              (In retrospect, I wish that had been the beginning of a trip to Narnia)

              1. Jean Marie

                I am SO pleased you went to the Dawn Treader place with this comment, because that’s absolutely where my mind went.

            3. paul

              I can tell you, from experience, that I hallucinate after sometime between a full day and a day and a half. Mostly auditory, but I start seeing weird crap out of the corner of my eyes too–little darting shapes that aren’t there.

              1. straws

                This is very interesting to me. I have narcolepsy, and little darting shapes out of the corner of my eyes is one of my “tells” that I’m going to fall asleep soon.

            4. BettyD

              This reminds me of folks near the end of the Barkley Marathons, several of whom have said they experienced hallucinations and time dilation between the 50 and 60 hour marks with little to no sleep.

            5. Yams

              Fun fact: Once, after over 48 hours with no sleep I started seeing pink dancing elephants. I kinda just slumped under a table and fell asleep for a couple of hours.

            6. Susan Sto Helit

              I once watched a UK TV show called Shattered, in which a bunch of people were locked in what was effectively the Big Brother house and told not to go to sleep. I think they were allowed an hour a night on medical advice, but apart from that every time someone shut their eyes for longer than 30 seconds or so, money started disappearing from the prize pot. There were live tests every evening and whoever was dealing with the sleep deprivation the worst was evicted.

              It was pretty interesting to watch people get more and more sleep deprived as the week went on, and some of them did start to hallucinate.

            7. JennyAnn

              Can confirm. In high school I had an enormous project due that ended up requiring me to pull back-to-back-to-back all nighters to get done (we think I got about 3 hours of sleep the four days leading up to the due date). I submitted it and went on with my school day, but by the time I got to my last class my brain was doing weird things. The worst of it was trying to take notes on Calculus when my teacher looked liked she was standing at the whiteboard in the front of the room while her voice came from her desk behind me and her writing was appearing on the board on the side wall.

          2. Lindsay J

            As an insomniac who used to work way too many hours I can confirm visual hallucinations. Not fully blown, but just “Oh I think I see something out of the corner of my eye. Oh wait, that’s nothing. Oh, there it is again. Wait, still nothing.”

            Before that, I can also function broadly but any things that require thought go away. I can’t do math and become dyslexic. I can’t find the correct words. My fine motor skills and reaction times are impaired. Also, things seem way more funny than they actually are.

            Also, my body temperature goes wonky (I feel cold, constantly, mostly).

            1. K.

              Ditto. I’ve experienced insomnia-induced hallucinations. Stuff like turning around because I think I see someone behind me, but there’s no one. And my reaction times are definitely impaired.

              1. Nita

                Yeah. Bad sleep deprivation feels very much like being drunk. I’ve refused to get behind the wheel after really bad nights… I was pretty sure I would not even register a car switching into my lane from behind.

      2. MommyMD

        It’s so rare and is a horrible disease running in families and the chances of it happening to anyone reading this blog is virtually non existent.

        1. Oranges

          Yeah, I just wiki’d it and it’s so rare it’s amazing that it came to light. I think it has to do with the bizzarity of the illness. I’m fascinated by genetic disorders just because they show how complicated everything is and how amazing. Just one transposition can make a person non-functional. It’s amazing how tangled our genetic code is and how persistent it is.

    2. Lil Fidget

      Yeah I would have just said I was “sick” unexpectedly and missed the entire day because I was so suddenly unwell. That’s what happened, just there was a proximate cause of the sickness which was your prior lack of sleep. I don’t think you have to beat yourself up about it any more than you already have.

      1. K.

        I’ve spent my entire adult life battling insomnia (I’ve had sleep studies done, seen specialists, etc.). I have absolutely called out sick when I’ve been up a lot. I AM sick. I can’t function. I (we all) literally need sleep.

      2. MommyMD

        Me too. Too much explanation gives it a life of its own. I would not bring it up any further and just continue to do a good job.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Yep. I do the same thing.

        My basic view on it is this: Does your employer care whether you’re technically “ill” with some nameable disease? Probably not. What matters is that you’re in no shape to perform.

        (I called out of work yesterday, in fact, because I’d been awake from about 2am until maybe half an hour before my alarm went off. I was barely coherent to feed the cat and gurgle something that hopefully sounded like “Boochie sick” into my boss’s voicemail before I fell back asleep.)

        1. Oranges

          I’ve done the “emailing in insomnia” at 3am in my current job when if I went to work like normal I’d be non-functional. Thank god for WFH.

    3. Not So NewReader

      On a much tamer scale, parents know when the kiddo starts acting out then it maybe time for bed.

      I have a dog here that rarely slept as a pup. He was a total handful and he challenged me in ways I never expected.
      I ended up changing his diet, adding supplements and doing a few other smaller things. The results were great. He is doing good now.

  12. LouiseM

    Poor OP! Something similar happened to me once. I had to call out of work unexpectedly because I had misread the dosage instructions on some allergy medicine that I took at lunchtime and was literally falling asleep at my desk. I was *mortified* and felt like the biggest moron on the planet, but my boss and coworkers were so kind about it. What you have to remember, OP, is that when you do good work for good people they care about you as a person and want you to be well. They are likely just worried about you being OK, which they should be because what you’re describing is extremely worrying. But if you make it known that you’re being treated that will calm their concerns and they will treat you like they always did.

    1. MsAlex

      I had a similar reaction to some cold medicine that – to my surprise – left me mostly zombified. Luckily my boss at the time thought it was hilarious that she would just catch me staring out into space with my mouth half open. I clearly don’t take that cold medicine anymore!

  13. Sally

    I am betting that none of your coworkers are dwelling on this like you imagine they are. They’re probably barely thinking about it.

    1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

      She does have the perception that they’re walking on eggshells around her, though. That can be a pretty uncomfortable situation.

    2. Not So NewReader

      If they do dwell at all it is to think, “Please, OP, don’t quit. Please stay. We will help you, don’t give up.”

    3. Stinky Socks

      I could see myself going a little egg-shelly, though, if I felt bad for not realizing a co-worker was overworking to the point of collapse.

      1. Kathleen_A

        I would absolutely walk on eggshells! It’s not that what the OP did was so bad – but collapsing from exhaustion is a pretty extreme symptom. Since I, as a coworker, wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) hear the entire story, I would wonder if something really serious was going on. But if it only happened once and if the OP went back to normal…eh, these things pass.

        I one time overslept by three hours – which doesn’t sound that bad until you realize that I did so on the final day of our big annual meeting. But I had been working these horrendously long hours under a lot of stress and I was just So. Dang. Tired. My boss and grandboss were not happy but, you know, these things happen. It passed, and so shall this, OP.

  14. Snark

    I think Alison generally nailed it with the advice to allow your boss, and coworkers, and yourself, forgive you for a major but forgiveable mistake. But there’s one thing I think you need to do some serious internal work on:

    I have a bit of a savior syndrome so when people say they need my help, I can practically never say no

    The serious error you made was this, OP, not necessarily sleeping through the day. The sleeping through the day, that’s just a day, whatever. But the savior syndrome will haunt you for years, if you don’t use this incident as a teachable moment illustrating why it’s a bad, counterproductive habit. And it’s sneaky, because how could being so helpful and indispensable and dependable be a bad thing? People need help and you’re just the one to relieve their stress and move integral projects forward and go on trips and yessir yessir three bags full sir…..and then bam, you fall asleep in your work clothes because you’re exhausted. And if you move through your career being the savior, you’re going to oscillate between doing ALL THE THINGS and being exhausted, and that’s going burn you out from both ends. You do not want to repeat this pattern of sky-high energy and drive followed by face-planting. You want to settle into a smooth groove that’s sustainable and realistically paced.

