How Sunday Scaries Sabotage Sleep — and 7 Ways To Soothe Them

Anxiety about the upcoming week can throw off your weekend and destroy your sleep. Here’s how to make your Sundays soothing, not scary.

Shot of a young woman looking thoughtful while relaxing on the sofa at home.
Getty Images

Few people look forward to the end of the weekend. But for some, facing the week ahead after two whole days of relaxation can fill Sunday nights with anxiety, fear, stress, and sleep troubles.

That feeling is called the “Sunday scaries,” and if you’ve ever experienced it, you’re not alone. According to research from LinkedIn, 80% of professionals deal with Sunday anxiety, including 94% of Gen Z and 91% of Millennials. That’s a lot of collective dread.

So why do Sundays feel doomed for so many of us? Here’s a look at the reasons behind the Sunday scaries and ways to reduce the anxiety that could be sabotaging your sleep as you prepare for the busy coming week.

What are the Sunday scaries?

The Sunday scaries are that sense of anxiety and disappointment many people feel as the weekend comes to a close, and they shift their focus to anticipation of the workload and stressors of the week ahead.

“It’s the nervous tensions, anxiety, high level of distress, or sometimes even dread about the end of the weekend and the return to work,” explains Sarah Ross, Ph.D., professor at the University of Phoenix’s master of science in counseling/clinical mental health counseling program.

“It’s a feeling of being in fight-or-flight mode that you just can’t wind down,” she adds.

While the Sunday scaries aren’t a condition with a clinical diagnosis, the Cleveland Clinic notes that they can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of dread
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Racing pulse
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Difficulty sleeping

The Sunday scaries usually set in as bedtime approaches, starting during the late afternoon and worsening as the evening progresses. However, for some, they can start when you awaken on Sunday mornings, affecting your entire day.

It can be helpful to remember that anxiety is your mind’s way of trying to keep you safe. A healthy level of anxiety about an upcoming presentation at work, for example, can push you to polish your slides and prepare your speaking notes.

“We’re built to have a certain level of anxiety; it keeps us on our toes,” says Ross. “But when it goes a bit haywire and you’re having this feeling all the time, it becomes an issue.”

In other words, an occasional bout of the Sunday scaries isn’t something to worry too much about, especially if there’s a specific cause. But if anxiety ruins your weekend repeatedly, it’s worth investigating the source of the anxiety and finding strategies that can help you cope.

What causes the Sunday scaries?

The Sunday scaries come from an inability to stay in the present moment, explains Nina Smiley, Ph.D., director of mindfulness programming at Mohonk Mountain House in New York and co-author of “The Three Minute Meditator.” Rather than focus on your Sunday, our brains are already working overdrive to prepare for Monday and the rest of the week, creating a sense of anxiety.

“We’re coming from the weekend when things are relaxed, and we’re having fun. As we look toward the next day, there may be an awareness of something challenging coming up,” Smiley says. “The mind begins to seize hold of that and consider what could go wrong. It’s anticipation that builds on the fearful side of our minds.”

Causes of Sunday anxiety vary from person to person, but work stress is a huge component.

“If you aren’t really enjoying your employment, you have this idea of it being a chore,” Ross says. “And even if you are satisfied with your job, the workload and demands can play a role in the Sunday scaries. You know that come Monday morning, you’ll have a bunch of meetings on the schedule and tons of tasks that only you can take care of.”

A lack of work-life balance can also trigger end-of-weekend malaise. According to research from LinkedIn, 44% of people say that trying to balance their professional and personal to-do lists is the biggest cause of their anxiety at the end of the weekend. Another 39% say that thinking about the leftover tasks they didn’t finish the previous week causes their Sunday scaries to creep in.

If you're unsure about the exact source of your Sunday scaries, try to notice what triggers your anxiety as you think about the coming week. It could be a lingering task you didn’t wrap up last week, an overloaded schedule for the week ahead, interpersonal issues, or something else entirely.

How do the Sunday scaries affect sleep?

The dread from the Sunday scaries can turn into sleep troubles once bedtime rolls around. “The Sunday scaries tend to come with racing thoughts and your mind ruminating. As you lie in bed, all those things are going on in your brain, and it’s hard to settle it, so you can’t get to sleep,” says Ross.

