Remote working – the practice of working from home, or a space outside of the corporate office environment – has in the last couple of years become an intrinsic part of life for many of us. The remote workforce has exploded since 2020. The United States alone jumped from six percent of employees working from home full-time to over one-third. Working remotely comes with many benefits: workers can kiss a stressful commute goodbye, there is increased flexibility, often increased productivity, and a reported boost in overall happiness.
Despite these advantages, working remotely can place pressure on workers to always be online, responsive and readily available. Over time, our need to be constantly connected, along with the devices we use to stay in touch, can negatively impact our sleep. It appears that hybrid and remote work is here to stay, and in order to maintain healthy sleep habits, we must learn how best to balance our online and offline time.
Remote work and its effect on sleep
- For many, shifting from an office setting to working remotely blew up normal routines, requiring long adjustment periods and in many cases impacting sleep.
- The benefit of removing a commute with stressful mornings and early wake-ups, can be to allow your body to wake up naturally in a light sleep phase. While for some this will prolong sleep, others may find it is counterbalanced with an increased propensity of going to bed late, sleeping in and foregoing regular sleep times.
- Working from home blurs the lines between our workplaces and our place to rest, making it difficult for our brains to exit “work mode” and enter “sleep mode”.
- For parents, combining childcare with a remote work environment means interrupted work, leaving less time for sleep as they may choose to work later instead to finish projects.
- When you don’t feel like you can unplug in a work-from-home setting, your stress levels can rise, which can disrupt your sleep. This stress is compounded by anxieties related to the news, finances, and the pandemic.
- Remote work increased overall screen time for employees, as formerly-in-person meetings were moved online. Over time, the blue light from these screens may impact sleep, especially for those who continue working close to their bedtime.
How to improve sleep when working from home
1. Set boundaries and clear working hours: Since there’s no clear delineation between work life and home life when working remotely, it is up to you to set your own boundaries and draw a line between work and leisure time. This is key to maintaining balance and allowing yourself time to unwind before bed.
Try to only work within a set time frame, and once working hours are done, go for a walk or do another small activity that can signal to your brain “Work is done for today. We’re relaxing now.” Turn off work-related notifications on your personal devices to avoid getting sucked into something that will ruin your downtime and your sleep.
2. Soak up some sunlight: Exposure to natural light is crucial to maintaining healthy circadian rhythms, which influence our sleep and waking cycles. A commute offers this exposure, but with remote work, it can be hard to even make it out of the front door during the workday. Making the effort to get outside while the sun is out could make a difference in your sleep quality. Natural light in the morning is especially effective to help you sleep better at night.
If possible, set up your work-from-home office in a place that has access to natural light, so that you can feel the shifting sunlight all day long. When you’re done working, you can signal to your body that it’s time to get ready for bed by dimming the lights in the evening.
3. Prioritize a wind-down routine: before you go to sleep Working from home can be stressful, so it’s important to develop a relaxing bedtime routine that helps you unwind. This can involve meditating, reading, listening to peaceful music or journaling. Journaling has the added benefit of helping you track recurring habits that may be interfering with your sleep.
It’s also important to take breaks throughout the day to help compartmentalize the working day, breaking it up into specific blocks. In an office setting, breaks occur naturally; when working remotely, you’ll have to schedule them in.
4. Stick to a sleep schedule: Working remotely completely upended most people’s routines and disrupted their sleep schedules. Our bodies crave predictability, so sleeping late and hitting snooze because you no longer have to drive to work can throw everything out of whack. Get back into the rhythm, and back to restful sleep, by designating a specific bedtime and a wake time. Try not to stray from your schedule once you set it, even on a Monday morning.
5. Create a good environment for sleeping and working: In order to create an effective boundary between working and relaxing (thus making it easier to sleep), it’s important to create a designated workspace that you only use during working hours. Ideally, your workspace would not be in the bedroom, but we know this is not always possible.
As comfortable as it may seem, avoid working from your bed. When you work from your bed, your brain begins to associate being in bed with wakefulness, which makes it harder to fall asleep. When it is time to go to sleep, make sure your room is cool, quiet, and dark.
6. Find time to move: You may think you can’t leave your desk when working from home because “what if a Slack message comes through while you’re away?” But just 30 minutes of exercise a day can be enough to improve your sleep.
7. Limit screen time at night: Whether you want to relax by scrolling through TikTok, or if you insist on checking email just one more time before bed, our devices emit blue light that can cause increased alertness. Plus, what you do on those devices can be stimulating, keeping you up way past your bedtime, making it harder for you to fall asleep. Put down the devices at least half an hour before bed to give yourself time to calm down.
8. Get dressed for work: As tempting as it may be to roll out of bed and start working in your pj’s, prioritize simply getting showered and dressed. This can create a helpful distinction between your wake up time and the work day ahead of you.
Balancing your online-offline time while working remotely can make all the difference to the quality of your sleep and the quality of your work. Poor sleep means poorer work, so prioritize a good night’s sleep to ensure that you’re showing up to work happy, healthy, and energized, ready to face the – remote – day!