    So, OP, if you take anything away from this, learn how to self-assess your workload and how much room you actually have for one more thing, learn how to manage your time without sacrificing sleep, eating, and sanity, and learn how to say no even to things you’d love to do and which you feel obligated to take on because you’re so helpful and it’s such great work.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast

      And to add onto this: you might learn that you can only take on your own workload, and that’s okay. It won’t feel like that’s okay when you’re used to being the one to save the day and get everything done with a smile on your face, but I promise you that it is.

      1. Ashley

        On of the most important lessons I ever learned was how to say ‘no’. As someone who loves to be busy and always wanting to help, the occasional no (or proposing a modified realistic timeline) is essential.

    2. Natalie

      if you don’t use this incident as a teachable moment

      A wake-up call, you might say.

      I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitresses!

      1. Snark

        I might say that, yes, if I were a terrible person who liked terrible puns.

        So yeah, I might say that.

    3. TCO

      Excellent points. OP, you missed one day of work because you overextended yourself. Had you kept powering through, you would have eventually had some kind of breakdown (whether in your physical or mental health) that could have taken you out of the office for days or even weeks. I’ve seen it happen. Neither you nor your boss wants your stress and exhaustion to reach that point, so take this as a warning sign and be grateful that you can course-correct now. One day is no big deal!

    4. Dr. Doll

      YES. Thank you, Snark. Look, hard work is great. Working yourself into crashing is not great. If I had someone do this I would have to have a conversation with them about Wise Judgment and Communication With Me.

      Rant:
      I am *so tired* of faculty working themselves into hysterics and then spending the first 10 minutes of every meeting trying to one-up each other with how BUSY and OVERWHELMED they are and how AWFUL the ADMINISTRATION is for imposing ALL THIS WORK. …You guys write your **own evaluation criteria**. And you want to be involved in every single decision on campus because shared governance, to the point that “should dorms have suites?” comes up for debate in the senate! Back the F off each other and get some damn sleep and exercise.

      1. Lindsay J

        You can also work yourself into crashing, literally.

        I got into a car accident because I was overworked, underslept, and fell asleep at the wheel. Thankfully, I only scraped up the side of my car on the highway median, but it was a big wakeup call.

        I could have killed myself or somebody else because I thought I didn’t need sleep, or really that I thought my job needed me more than I needed sleep. They didn’t.

        1. AMPG

          My husband did the same thing when he was in college. He was working full time, going to school full time, and (because he was a theater major) in TWO plays simultaneously. He fell asleep on the drive home from work one night and hit a telephone pole, shearing it clean off. Thanks to modern airbags, he walked away with exactly one scratch on his nose, but the lesson learned was permanent.

      2. PlainJane

        As a fellow academic, I want to shout, “Amen,” at your rant. I’ve had to learn to say no strategically in order to balance work and family commitments, and a lot of that involves me reminding myself that I don’t have to participate in every decision my organization makes. The world will keep turning if I’m not included in a meeting.

      3. Oranges

        I hate that our culture even has “over-work” as a status symbol. I want to set that concept on fire.

        1. Dr. Doll

          F8CK yes. Of all the damaging toxic things I think we’ve done to ourselves, this notion that if you’re not working, you’re not worthy is the worst. Well, besides racism, but I think they may be interrelated!

    5. Wannabe Disney Princess

      Yes, my best friend can be like this.

      For a while, she was taking everything on at work and doing it all because “it was just better if [she] did it.” One day she’d stood me up because she’d been asleep all day. She called me up, apologizing. Going on and on about how she hates to let anybody down and how could she make it up to me. After it was clear that she was fine, I took advantage of the situation. I said, “You can’t. I’m going to be a little hurt for a little while that work was prioritized over me.” (Was I purposely sounding bratty? Yes. Yes, I was.) Once it was driven home how trying not to let anyone down was starting to lead to letting EVERYONE down, she stopped. It periodically pops back up, and one of us will gently Whack-A-Mole it into submission.

    6. NW Mossy

      I have some direct reports who struggle to say no to this or that extra, and I remind them often that we are partners in a shared enterprise. If any one of us could do it all alone, there’d be no need for the rest of us to be working here! It’s perfectly OK to say “this is too much, let’s regroup and figure out what can be given to someone else, delayed, or straight-up not done ever” – it’s a mark of highly developed professional judgment.

      I’ll add that it’s even more vital to learn this if you have professional aspirations to manage people at some point in the future, because one of the key skills for managers is delegating. I’ve seen so many managers stumble when they try to continue to do their old individual contributor job and new manager job at the same time, and it doesn’t work out well for anyone.

    7. Not So NewReader

      My wake up call taught me this lesson: “Do not turn myself into someone that OTHER people have to take care of. This means they will have additional work and have trouble with completing their own work.”
      I never thought of working hard as having an ethical component like this. Being all things to all people can dissolve into needing an army of people, who have to stop what they are doing, just to take care of ME.

  15. Penny Lane

    You did just fine, you had already proven yourself to be no slacker, and your workplace responded appropriately by putting in safeguards. Let people treat you like a delicate flower for a little bit — that will help keep you on your toes to ensure that you practice good self-care and don’t burn out again.

    Don’t beat yourself up over this!

    (BTW, I once fell asleep in a meeting with the two co-presidents of my company and another senior person. I had been pulling all-nighters on top of an insane travel schedule, and I just nodded off and jerked awake repeatedly. They understood.)

    This isn’t like some stupid blow-off slacker who sleeps off a hangover at work. Let it go!!

    1. OP

      He really really really is. I hope he finds time some day to teach management to other people. I’m insanely thankful to be where I am – there’s an actual “no a-holes” rule. It means he just won’t let us work with them! We’ll find work elsewhere. It’s a great atmosphere.

      1. NW Mossy

        He already is teaching by being a walking and talking demonstration of how good managers behave. Nobody’s born knowing how to manage, but seeing it done well (and conversely, not well) is incredibly instructive. $10 says he learned how from other strong managers, and that those on his team who absorb how he does it can go on to be good managers themselves.

      2. Uncanny Valley

        This is interesting. At OLDJOB a former colleague is a self-admitted a-hole, and is very open with it and had a long-standing rep for being difficult to deal with. More than one person said that this person should NEVER be put in the position of managing others. You guessed it, this person is now a manager.

        Glad I am not there any longer.

    2. Kiki

      I like to imagine that OP’s boss read AAM as an underling and absorbed all the good manager advice and is now applying it in the real world.

  16. LCL

    Stop punishing yourself. In our shift worker group, calling in sick because your sleep schedule got demolished so consequently you weren’t sleeping is accepted and encouraged. If you were so sleepy you nodded off for 6 hours when you were getting dressed! you were sick. It’s the same as the 24 hour flu or a dose of food poisoning.

    I have posted before and been less sympathetic about people calling in sick because they are exhausted, because they take on too many home improvement projects. Wearing yourself out doing landscaping so you can’t come in for your scheduled workday is annoying to coworkers. That is not your situation. Your body was sick and reacted appropriately. Nobody at work is even going to remember this, unless you were photographed at a public festival during your workday or something.

  17. Artemesia

    Great example of quickly banking good will. I think this kind of thing is not that rare. We have a close friend who took on a demanding new job and ended up in the hospital two weeks later with what looked like a heart attack. It turned out he was basically running on coffee and working around the clock to get things under control on a very demanding job and ended up exhausted and with electrolytes out of balance. It was very scary but he bounced back and went on to excel in the job for years.

    In my experience, it sometimes helps to laugh at this with your peers so they don’t feel they have to treat you with kid gloves, but of course it is tricky. You don’t want this to be how they view you.

    Sometimes too when something humiliating happens, you just have to suppress it and move on.

    1. OP

      Hey, the electrolyte thing!!!!! I kept getting muscle cramps too. Wow that makes so much sense

      1. Not So NewReader

        Minerals, OP.
        Cramps from the knees down is probably potassium. Bananas and cantaloupe will help.