Research published by the Journal of Sleep Research noted that rumination plays a huge role in poor sleep quality among relatively healthy young adults.

Stress — another component of the Sunday scaries — is another known sleep disruptor. According to Baylor College of Medicine, people experiencing high levels of stress take longer to drift off at bedtime and tend to wake up throughout the night, leading to poor sleep overall. That’s the last thing you need if you’re already worried about a busy week ahead.

“You may wake up at 3 a.m. thinking about something you anticipate happening the next day, and then another story comes into your mind. You think: ‘I’m going to be a wreck tomorrow because I’m not getting the sleep I need.’ It’s cumulative,” explains Smiley. “The storylines start to build in a way that gets the mind racing instead of cleared for the opportunity to fall into the sleep state.”

As a result, you start Monday morning feeling exhausted and unable to tackle your to-do list for the day, leading to even more sleep-disrupting stress.

Finding ways to soothe the Sunday scaries can help break the cycle, though. Here’s how.

7 ways to soothe the Sunday scaries

1. Try meditation

Meditation can help you quiet the mind and stay in the present moment rather than worrying about what happened last week or what’s to come, says Smiley. “When the Sunday scaries set in, pause, take a few gentle breaths, and set an intention of observation and gentle curiosity,” she says. “We can learn what we’re anticipating and let it go to return to a state of relaxation and greater resilience because we’re no longer owned by worry.”

Smiley notes that meditation sessions don’t have to be marathons — just three minutes of sitting with your breath as you wind down for bed can work wonders on the Sunday scaries.

2. Adjust the structure of your weekend

Many people fill their Sundays with chores and long to-do lists to prepare for the week ahead, which can prevent you from getting the rest you need, says Ross.

“There are ways we can structure our weekend that change the way we view Sunday going into Monday,” she explains. “Try spreading those chores throughout the weekend and pushing some off until Monday, when you’re already in the zone from being at work.”

Once Sunday is cleared, fill the day with self-care activities and things you really love to do, which can help keep the scaries at bay.

3. Get some exercise

Can you outrun the Sunday scaries? Possibly! Physical activity can improve your mood and reduce anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. It helps your brain release endorphins that boost your sense of well-being and keep your mind off worries. Plus, just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise is linked with higher-quality sleep that same night, per Johns Hopkins Medicine — a win-win. Just remember not to exercise too close to bedtime.

4. Practice good sleep hygiene

Good sleep habits can help prevent the Sunday scaries from keeping you up all night.

Be sure to keep a consistent wake-up time and bedtime (no revenge bedtime procrastination!) all week long, including the weekends. Ditch the electronics and screens before bed — they emit blue light that tricks your mind into thinking it’s daytime. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or big dinners before you hit the hay. And try to set a sleep-inducing bedroom environment that’s relatively cool, quiet, and as dark as possible.

5. Don’t go into work mode

Tempting as it might be to check your email on Sunday night to get a jumpstart on the week, don’t do it, says Ross. “It doesn’t actually prepare you; it just triggers your Sunday scaries,” she explains.

Instead, try to be present in the moment and fill your day with joyful activities. You could even consider taking a mini digital detox and turning off all your devices, even just for a couple of hours, to help you disconnect.

6. Plan to treat yourself

Giving yourself something to look forward to on Monday can make the end of the weekend feel less anxious. You might plan to swing by your favorite coffee shop on your way to work, wear a new outfit, or plan something enjoyable for after work, such as going out with friends or rewatching a movie you love.

7. Get creative

You don’t have to be the next Picasso to reap the therapeutic benefits of making art. Research shows that being creative can make you happier and improve your sense of well-being. Next time the Sunday scaries edge into your weekend, distract yourself by drawing, coloring, painting, or doing any other creative activity instead.

When should you see someone about Sunday scaries?

If you find yourself overwhelmingly worried every Sunday or find that your anxiety is impeding on your sleep, this may be a sign to talk to a professional. A professional may be able to offer treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy or anti-anxiety medication.

Feeling anxious about going to work on Monday can be totally normal, especially after a particularly relaxing weekend. However, if you find that you can’t help but feel anxious about what’s on your plate for Monday, take time to think through what the source of your stress is and make a game plan to tackle it.