Swapping the power suits for PJS: How clean is your bed?

Remote working is not a new concept, however since the start of the coronavirus pandemic it has been one that millions of Americans have had to adapt to, and that some plan to stick to forever. 

Working from home has complications, but also has perks such as not having to sit in uncomfortable suits or uniforms, saving a fortune on commuting and employees can work in a comfortable space. However, when wanting to explore how working from home has been for many Americans, we quickly discover this in fact meant working very comfortably indeed – after surveying 2,347 US residents we found a fifth (21%) of those working from home work from their beds.

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We decided to investigate working from home habits after recent national data showed that the number of US employees working from home five days a week or more has increased by over 150% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.*

The results from the poll were shocking, and despite knowing some workers would be sitting on their mattresses whilst sending their emails, we were amazed to discover just how many people are doing just that.

In response to the findings, we can share that our sleep experts have determined that this will result in a variety of issues, including some pretty unhygienic environments. 

Our research found that it’s extremely unhygienic to work-from-bed (WFB). Internal research found that on average bed sheets collect around 5.9 million bacteria per square inch after two weeks without washing***, and if people are spending an extra eight hours in their bed each day, this could double to around 11.9 million, which is 239 thousand times more bacteria than what is found on the average toilet seat****.

Working From Bed Infographic

Key findings from the WFB survey include:

  • Less than a quarter (24%) would consider themselves as ‘very happy’ 
  • Two fifths (41%) do not wash their bedding more frequently, even though they spend more time in bed 
  • Over half (55%) stated they suffer with neck, back, and shoulder pain
  • WFB could lead to 11.9 million bacteria*** on their bed sheets in just two weeks, which is 239,240 times the amount on a toilet seat****

Aside from less sleep, there are many further complications and health issues which can manifest due to the result of working from a bed, including postural pain, increased stress levels, and concentration and performance issues.

As such one of the most prevalent issues of WFB is a person’s exposure to blue light, as the increased contact with blue light, especially in the evening, suppresses melatonin production, the hormone responsible for helping a person fall asleep.

It was also found that the respondents who WFB had a staggering 56 minutes less sleep a night than those who work from a remote setup outside of the bedroom. 

To help you avoid any of the above complications and help you sleep while working from home we have put together a guide.

Find a workspace outside of your bedroom & ensure you’re sitting comfortably

If you’ve been working from home for a while now, you’ve probably got an established workspace, however as these findings reveal, this doesn’t mean that’s the best place to work. When working from home you want to find somewhere that’s not simply a convenient place within reach of your laptop charger. Your workspace should be 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 work issues rather than switching off.

Your bedroom should be a place you can get away to in the evening and shut the door on all your day-to-day stresses. Therefore, try and set up your workspace in a spare room, kitchen or living area. When in your room of choice, try to find somewhere bright to sit with natural sunlight and with a comfy seating option. As we have mentioned, one of the most apparent complications of working from bed is the impact it has on a person’s postural health. Try and find an upright supportive chair to work from, allowing you to concentrate better while also being comfortable.

You may be asking, what if I only have my bedroom to work from? If this is the case, try to do work from a table or desk where possible. Although comfortable and convenient, working from bed is the worst possible option for anyone working remotely so try to avoid it when you can.

Maintain a consistent work and sleep schedule

Sleep and work schedules go hand in hand; if one is suffering the other is bound to follow. If you are working at different times every day, it’s harder for your internal clock to keep your sleep-wake cycle on track and likewise if you’re staying up until sunrise, working the next day isn’t going to be easy.

Setting a daily routine does not mean you have to be working to a regimented schedule but just try to wake up and start working at roughly the same time every day. This also means setting yourself a definite end time for your workday and not forgetting to schedule in time for lunch breaks, walks, and stretches to help you remain productive throughout the day. It’s apparent that so many Americans have been merging their work and home lives while working from home as there isn’t an office closing time or train to catch at the end of the day. Naturally, you want to finish the work you need to get done, however try setting yourself an alarm at the end and start of your working day so you’re aware of your time.

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% answer emails outside of their work hours every day, while 82% respond to out-of-hours emails at least once a week.

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.

Therefore, try to 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

Loneliness is something many Americans have been suffering with since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as contact with friends and family have been limited like never before. Not many people are aware but 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.

Even during the pandemic there are multiple ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and co-workers without leaving your house so try taking advantage of these options where you can and try using channels such as video calls over quick texts and emails so you can still have that personal touch with the ones you love.

And finally practice good sleep hygiene

There are a few universal sleep tips whether you’re working from home or commuting to an office we always like to share with you,

  • 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 67 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.

Andrew Russell of Zoma Sleep says,

“The coronavirus pandemic brought a whole host of changes to the world, however working from home has been one of the biggest adjustments Americans have had to adapt to. It’s not surprising to us that many employees have been working from the comfort of their bed during this time, whether that’s because they don’t have the space for an office setup or they just prefer it. Either way we wanted to find out what impact it has had on our wellbeing at work and home. 

“The fact that working from a bed can reduce your sleep by roughly an hour a night is substantial and should be taken seriously. Additionally, the other problems it can lead to such as physical pain and overall happiness are worrying. Work/life balance has a huge impact on a person’s mental wellbeing, which in turn has a knock on effect on their work performance. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to address where they are working in the home, and to make some changes if they can, to ensure their sleep space and work space are sufficiently separated.”

* https://www.statista.com/statistics/1122987/change-in-remote-work-trends-after-covid-in-usa/

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

Andrew Russell, Wellness Writer Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell is a part-time writer and full-time sleep enthusiast. At Zoma, Andrew lends his sleep expertise and writes many of our “better sleep” guides. Outside of Zoma, Andrew puts his advice to the test, always trying new ways to get deeper, more restorative sleep. We appreciate Andrew because he doesn’t give advice that he doesn’t follow himself, so you can feel confident his solutions for better sleep really do the trick. Andrew's work has been featured on Ladders, Bright Side, and several other publications.

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