        I mentioned a little bit ago, I was not getting my regular amount of veggies and I got all kinds of weird muscle stuff going on. Put veggies in a blender if you want and drink them down.

  18. hello coco

    OP, i’ve definitely been in your position re being so stressed and sleep deprived and out of it that i missed work (in my case, i passed out on the subway). just a thing– I’m also a young woman and there’s so much pressure to perform well and achieve everything at work and be the best ESPECIALLY as a junior employee and a woman in a male-dominated office. please take care of yourself. there’s a difference between a couple stressful weeks after which you recuperate and consistently being stressed and sleep-deprived bc you’re pushing yourself to perform, and it’s really easy to let #1 become #2. to the extent you’re able to prioritize sleep, eating well, and using your downtime to actually relax, you’ll be a better employee too! don’t neglect your health and well-being for a job.

  19. MommyMD

    It happens but not much. You made amends and are obviously a great employee. Personally I would have gone with the I’m so sorry I wasn’t feeling well and collapsed asleep in my bed, without all the other explanations and explained it as a one off. If you get too much on your plate you are allowed to ask about prioritizing. Not sure sleeping meds are the answer.

  20. Famous Blue Raincoat

    OP, I kept thinking how fortunate it was that you fell asleep in a safe place (at home) rather than behind the wheel of a car or on public transit in the presence of strangers, or in the middle of handling some important work matter. Of course it’s not ideal that you passed out and missed work, but it could have been so much worse. If I were your manager, your safety and health would be the higher priority than the absence–sounds like your boss agrees.

    As many others are saying, you sound like an amazing employee who just got overworked and overwhelmed, physically and mentally. Trust your boss that you aren’t in the doghouse forever about this, and let yourself out of that doghouse because you are taking the right steps to move forward.

    As for others who are treating you differently now, to some extent just be normal around them and the shame will dissipate–if you aren’t weird about it they won’t be. Don’t be overly apologetic because you already apologized; if it feels right maybe make the occasional self-deprecating remark about your savior tendencies (obviously don’t do this in a way that treats the situation in a cavalier manner, but there might be a way to find humor here and there).

    You are awesome, you will get past this, and your work will speak for itself (sounds like it already has). And do continue to prioritize your health and get your sleep. You got this!

    1. Lindsay J

      Yeah, I fell asleep at the wheel.

      And, prior to that had spent many times napping in my car at what I judged to be the safest nearby parking lot when I finally decided I needed to pull over. Sometimes what I deemed to be a safe parking lot turned out to not be really safe.

      (Sidenote, I get knocking on someone’s car door to see if they are okay when you see them sleeping in a parking lot. I don’t get actively hitting on them once they confirm that they are in fact alive. Like, I really don’t understand the thought process there.)

      Also, when working at a mall and at an overnight job I would occasionally doze off in the food court on my lunch break. I’d like lay over top of my purse and cell phone so as to not get them stolen. Well, one time I forgot to set my alarm, or woke up and turned if off and went right back to sleep. And slept for several hours. Until someone woke me up because they were worried I was dead or ill. I ran back to work, mortified, and things were mostly fine.

      1. Not So NewReader

        The time I blacked out from exhaustion, I had just finished a 180 mile drive. I got out of the car and dropped. I still have no clue why I did not black out behind the wheel.

      2. Lauren

        I fell asleep on my coffee break (15 minutes) once – I slept for 45 minutes. Slunk back to my desk; I don’t think anyone noticed.

      3. Mrs. Fenris

        A colleague of mine, someone greatly respected in my field, died in a one-car accident several years ago. It was suspected that he fell asleep at the wheel. It was tragic.

  21. JR

    Omg this is basically my WORST nightmare!

    I feel for you OP, but it sounds like everything is going to be okay. You are a hard worker and your boss knows that. If anything, your boss probably appreciates this incident as a wake-up call to do a better job being mindful of your workload. I’m sure this will blow over soon.

    Best of luck!

  22. Naptime Enthusiast

    OP, your manager is telling you to cut back and get better, and that is priority #1. You have an awesome manager for recognizing this need and working with you. As for your coworkers, I would second Alison’s advice to talk to your manager first, rather than going straight to your coworkers and offering to help out as you normally would. Make sure that you two are aligned first and he knows you’re in a better place, but if he wants you to hold off on taking on new projects for a little while, trust his judgment on that.

    I was on track to burning myself out, though not to this level. My manager saw the red flags early enough that he encouraged me to take a step back on my extra commitments and focus just on the non-negotiable ones and my job. It took a really long time to learn not to be the first person to step up whenever a volunteer was needed, or offer to help out a coworker on a deadline, but it was so incredibly important for my well-being. Eventually you can step up and be a super star again, but take this time to focus on you and your job requirements.

  23. MommyMD

    Sick IS exactly right because your body is not functioning properly if you have no control over it and collapse in your bed for eight hours in a hard sleep. Exhaustion. It doesn’t just mean tired.

    1. McWhadden

      Yes, I completely agree. She was as sick as someone with the flu for that day. She wasn’t just too lazy to get out of bed.

  24. Facepalm

    A friend of mine did some thing similar to this. She’d moved to a big city for an incredible and incredibly competitive job she’d landed, was doing great. One day she decided to take advantage of one of their cool amenities, the nap room. Except she set her alarm for pm, not am, and slept for HOURS. She was so mortified that she cried about it in front of her boss and coworkers. Looking back, there was probably an exhaustion factor and a proving herself factor at play too. But it was fine, and she continued to work there for over 5 years, getting awards and prestigious projects. It was a crappy thing that happened, but you’re clearly valuable to your boss and your job and even though you’re feeling embarrassed now, this doesn’t define you or or your relationship to your office. It was just a thing that happened. You and your boss made the necessary adjustments, and in 5 or so years, you may be laughing with the same group of people about it.

    1. Mouse Princess

      Honestly, if they provide a nap room, they should expect this to happen every now and then!

  25. Sleepy Anon

    Definitely don’t beat yourself up. I once accidentally overslept *substantially* on the second week of an internship I was able to earn good will back and I’ve been able to maintain a positive connection for a long time (even though they still poke fun occasionally). Granted, I bet I was cut more slack because I was an intern, but my point is more that this stuff sometimes happens. And you are fortunate that you were able to earn your good will beforehand, and also your reason was actually legitimate!

  26. TootsNYC

    In my first-ever management gig, I called my subordinate to see where she was, because she hadn’t shown up. At first I thought she was just at the library and I’d forgotten, and she’d forgotten to leave a note.

    Then I got worried, so shortly after noon I called her and woke her up. I asked if she was going to come into work today, and she was so puzzled, why was I calling her before work even started? of course she would be there! I pointed out that it was nearly 1pm.

    Her loft bedroom was completely interior, so very very dark w/ no change in lighting to trigger the body’s natural cycles. And her alarm hadn’t woken her, for whatever reason.

    My response: “I think this means your body needed that rest. We will call this a sick day, because obviously this is a health issue. See you tomorrow!”

    I didn’t fuss over her the way these people are, but absolutely she got that response from me because she was diligent about her job. Maybe she had (like my college age son, grr) stayed up too late doing stupid stuff, but fundamentally, she needed to take care of her health that day.

    So for you, I would say just be solid going forward. Treat this now NOT as some mortifying thing, but as though you were ill and didn’t realize it. And don’t talk about it again, don’t apologize again, don’t respond to their solicitousness in anything but a matter-of-fact way.

    This will pass. It will become some funny story from long ago.

    1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty

      >(like my college age son, grr)
      What a lovely name. /jk

      Once, one winter day when I was at university, I woke up after going to bed at about ten o’clock, checked the time, and found that it was 5 o’clock. I looked outside and saw that it was dark. So I assumed that it was 5am and thought I might as well get up now I’m awake and well-rested. So I walked into our shared kitchen and found that it was full of people. What were they all doing up and dressed when it was morning and I was still in my pyjamas? Well, the answer to that is: it wasn’t 5am, it was 5pm.

