Sleep and Stress: Sleeping the Night before a Job Interview (or other big, important event)

Today I had a job interview. It was the first for me in many years. I usually do pretty well in job interviews, but I still get nervous beforehand. They are very stressful! I found out back in December that my “position is being eliminated”, so I consider this to be the first of potentially many such interviews over the coming weeks and months.


When interviewing for a job, of course you want to be at your best. You want to be prepared to answer all those questions, you want to be able to express yourself clearly, you want to know about the job for which you are applying, and so on. Another key part of good preparation is to be well rested. This can be a challenge. Sleep and stress don’t tend to mix that well. The butterflies that spring up don’t usually wait until right before the interview, but may start days beforehand. This can make sleep a challenge the night before, when it is most important.

Now, I am no stranger to the struggles of trying to sleep the night before a big event. I am a runner and a marathoner, and I always get a bit nervous before these stressful events, especially the marathons. In fact, marathons can make me feel a little anxious as much as a week beforehand. Also, a couple times a year I have to teach a forty minute lecture to over 200 people. And, there are other momentous (stressful) events that come up throughout any given year that can make sleep difficult. So, over the years I’ve developed a few tricks that help me to get through the nervousness, and I’m happy to report that last night I was able to sleep reasonably well. How was I able to do it?

First of all, job interviews are like a lot of other things that cause stress – the more times you do it the easier it gets. This first interview of mine will make me more nervous than any others I do afterwards. So, one thing I did to reduce nervousness was I selected a job position that I wasn’t that excited about. I saw it as an opportunity to practice my interview skills more than anything else. I told my wife this morning on my way out the door that my goals were “to not make a fool of myself, and to not get taken by surprise by their questions”. This principle can be applied to other situations, too. Are there ways to reduce the nervousness by changing your attitude about the event? It is a good idea to set some goals for the event, and if needed these can be fairly easy to meet, especially when you know you will have other opportunities to do better. The night before a race I will often tell myself it isn’t a very important race. The next morning I will have time to change my mind and get geared up for it, but for now it’s just an unimportant race.

I also prepared myself during the day yesterday to ensure I slept well. I got up early enough yesterday morning that I would be sleepy that night. I got a lot of exercise during the day (a two plus hour run), but made sure to finish it many hours before bed, so I was physically wiped. And I followed many other of my best sleep tips as well. By the time I went to sleep I was ready for it, and could not have stayed awake longer even if I’d wanted to.

Lastly, I took control of my mental thoughts. I didn’t allow my brain to think about the interview. This can be difficult to do, but it is something anyone can learn to do with practice. The key to removing unwanted thoughts is that you have to replace them with something else. You can’t just say “I’m not going to think about that”. You have to also say “instead I’m going to think about this”. Pick something that you enjoy thinking about, and that is not stressful, and whenever you start feeling a little nervous shift your thoughts to the other thing. With practice you can become a person who is master of your own thoughts.Another thing to keep in mind when trying to control your thoughts is that the nervous thoughts will creep back in from time to time, but don’t give up. Just take a moment to refocus, take a few deep breaths to relax yourself, and then shift your thoughts to something else. If this redirection of your mind only lasts you five minutes before you become nervous again, so be it. All that means is that you are going to get a lot of practice with this technique. And, when trying to sleep, five minutes is enough time to relax the brain and allow it to become drowsy.

I hope these tips have been helpful for you. I’m sure many of you have found some great tips to get through these situations as well. If so, please list them in the comments so we can all learn together.

Happy Sleeping!

p.s. I found out at the end of the day that I did get the job! This was unexpected. As I said, my goals was only to get a passing grade, not the A selection. Not sure yet what I will choose to do, though.

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