Objectives: The current study examined the extent to which symptom improvement and full return to work occurs among clinically burnt-out employees and what the influence of concurring sleep problems is with respect to health recovery.
Methods: Fifty-nine burnt-out employees on extended sick leave assessed their symptoms for 2 weeks using an electronic diary. After 6 months, the measurements were repeated. Symptom levels were compared with those of a healthy reference group that was assessed only once.
Results: After 6 months, all burnout symptoms had decreased significantly, and full return to work was achieved by 37% of the burnt-out individuals. The symptom levels at 6 months of follow-up among those who had fully returned to work were similar to healthy levels and significantly lower than the levels of those still on sick leave. The persons who benefited poorly from sleep at baseline had higher exhaustion levels at follow-up than those who benefited from sleep. Trouble falling asleep and less refreshing sleep at baseline hampered eventual full work resumption.
Conclusions: The results show that a significant number of clinically burnt-out employees is able to recover in a 6-month period and that sleep plays an important role both in symptom improvement and in return to work.