  27. Wendy Darling

    I kind of needed this letter.

    I ended up in the ER last week (I’m fine! Had to check though) and had to take two days off of work and was terrified that I was going to lose my job, especially since I’m just about to go from temp to permanent. I felt SO BAD about calling in even though my work is light right now and at worst I maybe mildly inconvenienced 1-2 people. I was also terrified that if I admitted what had happened they wouldn’t think taking time off was justified. (I also felt like this about going to the ER, even though I called my insurance company’s consulting nurse line and was told to go to the ER.)

    I think there are these weird cultural messages that screw us over. One of them is that being healthy is a moral imperative — I feel like my poor health is actually a MORAL FAILURE. If only I had eaten the right things and exercised the right way, none of this ever would have happened! And the other one is the expectation that you will be endlessly dedicated to your work, and that being a good employee means not taking a sick day and not getting overwhelmed and not saying no to things. You’re supposed to be so passionate and dedicated that your physical needs go away.

    So we end up working ourselves half to death and then we feel bad about ourselves when we collapse.

    1. Polaris

      I did this two weeks ago! It was not great! I talked about it more downthread, but I ended up out for a week.

    2. DD

      Wow, this is so, so, insightful. Thank you for sharing. I especially resonate with the observation that being healthy is subtly (or maybe not so subtly) enforced as a moral imperative in the current US culture. It’s not just cool or hip to be eating healthy and working out (which should magically translate into perfect health–uh, not). I blog about eating healthy while having fun, and while I do think doing things on a personal level that promote health is generally a good thing, I really, really need to think about what kind of message I’m sending there, implicitly or explicitly.

    3. Oranges

      Yes. I can understand where the bad health = moral failing (Just World Error), but where oh where does the “endlessly dedicated to work” come from? The only thing I can see is the under-dog mythos we like but it seems too pervasive for that to be the only reason….

    4. Not So NewReader

      People want a magic button. Eat right then it will be okay. Exercise then it will be okay. There is no magic button.
      Health is a combination of many activities, diet, exercise, rest, nutrition but wait, health is also contingent on our surroundings. Toxic partners, toxic workplaces can tear down the healthiest of people. There are so many things that go into being healthy.

      My father quit smoking cold turkey, three packs a day. “There. Done taking care of my health.” He started drinking. And he died from the fluid build up in his body. It was a lot of years and a lot of tears.
      More goes into health than just one thing.

      OP, you said your previous place was toxic. I can assume that you were losing vitamins and minerals because of the stress. Then you got New Job, and omg, people are nice and the place is heaven. So you work your butt off in gratitude. This means more vitamins and minerals get up and leave.
      Perhaps you pump coffee. Coffee will take calcium out of the body at four times the normal rate. That is just one example. No sleep means your body cannot run the processes it needs to run. Did you know that while we sleep our bodies make a particular type of blood sugar that cannot be found anywhere in anything? We can only get this type of blood sugar from sleeping.

      Take a look at the articles coming out of Japan. Young people dropping dead from lack of sleep. They work long hours and die.

      I am hammering on this point because there is nothing to be embarrassed about, your body is working as designed. It’s odd, you know. The car quits and we realize, “Should have bought gas.” But we are routinely surprised when our bodies run out of fuel/energy.

    5. MommyMD

      I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. I’ve got a bad pneumonia now and feel zero guilt about being out eight days. We work hard and when sick we need to recover. And I know I got it at work. I’m lucky in that no one bothers me when I’m out.

  28. OP

    As it’s the middle of the workday and my lunch break is over, I just want to say thank you to everybody for the honest and kind, sometimes pretty funny!, advice.

    You’ve really helped normalize my mood and I can’t believe how resoundingly unanimous the feedback is. I promise I’ll take care of myself, guys! Or, to be realistic, at least make some improvements ;-)

    Thank you especially because if I handled it well at all, it’s from everything I learned from this blog. Seriously! I never had good workplace role models until now, and I’ve googled every little question I had – right here at Ask A Manager.

    The advice here from Alison and readers is really top notch, so thank you all again!!!

    1. Amber Rose

      OP, you sound like a smart, conscientious, slightly stubborn person so I think you’ll rock out loud as long as you don’t get too carried away again. ;)

    2. Aunt Vixen

      Fellow sufferer here. A few years ago I started not being able to sleep more than a few hours a night. I’d go to bed at a normal time and wake up two or three hours later, still very tired but simply unable to get back to sleep, and I’d lie there until about half an hour before the alarm went off, when I’d finally drop off again – only to be awakened, of course, midway through a sleep cycle. It wasn’t long before this was literally ruining my life. My hair was falling out, skin was ashy and crumbling, I gained weight, it was all no good. (For me the solution turned out to be quitting caffeine for a while and then reintroducing it before noon only, but I was lucky it was that simple.) Sleep dep is no laughing matter and dealing with it absolutely a health issue and health issues is what sick days are for, so in short: I love your boss and your team and you’re doing great.

  29. ArtK

    As many have said above, please stop beating yourself up about this. Frankly, I wouldn’t view this as “epic” in any sense. As a manager, I’d be extremely concerned about you. Not so much your professional ethics and competence, but simply your well-being. You can’t do a good job for me if you’re coming apart at the seams.

    That said, there is some coaching that I would do. In my view, you’re actually too dedicated and trying too hard. I would be coaching you on raising issues before you start falling asleep. It sounds like you went through a period where your work and life commitments got to be too much. Bring those to me sooner and we’ll see about an adjustment. I’d much rather have you tell me “Hey Boss, between making my deadlines at work and trying to find an apartment and adjusting to a new commute, I’m getting 3 hours of sleep at night. This is temporary, but is there something we can do in the short term?” I’m big on work/life balance and sometimes that balance swings towards life. If you told me you were out partying until 3AM, that would be a different story.
    TL;DR: You were in a tough situation and I would expect you to reach out to me. No Wonder Woman/Iron Man heroics!
    BTW, I really hope that you’re taking public transportation. If you are driving then I’m going to be a lot more forceful in my counseling. I’d much rather have you miss a day of work than end up a driving statistic.

  30. MsSolo

    I feel like working yourself to exhaustion then convincing yourself that you’ve made an unforgiveable mistake and beating yourself up about it to this extent suggests a common root cause. It’s a feast and famine approach that your older colleagues may have seen before, which might be why they’re going out of their way to be good coworkers (which is to say, sympathetic and helpful human beings). I’d suggest talking to a therapist to get some additional perspective about what’s going on with you here, and why you’re pushing and punishing yourself so much. At the very least, they’ll be another neutral party to bolster Alison’s reassurances.

  31. Oxford Coma

    OP, you sound like the sort of person who feels guilty about self-care.

    If that’s so, instead think about this from your company’s point of view. They’ve already shown themselves to be supportive of the changes you need, so they obviously think that the cost benefit analysis of your being healthy is a worthwhile investment. They don’t need the optics of an employee’s name on the police blotter for falling asleep at the wheel and plowing into a busload of nuns.

  32. Lauren K Milligan

    The best way to get people to stop treating you delicately is with humor. In a meeting or over lunch, or somewhere where there is a gathering of a few coworkers, look for a way to make yourself the butt of a joke. If someone in the group complains because a delivery comes in late, make a joke about the delivery driver pulling off to the side of the road to catch up on sleep. Or put a dish of candy on your desk, and tell people they are NOT sleeping pills. Neither of those are hilarious, but you get the point. Take advantage of a situation when it comes up to make a joke. Everything will go back to normal.

    1. Yorick

      I wouldn’t do this. It will keep reminding people of this. It’s a one-time thing and everyone understands and is moving past it or will move past it soon. But if people think on it too long or believe that it is ongoing, it could become interpreted as “OP isn’t able to handle the stresses of the job.”

