Remote Work and Sleep

With technological advances such as Wi-Fi, email, and video conferencing apps, it’s easier than ever to do a full day’s work within the comfort of your home. But is that the best thing for you?

A 2017 study by the International Labour Organization compiled research from organizations in 15 countries. The report highlighted the pros and cons of working remotely, such as more flexible hours but an overlap between your work and free time.

One difference between home-based teleworkers and those working on their employer’s premises? Forty-two percent of home-based workers reported waking up repeatedly during the night, while only 29 percent of those who commuted to an office reported these sleep disturbances. Other studies have further suggested that remote working can have a negative impact on your sleep.

Why Can Remote Work Affect Sleep

Hard to Get Away From Work

When you commute to an office or other work setting, you’re usually able to leave your job behind and go home at the end of the day. That can be harder for many to do when you’re working remotely, and the line between your personal and professional life becomes blurry.

Sleep complications can be caused by working in your bedroom. Yes, it sounds comfy to just sit up in a bed and type away on your laptop, but that can turn your brain away from thoughts of sleep when it’s bedtime.

Too Much Freedom

Many remote workers can set their own work schedules. If you choose to start your workday late or get too distracted, you find yourself rushing to finish up your tasks late in the evening. Blue light exposure in the evening suppresses melatonin production, a hormone that helps you fall asleep.

Varying your work schedule can also upset your circadian rhythm, which governs your sleep-wake cycle. If you start working at 7 a.m. one day and 2 p.m. the next day, your body will find it hard to determine when to fall asleep and wake up.

Stress

Working in a more relaxed home setting doesn’t guarantee you’ll be from work-related stress.

Yes, you avoid the stress of morning rush hour, but there’s still deadlines and expectations to meet.

There are even stressors unique to those who work from home—for example, people collaborating on group projects while far apart may find themselves struggling to meet deadlines. And freelancers working from home may stress about where their next job will come from. A 2019 study linked employment insecurity to a 47 percent increased risk of sleep disturbances.

Loneliness

If you’re working from home, you’re probably not interacting with other people as much as you’re used to every day. Since social isolation and loneliness are not the same things, you may be fine with that. One scientific article defined the two as follows:

  • Social isolation is when you have few social connections and interactions.
  • Loneliness is subjective, based upon a perceived discrepancy between how much you would like to interact socially and how much you are interacting socially.

Too much loneliness can have a lot of negative side effects, such as higher levels of stress and increased risks of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia. Studies suggest sleep loss is another possible consequence of loneliness.

And if you’re trying to replace traditional social interaction by spending more time on social media? Too much time on social media can impact your sleep, as well.

We’re not saying you have to avoid social media, just use it in moderation. A 2018 study suggests around 30 minutes daily.

Pain from Poor Posture

Back, shoulder, and neck pain are all common problems if you don’t have the best workplace setup at home. And insomnia is often linked to chronic pain. If you don’t take steps to alleviate or prevent pain, you may find it difficult to fall asleep at night.

Can Remote Work Help You Sleep Better?

So we’ve covered a wide range of reasons as to why remote workers often suffer sleep loss. But is it possible to sleep better because you’re working from home?

Remote workers often have more freedom about when they can wake up. Even if you have to stick to a normal 9 to 5 work schedule, you likely have more free time in the morning. Instead of getting ready for the office and commuting to work, you can sleep in and get a full night’s rest.

Workers often feel happier and more productive when they work from home, as a recent poll suggests. Forty-four percent of more than 500 surveyed Americans felt more productive working from home and 51 percent said they would love to work from home full time.

When you’re working from home, the focus isn’t on how much time you spend in the office but on how much you accomplish task-wise. Considering that a U.K. poll suggests the average office worker is productive for about 3 hours a day, remote working may not cause the drop in productivity that businesses often fear.

Feeling a high sense of job satisfaction may translate into a better night’s rest. A 2019 study linked higher job satisfaction with better sleep quality in shift-working nurses.