    2. Penny Lane

      No. Just keep on doing your job with excellence. Don’t call it out. It will all return to normal. Her coworkers aren’t thinking about this near as much as she is envisioning.

  33. Samata

    Before I read any other comments I just have to say that I am impressed by this boss and his concern for your well-being. You did this well after you proved yourself, and I don’t think the follow up steps are gendered based on how your boss handled the initial situation – you collapsed from exhaustion and your boss and co-workers are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again because they value your work and don’t want to lose you.

    If you end up in the same state chances are high you’ll leave, that is probably what they are thinking.

    They may be unsure on how to navigate as well, so it might be a great step to have the talk Alison suggested or slowly start offering to take things on or doing things a little above and beyond to show you are recovered and not going anywhere.

  34. Yorick

    In addition to working on your sleep, consider treatment for your anxiety, since you say that keeps you up at night.

  35. Knitting Cat Lady

    Long term sleep deprivation is really really really bad for your health.

    Before I had my sleep apnoea surgically corrected I lived in a constant fog of exhaustion. My blood pressure was beyond bad.

    And your body will take the sleep it needs if it can, like happened to you, OP.

    Sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment (memory, concentration, etc. go down), which you have experienced as well.

    So, think of it this way:

    Your body gave you a warning shot. If you keep going the way you were you’ll probably arrive at burn out sooner rather than later.

    And miss a lot more work.

    You like your work. You want to do an excellent job.

    The only way you can do that long term is if you take care of yourself.

    So, dial it back a notch or two at work.

    As someone who had just about every sleeping issue possible at some point I encourage you to take this seriously. You can really fuck up your health.

  36. Rachel Green

    OP, it sounds like you handled this very well. The one piece of advice I would give in addition to what Alison has said, is that sleep is SUPER important and you should make it a top priority. Set a consistent sleep schedule (follow it on the weekends too), and drop whatever you’re doing at bedtime and go get 8-9 hours of rest. If you have the time, read a book called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, and you will understand.

  37. Purpose

    It sounds like you have a considerate and flexible company/boss. That said, please prioritize your health, sleep quality and balance above all else, especially the job. It’s not normal for an adult to accidentally and unintentionally sleep through an entire day unless there’s a medical issue going on, so that is understandably why everyone is now treating you with kid gloves.

  38. LBK

    I’m just surprised that you could even sustain your work quality on 3 hours of sleep a night. If I have 2 bad nights of sleep in a row I’m practically useless at the office.

    1. Rachel Green

      Me too! If I get 7 or less, I know my day is going to be horrible. I have to get 8-9 a night. I’m guessing she was running on new job adrenaline, but it definitely caught up with her!

      1. LBK

        Yeah, I’m assuming at the very least there was a steady stream of caffeine being consumed as fast as humanly possible.

        1. MsAlex

          If I don’t get enough sleep, I turn into a very cranky toddler (I’m in my 40’s) so I try to avoid that as much as possible. I’m an 8-hour-a-night kind of person, no question.

  39. Manager Mary

    (Did not read other comments, sorry if repeat) I cannot recommend the book The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington highly enough. She summarizes a lot of really eye-opening research and study results that helped me prioritize my sleep. I knew I was a bad sleeper, and I knew it was affecting my life, but I didn’t really understand *how much* of an impact it was having until Arianna Huffington read the results of dozens of very convincing studies to me. It is much easier for me now to call it a night with my friends, put down my phone and go to bed, or turn down new obligations if I know I’m already booked up. Because I KNOW that anything else is coming at the expense of the quality of all my work, my health, and my life! FOMO has been replaced by “fear of ruining my life with sleep deprivation.” Or perhaps more accurately, “peaceful acceptance that I need 7.5 hours of sleep to feel rested.” :)

  40. Trillion

    I did this a few months into a new job. Being overworked, living alone in a new city, and not having health insurance to afford my depression medication all formed a perfect storm.

    The boss was a lot less understanding, but at least he didn’t fire me. I went on to work 6 wonderful years at that job until I was laid off during a RIF. I’m still friends with that boss to this day, and I don’t even think he remembers that incident now. I should ask him as I’m going over to his place tonight for dinner.

  41. LouiseM

    OP, I wonder if you feel like you’re being punished by having your workload redistributed. You aren’t! It’s a very, very good thing that they did this. You were overextended and something needed to change. Try to see it as a positive.

    1. k.k

      Good point! Don’t feel like they’re redistributing work because they’re walking on eggshells or babying you. We tend to assume that our bosses and coworkers have a solid understanding of what we’re doing, but often they just see that everything is getting done and don’t think about the back end details. This incident likely made them take a step back and look at everything that was on your plate, and realized it was more than one person could be expected to do.

  42. Mouse Princess

    This reminds me of something that happened to me. I had started a new job that was high stress, had some really tragic family issues, and moved all within the same month. I was driving to pick up bagels to train my staff (yes I was training my staff within the first month of starting work there!) and I rear-ended someone. The cars and passengers were all fine, but I was so flustered and exhausted and ended up being so late to the training. I really thought I had screwed up massively. It turned out everyone was super sympathetic and treated me like you would anyone else who had a fender bender. It wasn’t a huge deal. This was a really supportive office, but I found that generally if you act like you’re fine, people treat you like you’re fine. You’ll be surprised by how quickly people forget about this if you stop bringing it up.

  43. Phoenix Programmer

    Fellow exhaustion sufferer here. It’s nothing you could have done. I remember one time I slept from 7pm Friday night until Monday morning at 7am waking only once to go to the rest room. Another time I was at work but could barely function and got sent home and ended up sleeping two days again. I am good about sleeping regularly now.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yep. The time I blacked out, I went to a family member’s house after the ER stop. I slept four days straight. The doc ordered me to sleep for a month. Family made me get up and use the bathroom and eat a slice of toast each day so that my organs did not shut down entirely. That was very annoying but I complied as I knew they were saving my life.

  44. Seal

    As I will be moving halfway across the country for a new job with more responsibilities in a few months, this letter is very timely for me. Don’t beat yourself up over this, OP – sounds like you have an awesome boss!

  45. Polaris

    I was doing this with my new job – it’s the first stable job I’ve had in a long time, and I was desperate to keep it and kept worrying that the rug was going to be pulled out from under me. I was so careful about not taking too many sick days, for instance. But I’d been sleeping poorly, and running out the door in the morning without eating or drinking.

    I collapsed on the bus on the way to work. A day in the hospital will do wonders for your perspective. I missed the next week recovering from the exhaustion and the cold I acquired from the hospital. I’ve since worked on getting my sleep schedule on track (consistent bed times, sleeping pills as needed), and making sure I get water and at least something into my stomach before I leave. Could this all have been avoided if I’d been doing this from the beginning? Yes, but my sense of ‘normal’ had been skewed by the precarious nature of the part-time work I’d been doing for so long.

      1. Polaris

        I do – sorry if the wording was a little funny. The past tense was because I don’t have those habits anymore. I had some PTO saved up so I was able to play it by ear and come back once I felt okay enough.

  46. Corporate Cynic

    Also, it may help to think of it this way – imagine if you HAD shown up to work that day, exhausted (i.e. if you had managed not to collapse back in bed). Would it have been a relatively productive, error-free workday? Probably not, which may have led to bigger issues – so maybe bowing out unexpectedly worked out for the best!

    1. Roja

      I was thinking something similar. In a sense, OP is very lucky that not only did this happen in a safe place physically but that she caught it before she started making massive errors at work from exhaustion. I can’t quote chapter and verse but IIRC there’s been a bunch of studies done that when you’re sleep deprived you feel like you’re fine but in reality your judgment and reaction time are severely impaired.

    2. Lumen

      THIS. A thousand times this. Being sleep deprived is physiologically not much different from being severely intoxicated. Exhausted people don’t function very well. Exhausted people get in car wrecks. Exhausted people miss details and make mistakes (and depending on your commute and your work, these mistakes can be life/limb-threatening).

      OP, if you were so tired that you could not keep yourself awake even after the jolt of realizing you were late, there is no guarantee you would have gotten to work safely in the first place. I’m glad your employers are taking this seriously as the health issue it is. Show them your gratitude by giving yourself more time to adjust to your new lifestyle and workload so you can ramp up more realistically, but let go of the guilt.

  47. Menacia

    Hi OP, sounds like this was a wake-up call (pun intended) for you to make sure you are taking care of YOU first. Your boss put it very well in that you are only human and had a lot of life changes going on. Something I would recommend you do is not avoid your coworkers! I’m sure they will be taking their cues from you, so just stay your stellar self, but don’t overextend because you now know the consequences. Sounds like this is a win/win for you, doing work you enjoy, and having a great boss and colleagues in your corner….now you just have to get yourself in the same corner! :)

  48. Anon for this

    Oh OP, I did way worse, got suspended for 2 weeks and returned to the job for another few years. I was embarrassed and mortified. The board wanted me fired but my boss said he couldnt run the place without me. Goodwill is a thing.

  49. Cordoba

    In this situation I would just leave the sleeping part out and just say “I wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t come in. Better now though, nothing to worry about.” This happens all the time, it’s a normal thing that reasonable organizations wouldn’t think twice about.

    In high school I missed an afternoon job interview because I fell asleep instead. In this case I was just about ready to go and laid down on the carpeted floor to grab a pair of shoes from under the bed. Hours later I woke up still on the floor and never heard a thing from the company either way. One of my teenage superpowers was sleeping wherever and however I could; being on a soft horizontal surface for 5 seconds was all it took that day.

    1. McWhadden

      I don’t think she could have left out the sleeping part. Because she had to explain why she didn’t call in.

  50. ZVA

    Hey OP, I haven’t read all the comments so maybe this has been said, but… you might try thinking of this as a good thing! I get why you’re embarrassed — though I don’t think you necessarily should be, I would feel the same way — but it’s clear that your workload was untenable, and if you hadn’t overslept, it might have stayed that way for God knows how long (which is bad enough) and even caused worse consequences down the line, professionally and to your own mental and physical health.

    You spoke to a doctor, you’re getting more sleep, your workload is more manageable… it sounds like this incident helped bring your life into balance, and that’s a good thing. Maybe thinking about it this way will help you move on from the embarrassment as things get back to normal, which they surely will.

  51. sunshyne84

    Well at least you weren’t gambling in Vegas all night then had to fly back home an hour later and go to work that afternoon….

  52. TootsNYC

    I want to make a point about taking on too much, and wanting to be so helpful and so valuable, etc.

    It is not actually an admirable thing. It’s counterintuitive–but so are wheels on the end of a suitcase instead of the hinge side. And yet, those wheeled 1970s Samsonite suitcases kept falling over…

    This is going to seem a little harsh, and I don’t mean it to be so, really. What you’ve been doing is very common, and it’s intuitive. I want you to consider that there is actually something wrong with it at its core–not just that it’s hard on you, but that it’s fundamentally WRONG. “Morally” wrong, in a way. (quote marks intended)

    Taking on work that should probably be done by someone is disrespectful. And it is unprofessional and UNhelpful for the organization. Also, it is not strategic, and therefore it’s a bit selfish; it’s about you, and what you feel, and what you want.
    It’s not about the task, or the organization, or the other people.

    When you do things instead of someone else doing them, you take away a growth opportunity for that other person. That’s not helpful. Not for them, and not for the organization (which needs its workers to be constantly improving0.

    Better to offer your expertise as a background resource, and let them have at it.

    When you “do it all,” you take away information from the organization. It’s not sustainable, for you to do everything; it’s a temporary fix, a bandage. And so the organization may not have the info it needs to hire, delegrate, train, etc., to provide true coverage.

    It’s not fair to the task–the task (if we can personify it a bit here) needs the attention of someone who can prioritize it. When you are stretched too thin, the task doesn’t get done as well as it should.

    So, stop it.

    Here in NYC, we talk about standing on line, not “in line.” I have theorized that this preposition is the one of choice because, if you walk up to a hot dog cart on the corner, and no one is waiting to buy a hot dog, a NYer can still tell you “where” the line is. She’ll point to the area of the sidewalk that, if there were people waiting, they’d be standing. The physical line exists for us, mentally, even if no one’s in it. (In the Midwest, where I grew up, there isn’t a line unless someone is IN it; you have to participate before we can even talk about it.)

    So think about those invisible yet clearly defined “lines” of the tasks at your new company. Nobody’s doing them right now, but whose tasks should they be? And think about the TASK, not about YOURSELF.
    Think about what the task needs, what delegation/assignment would be best for the entire organization?
    And not about what would be best for you (to make you look good, or to make you feel valuable).

    Good luck! This is a hard, hard thing, the turning away from the “savior” mentality.
    I always joke that I read WAY too many comic books as a kid, and I definitely have a superhero complex.

    But in recent years I’ve begun to see how self-centered that can be. And I’ve realized that it’s kind of rude to step up and take on a task that someone else can actually do just fine. Or, fine enough if they have access to info if they need it.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Great points.
      I have had the same little chat with myself. Yes it is hard to hear, harder to absorb and even tougher to apply to life. But it’s something that is very valuable.

      I went to “Who am I trying to save?” The answer of course is ME. Oddly saving all the people in the world will NOT save me. I put a huge investment into my own self-care. Changed just about everything I was doing. I decided to just save me. Then odd things happened, my NO came back, I did not need to put my mitts into everything and a bunch of other worldview stuff changed. I liked me better. I showed up for work everyday. A couple people asked me “how do you keep going?” Lessons learned hard, friend, lessons learned hard.

  53. Caraval

    OP, I feel your pain! I got extremely ill my first semester of college, so ill I had to take a medical withdrawal. I’d already been a bit of a mascot/little sister stand-in to the rest of my major’s department because I was there young, and when I came back everyone was -super- solicitous. It didn’t help that I did have to be very careful of my energy and sit a lot still.

    The main thing is that they’re doing this because they care about you. Try to refocus the thoughts of people having to treat you differently because you messed up into them treating you with care because -they care-. Wouldn’t you be checking in with someone you liked after they’d been ill? Would you want them to feel guilty because they’d been overworking and exhausted themselves? Of course not.

    Be as kind to yourself as you would to others. I know, it’s really hard. I’ve spent years working on it and I still struggle.

    And yes, as I took care of myself and just acted as though everything was normal (it was–getting ill and taking care of yourself and then getting better is normal) everyone relaxed and stopped hovering. Your coworkers will relax around you too.

  54. Nita

    OP, you were definitely unwell… it happens to everyone, and it’s nothing to beat yourself up about. Your coworkers are probably treating you with a bit of concern because they know this happened from overwork, and they’re not sure how much they can put on your plate, and whether you’ll be able to tell them no if it’s too much. Just give it some time. As long as you’re better about setting limits, they will see they can trust you to not burn yourself out again.

    I wonder if setting a limit on how many hours you’ll work per week will help. Of course there are emergencies sometimes, but if every week is an emergency, something’s wrong and it’s not even your problem. More likely, it is a staffing problem that can only be solved by hiring someone else or by management saying no to new work. Also take care of how well you’re eating and drinking. If you’re propping yourself up with tons of caffeine and chocolate, that can backfire over the long term. I once ended up in the ER because without realizing it, I ate way too much chocolate (and chocolate milk) to stay awake through finals week… my heart wouldn’t stop racing, and I was convinced it’s a heart attack until the doctor started quizzing me on my diet. And last of all, it’s OK to let some non-essential things slip while you’re settling into a new job. Just put them off by a couple of months, and make a plan about when you’ll get back to them if all is well.