Finally, if you’re a freelancer or your employer pays you per task rather than by the hours you work, you may accomplish all you need to do in a shorter workday.

Remote Working Tips for Better Sleep

Working from home doesn’t have to doom you to a poor night’s rest. We have a few steps that should help you sleep well at night.

Maintain a Consistent Schedule

If you want to fix your sleep schedule, ask yourself how well you do with sticking to a daily schedule. If you’re working at different times every day, it’s harder for your internal clock to keep your sleep-wake cycle on track.

You should establish a daily routine, and it doesn’t have to be the same as when you would get up to head into the office. Just try to wake up and start working at roughly the same time every day and set yourself a definite end time for your workday. Don’t forget to schedule in time for lunch breaks, walks, and stretches to help you remain productive throughout the day.

As part of your routine, we recommend you sign off all electronic devices with 2 to 3 hours of bedtime. The blue light from an electronic screen has been tied to difficulties with falling asleep. If it’s unavoidable for you to stare at a screen before bed, activate night mode and dim screen or try a pair of blue light filtering glasses.

Create a Workspace Outside of Your Bedroom

If you’re working from home long-term, you probably want to do more than just clear away a spot at your kitchen table for your laptop. When you set up a workstation, our recommendation is to keep it outside of your bedroom.

When you work and sleep in the same room, then your brain often associates any stress or anxiety you feel while working with your sleeping space. So that when you try to fall asleep at night, your thoughts might dwell on a project that’s due soon or difficulties with a customer or coworker.

Treat your bedroom as a sanctuary away from the troubles, and set up your permanent workspace in your living area or a spare room. Look for a brightly lit area free of distractions, and with a comfortable place to sit.

Do you have limited space and have to work from your bedroom? Then try to do so from a table or desk. As comfortable as working from your bed might be, bedtime might feel like trying to fall asleep at your desk.

Establish a Work-Life Balance

When you work from home, it can be hard to step away from work and relax. BHSF, an occupational health service in the United Kingdom, did a 2019 survey on employees who worked from home two days a week. The results were that 44 percent answer emails outside of their work hours every day, while 82 percent respond to out-of-hours emails at least once a week.

And some people just have trouble putting work down, no matter if they’re at home or in a more traditional workplace. A 2010 study tied workaholic tendencies to sleep problems such as excessive daytime sleepiness and trouble waking up in the morning.

Take advantage of “Do Not Disturb” settings and let yourself take a step back from your job at the end of your workday. And give yourself a couple of breaks during your workday or at least a nice lunch break. A 2017 survey found that workers who take a lunch break had greater levels of employee engagement and happiness.

If you find yourself feeling anxious after work or when you’re trying to fall asleep, try writing for a few minutes in a journal every evening. It doesn’t have to be masterful writing, just a simple description of your worries and possible solutions to paper.

Stay in Touch with Social Connections

Too much loneliness can affect how well you sleep and vice versa. A 2017 study found that feelings of loneliness are associated with reduced sleep quality in young adults. And the results of a 2018 study suggest that sleep loss can cause you to feel lonely and withdraw from social interactions.

In today’s modern world, there are plenty of ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and coworkers without leaving your house. Try video calls instead of emails or text messages for a more personal touch.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

There are a few universal sleep tips, whether you’re working from home or commuting to an office:

  • Restrict your caffeine intake to morning and early midday. Caffeine takes hours to leave your system.
  • Try to have your last heavy meal three to four hours before bedtime. Digestion can keep you from a good night’s rest.
  • Your bedroom should be kept dark to promote sleep. Try blackout curtains or an eye mask.
  • Cool temperatures signal to the body that it’s time to fall asleep so set your bedroom’s thermostat between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Make sure you’re sleeping on a quality mattress and pillow. A good mattress is the difference between waking up well-rested and waking up sore and stiff.
  • If you’re an anxious clock watcher, turn your alarm clock away so you can’t see the time. This can keep you from dwelling on thoughts such as, “I need to wake up in 7 hours and 50 minutes, I should be asleep already.” And if you have difficulty waking up, place your alarm clock out of your reach, maybe even across the room. This will prevent you from mashing the snooze button and falling back asleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stay awake while working from home?