  55. Espeon

    OP I can only echo everyone else; you completely overhauled your life and were getting three hours’ sleep per night – that fact you passed out is completely UNshocking. If you don’t care for your body and mind, they will MAKE you care, because that’s *their* job.

    Please look after yourself better OP! Nothing is worth sacrificing your health for, nothing at all.

  56. Gorgo

    Am I alone? This is a situation where I would lie. I would probably say I drafted an email explaining I was suddenly unwell but oh no apparently I didn’t hit “send,” I’m so sorry, I’ll be more conscientious next time.

    1. MissDissplaced

      I think I would have said I suddenly got sick after the phone call (or said I wasn’t feeling well on the call) and then passed out instead of the “exhaustion” reason. But that ship had sailed.

  57. Eliza

    OP, I’m in a similar situation to you right now (although not quite to the point of sleeping through a whole day). I took on too many projects because I wanted to be helpful, and now I’m several days late on a deadline because I underestimated the amount of work it’d involve and overestimated how much I could put in. Fortunately my boss has been very understanding about it and doesn’t seem too upset; she’s been overworked too, and the workplace as a whole has been pushing back a lot of deadlines and delaying a lot of projects recently, so I think there’s a general recognition that the current pace isn’t sustainable.

    Anyway, the point is that nobody can carry the weight of the world on their own: missing a day of work without warning is something that could happen to someone for a number of reasons, and people will find ways to work around it. Obviously you don’t want to make a habit of it, but treat this as a learning experience rather than a disaster.

  58. Kat

    Can I just say, I get that what happened has ramifications for everyone a few months down the line, but so do most things! You won’t be the first person who’s caused others to have a wee bit more work on their plate. Things happen and people adjust. I’ve had extra work because my colleague has been on maternity leave and I’ve been the only senior person on the team, so I’ve had less flexibility to do many things. It’s OK, though, because I get that she has a life and stuff goes on. I have lent on that flexibility myself when I’ve needed to. You were honest, you’re clearly a good employee and you have an understanding and sensible manager. If people want to treat you differently, that’s up to them. You cannot change what they do or feel. All you can do is keep being ace and working hard, and forget about it. You can’t turn back time, so stop worrying about the fact that you can’t. Just keep moving forward and take care of yourself.

  59. What's with today, today?

    I did this. New job, new city. Exact Same scenario. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease three weeks later. While in ICU. Go to the doctor, just in case.

    1. OP revisiting

      Oh my god. Yup. This is exactly what happened. I’ve been to dozens of appointments and the first thing they diagnosed me with was Crohn’s. (then fibromyalgia, and other things pending). Thanks so much for sharing – it helped me out a lot!

  60. WillowSunstar

    I once was over 20 minutes late to work and was late to a meeting because I had slept in through my alarm clock. At least I had a reasonable excuse — I had just gotten back from China a couple of days ago, so my body clock had not quite reset itself yet. Having worked with that boss for a number of years, I did not get in trouble because I did good work for him and was otherwise a few minutes early to work.

    1. Not myself today

      I can beat that. I slept through my alarm, a couple of phone calls, a meeting and the whole morning. It was 5 days after flying from the other side of the world and the jetlag just flattened me.

      It was a bit embarrassing at the time but it didn’t do my long-term reputation any harm. You’ll recover from this!

  61. Anonymous Ampersand

    “I woke up late, emailed the administrator to let her know I was on my way in, and then when I sat on the bed to put on my shoes I must have just passed right back out again for about another 6 hours. Just sheer exhaustion, I guess.”

    This is really telling to me. You actually woke up late and emailed, but even the adrenaline shot that being late will have given you wasn’t enough to keep you awake. Definitely not fit to be in work.

    Good luck OP. Take care of yourself!

  62. MissDissplaced

    I think you just need to move forward in a normal manner. Keep normal and regular work hours, be productive and proficient. Eventually, people will forget about this just as they do when anyone gets sick for a day.
    Given the circumstances it was understandable even if not ideal. Quit beating yourself up over it.

  63. mf

    Totally agree with Alison’s response, except for one small quibble: I really believe that if you’re so exhausted you *can’t* stay awake, then that definitely counts as sickness. Your body was in an unwell state, so much so you experienced an adverse physical reaction you couldn’t control.

    Maybe re-framing it this way will help you stop beating yourself up and, in the future, will help you give yourself permission to get some rest before you feel this terrible.

  64. Lumen

    Honestly all I have to add is that just from your letter, you sound like someone who is committed to the work, to respecting the trust of their colleagues, and to their own health/needs. I’d probably want to hire (and retain) you, and be seriously disappointed if you wouldn’t slow down as necessary and ended up burning out and leaving my imaginary organization.

    This will be okay sooner than you think. I once woke up at noon to a coworker knocking on my door (they already knew where I lived from a furniture trade we’d done outside of work; it wasn’t creepy) because I had slept through both my alarms and my office was seriously concerned something had happened to me. And in my case, it wasn’t because I was overworked; it was just an accident. But even then, it really didn’t take long for everyone to more or less forget about it. Stuff happens.

  65. Llama Grooming Coordinator

    So, like, everyone has said this and I’m repeating this, but I just really want you to know this, LW:

    1) First and foremost, you are not your company. Don’t feel terrible about needing to take some time for yourself. Don’t feel bad that you gave more than your all and eventually couldn’t keep up.

    It sounds callous, but they survived with you and will most likely survive without you. If you are the only thing holding the company up, then they have bigger problems than you can solve by yourself. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn with my own company – they can get along just fine without me. (It helps that I’m less senior than it sounds like you are.)

    2) You are not a disappointment, and you’re not letting anyone down by not being able to work yourself to exhaustion forever.

    3) Your coworkers and your company are worried about you, and that’s why they’re treating you gingerly. Because that’s what happens when people care about you and they see you pushing yourself past your limits and making yourself unwell – they want to help if they’re in any way decent people.

    I have so many more thoughts on this, which I might add on later. But dude, like…honestly, I just want you to be well and want you to have your best life.

  66. ReanaZ

    I agree with other commenters that you don’t need to beat yourself up but you do need to take this as a serious wake up call.

    I have been there. I’ve probably done the overwork-til-exhausted-health-effecting-burnout thing 6-7 times in a notable way. What can I say, I’m a stubborn learner.

    I did get a little better at not doing this each time and the crashes have gotten farther apart over the years BUT my body’s resilience also got lower each time as well. Eventually, I made myself so sick (and injured) I had to take almost an entire year off of work to recover. It was a hard lesson but that finally shook me into taking my health and well-being seriously and I have been working hard at this ever since.

    Don’t be me. Being me kind of sucks in this department. Put serious work into learning to look after yourself now, before your body makes you.

    Also…some commenters have hinted at this or suggested seeing a therapist to figure out how to care for yourself. I don’t know you or your past, and I don’t want to project or assume. But I can say that every single person I personally know who works like me, in unhealthy, unsustainable ways til they collapse? Every single one is a trauma survivor and most had pretty rough, highly critical, or otherwise chaotic childhoods. We’d spent most our lives learning we weren’t worth taking care of so of course we never learned to take care of ourselves. It’s hard work but so vital to unpack that shit, let people support you, and learn the world won’t end and people won’t all hate you if you’re less than perfect. That may not be relevant to you but thought I’d say it. Either way: YOU ARE WORTH TAKING CARE OF SO GO FORTH AND DO IT.

  67. Not myself today

    OP, a trick I use when I’m flat out is telling myself sleep is one of my project deliverables. That way I feel justified putting stuff on my to-do list like “Go to bed at 11pm”. It makes quite a difference to how I feel about it. Going to bed on time starts to feel like an achievement.

  68. jessica

    You mentioned “taking a few days to work “undisturbed” from home (which was his way of letting me know it’s okay to nap)”

    I totally don’t get this- how do you interpret it that way? Separately, the rest of the story does sound like he’s encouraging you to rest and recover, but this particular instruction to take a few days to work undisturbed from home sounds like he is asking you to … work from home. Not nap. Sounds like he wants you to get enough rest so you can recover and work a more normal schedule without exhausting yourself, but I don’t see how this instruction tells you to nap. Wouldn’t he have just said “take a couple days off to recuperate and then we’ll get you back onto the projects with a more manageable workload” if that is what he meant?

    1. Some Sort of Management Consultant

      I think that’s a “know your boss” thing. I would absolutely have interpreted it the way the LW did. I think the context and the tone probably said a lot.

  69. Safely Retired

    “When someone sleeps through an entire day of work, what conclusions are you likely to draw about that person? Generally, you’re going to assume either they’re sick or they’re really cavalier about work.”

    Or sleeping off a bender (passed out drunk, or from some other overindulgence).

    (You apparently don’t deal with the same sort of folks as my father did when he was a supervisor for a large security company. Which is good for you!)

  70. Justin Case

    OP, I’ve done the same thing twice in my life – once in grad school, and once in a full-time job. Both times I wasn’t sleeping much and was working long hours. Both times, this was the first sign of very early pregnancy. It may be worthwhile to check if there’s even a remote chance – just in case. You know your own health and what’s normal for you, and it sounds like exhaustion from overwork, stress, and a major life change could easily have been enough to knock you out for a day. However, if there’s any doubt in your mind, it might be worthwhile to check if early pregnancy exhaustion could be a contriuting factor.

  71. Anna

    Not sure if this helps or if anyone else noticed this but I think your boss also knows how valuable de-stressing is! Recognizing the high stress in himself and doing something about it means he values reducing stress in others. So I think you are on the right track and things will begin to feel back to normal soon.

  72. Kelsi

    Oh man, OP, I totally get the mortification–I have literal nightmares about sleeping through/forgetting/otherwise missing a whole day of work without calling and wake up shaking. But Alison’s right–the way your boss and coworkers responded shows they don’t see this as a huge, embarrassing faux-pas where you let everyone down. They see it as a perfectly understandable health issue that you handled as well as you could.

    You know that saying, “fake it till you make it”? I’m one of those people who would rather be in excruciating physical pain than be humiliated, but I survive embarrassment by pretending VERY HARD that I have no reason to be embarrassed and focusing on ACTING normal even if I don’t feel it. That speeds up the process of everyone else forgetting about it and treating you normally again by a LOT, even if it’s super difficult in the moment.

  73. Birch

    This is a challenging position and most people have been there at least once! But OP, you really didn’t need to tell your employer you “slept through a work day” as if you’re a guilty schoolchild! It’s commendable that you want to be so honest with your boss, but you could (should) have just said you had a medical emergency (which you did) and that it’s in treatment now, but it was partially caused by work stress and could you together work on setting more reasonable goals. It’s none of your boss’s business what exactly happened, and I would not use that phrase “slept through” in this situation because it just makes it sound like you can’t adult properly.

    Also, for those times when you do oversleep for whatever reason (as a procrastinating insomniac night owl, I’m a master oversleeper), you don’t need to grovel or offer too much information. You don’t even need to say you overslept–it just makes you look bad. Apologize, accept consequences or fix the situation, and move on. This is sort of the difference between making embarrassing mistakes as an inexperienced youth and as a professional adult—you need to learn to keep your composure while asking for the accommodations you need and apologizing for mistakes.

  74. Akcipitrokulo

    It will be OK. I did something of similar arg-ness – we do out of hours releases, so roughly once a month, I go home, sign in, and am working from roughly 7pm to around 10pm. So one of these nights, I knew was doing it, said bye to manager when left and said “chat later”, got home about 6pm, thought “cool, time to make dinner first”, made dinner, thought “will finish this and log on” … and then it went out of my mind. Totally. No idea what happened, but I suddenly realised it was 22.30 … signed on in panic and found boss had covered for me…

    Next morning I went straight to him and apologised so much. I seriously had no explanation for what had happened. But I’d been there for 3-odd years, always been available for these, always been reliable in past – and it’s never happened since! – so I did manage to get past it. And you’ll be able to as well.

  75. Nicole

    OP, I know how you feel. In the fall of last year, I suddenly found myself repeatedly oversleeping and being late for work. It got to the point that I finally emailed my boss and asked, “If we weren’t short-staffed, would I be fired by now?” She responded by saying that normally I’d have been written up by now, but because of how flexible and accomodating I’ve been to our schedule, it wasn’t escalated.
    I’m happy to say that my sleep schedule is better controlled now (I recommend the app Sleep Cycle—haven’t overslept once since I started using it) and my work hasn’t suffered. I’ve even since been awarded for my excellent work.
    The point is, you will move on. Like Alison said, you’ve built up capital from working so hard there, and that matters. Please stop beating yourself up over it! You can’t change what happened but if you keep kicking butt at the job, this will end up a distant memory. Guilt is only useful if you learn from it. You have DEFINITELY learned from it; time to let it go.

  76. Empty Sky

    The problem is not that you slept through the day, but the behaviors that you engaged in that led up to it and probably made it inevitable. You seem aware of this yourself (you mention savior syndrome and never wanting to say no).

    Here’s a thought: since you seem to have an awesome manager, a supportive team and have apparently already proved your worth to the team: how about being up front with him about it? Tell him what you told us about savior syndrome, your tendency to overload yourself to the point of missing sleep, and everything you know that contributes to it. Mention the times when it’s happened in the past. Describe it as an area you’d like to improve on and ask for his help in doing so. Set one of your goals to be achieving a healthy and sustainable work practice that allows you to contribute effectively in the long term. Then come up with a plan together to make it happen.

    If you trust him (and yourself) enough to do this, it could offer several advantages. It focuses on the root cause (the tendencies that cause you to get into these situations, rather than the situations themselves). It frames it as a problem to be solved in a professional context. It enlists the help of your manager (and your colleagues, if you choose) in both helping you come up with a solution and supporting you and holding you accountable in any steps you take in that direction. Most importantly, it lays out a desired future state in which you can be treated as a normal, valued employee and not something fragile and breakable, and charts a (hopefully realistic) path to that outcome. If your colleagues stop thinking that it’s something that might happen at any time without warning, and start thinking of it as something that happens predictably and in response to certain circumstances and behaviors that you are bringing under control (and that they can help you control) then they will probably relax and start treating you like a normal person again.

    Not everyone has this option, but it’s the kind of thing that’s supposed to be possible if you have a good manager and a supportive work environment – which it sounds like you do. Why not take advantage?

  77. SpaceNovice

    I think everyone might be “walking on eggshells” around you partially out of guilt. If they’re good people and didn’t realize you were overworking yourself with all of their requests, they’d feel super bad. They might be worried you would resent them or hate them for “putting you in that situation”. This isn’t just a wake-up call for you but for your whole company.

    While it sucks that it happened the way it did, your body did a favor by passing out at home. It sounds like you’re doing really well with figuring out a better balance! Make sure to take it easy and don’t load up on work too quickly. It takes time to get better at judging things, especially since you worked in a very toxic work environment before and don’t have the usual sense of what’s normal and not. (Having to stay at work late at work occasionally is normal. But work should never cut into your sleep time if you’re not working on critical systems. You’ll do more and better work in 6-8 hours with 8 hours of sleep versus 16 hours on 3 hours of sleep.

    Your brain needs time to process! Let it sleep. I don’t know how many problems I can’t figure out that I’ve solved just by sleeping. You’re working even while you’re sleeping–you’re just not aware of it.

    Also, maybe look into the Pomodoro technique–it sounds like you might not give your brain enough breaks in general. It generally suggests 25 minutes/work with 5 minutes break, but I have seen people do 45min/15min, too. Your brain needs time to recuperate during the day, too.

    Good luck, OP! It sounds like you’re figuring a lot of this out now.

    Your boss did a good job in responding to the situation.

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