If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep and find yourself struggling to stay awake, here are a few tips for waking you up:

  • Take a walk before work or on a break. Sitting in one spot can cause you to feel tired while moving around can increase your alertness. You can even try walking while working, such as while taking a phone call.
  • Spend a minute or two in a cold shower.
  • Work in a brightly lit room. Let in some sunlight if you can, turn on some bright lights if you can’t.
  • If you’re working on a difficult project and find yourself getting tired, try switching to an easier task. Something as simple as replying to emails can give your mind a chance to recover.
  • Drinking a caffeinated beverage can help you wake up, but don’t forget to drink water. Dehydration can leave you feeling sleepy or lightheaded.
  • When you get hungry, snack on foods with protein and carbohydrates. Try to avoid sugary sweets and drinks.
  • Listen to some music—rock, pop, and metal tunes can help you wake up. If you’re alone in the house, you can even crank up the volume.

Does working from home make you tired?

It can, and for a few different reasons:

  • Working in your bedroom can cause you to associate it with wakefulness, making it difficult to fall asleep at night.
  • Your normal routine is changed when you start working from home. If you’re staying indoors all day, you can miss cues for your sleep-wake cycle, such as sunlight and exercise.
  • Working in your home can blur the line between your personal and professional life. Some people find it hard to step away from work when their office and living space is one and the same, causing them to work longer hours.
  • Most people work on a computer when they’re working from home. Even sitting at a desk and browsing the web can eat up your energy, while the blue light of your screen can make it hard to fall asleep later. Checking social media can impact your sleep, as well.
  • You may find yourself feeling lonely when you work from home, particularly if you live alone. If your loneliness becomes depression, it can cause you to miss out on sleep.

How long can you go without sleep?

The world record for how long a person has gone without sleep is 264 hours. That’s a record likely to remain unbroken because the Guinness Book of World Records no longer accepts entries for sleep deprivation. Most of us feel the effects after one night of little to no sleep.

Are three hours of sleep enough?

When it comes to getting a full night’s rest, three hours of sleep is not enough. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep to feel refreshed the next day. Some need more if they lead a demanding lifestyle, such as professional athletes who often need 10 hours of sleep for maximum recovery.

However, getting any amount of sleep is always preferable to skipping sleep altogether. Some sleepers may even feel refreshed when they wake up if they have completed two sleep cycles. According to Harvard Medical School, the first sleep cycle takes between 70 to 100 minutes, while the following cycles take about 90 to 120 minutes.

How much sleep do I need by age?

As a general rule, how much sleep we need decreases as we get older:

  • Newborns (0 to 3 months old) need 14 to 17 hours of sleep
  • Infants (4 to 11 months old) need 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers (ages 1 to 2) need 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschoolers ages 3 to 5 need 10 to 13 hours
  • School-age children (ages 6 to 13) need 9 to 11 hours
  • Teenagers (ages 14 to 17) need 8 to 10 hours
  • Younger adults (ages 18 to 25) need 7 to 9 hours
  • Adults (ages 26 to 64 years) also need 7 to 9 hours
  • Older adults (age 65 and older) need 7 to 8 hours

Did We Help?

It can take time to adjust your routine and work from home successfully. Creating a daily work schedule can help you stay on track and not only meet your deadlines but get a good night’s sleep.

Try to keep work out of your bedroom and ensure your room is set up to promote sleep. That means it’s dark, cool, and equipped with the best mattress for a comfortable night’s rest.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Michelle Zhang, Wellness Writer Michelle Zhang

Michelle Zhang is a regular contributor to our Zoma blog and is our go-to sleep researcher. In her time with Zoma, Michelle has researched and published many articles on widespread sleeping habits and troubles. In her time outside of Zoma, Michelle is an occupational therapist and long-distance runner. She believes leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to getting better sleep at night.

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