Prior to Covid -19, the nature of my job involved working in a few different offices and school settings. I occasionally stayed at home in order to complete specific tasks. This arrangement significantly transformed following ‘stay at home’ guidelines to avoid the spread of the virus. I, similarly to the majority of people around the globe, started working at home five days a week. For me, it meant sitting in front of my laptop for long hours throughout the day. The quarantine also required people to limit outdoor physical activities and significantly reduce socialising. This unexpected and radical lifestyle change led me to raise a question about how it would impact our sleep. Soon, the new scientific research followed1 and proved my expectation.
STUDIES ON SLEEP QUALITY
The study conducted on 121 adults (43 men and 78 women) aged between 18 and 65 years examined sleep quality in subjects. The participants’ sleep schedule, working style and physical activity were also analysed before the quarantine and 40 days after. The main results of the research showed significant worsening the sleep onset latency (amount of time it takes you to go from being fully awake to sleeping), sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances, and daytime sleepiness. These were more pronounced in those participants working from home using electronic devices in comparison to those who did not perform remote work. Males were observed to have greater sleep deterioration than females. Additionally, the study reported that the subjects were much less active and made unhealthy food choices during the lockdown.
THE DETRIMENTAL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY ON SLEEP
As indicated by the above study, home working with excessive screen time can meaningfully disrupt our sleep pattern. I believe this impact can be even more detrimental when we continue working later in the evening. In consequence, our brain is so aroused that it becomes difficult to switch off and wind down when we go to sleep. Furthermore, the blue light from electronic devices hinders the production of melatonin, which is a hormone known as a main key player in sleep, thus sabotages our slumber. If we add to this our prolonged sedentary pursuits including online meetings (also with friends), watching television and spending time on social media as well as higher consumption of packaged and processed foods, we can expect sleep disturbances. And this will be enhanced even more by constant hearing, reading and thinking about the pandemic and its consequences on economics, job losses, school situation and physical and mental health of our loved ones. These are worries that contribute to the onset of stress, one of the main reasons why we cannot sleep well.
STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE SLEEP
So, what can we do to promote sleep when our home became our office? I will share a few strategies that I have been using and I believe they counteracted quarantine-related sleep disturbances in my case.
Have a clear distinction between work and life
At the end of your workday have a few minutes for a reflection. Think about the tasks you completed well and those you would like to improve for the next time. Also, make a list of jobs that need to be done tomorrow. This practice will help you to leave your work worries behind you and very likely you will not be woken up by them in the middle of the night. Also, power all devices down and put them away in your laptop bag or cover with a cloth. If possible, try not to work from your bedroom and not in your bed.
Throughout your work take regular small breaks to do something physical. Every 45 minutes-1 hour get up and make yourself something to drink, go down and up the stairs, stretch your neck, shoulders and back or hug someone you love. Also, take 3-4 conscious breaths paying particular attention to exhalation, because when being caught up with emails, phone calls and spreadsheets you were probably holding your breaths or breathing too shallowly which increases our tension and stress level.
For our body clock that manages our sleep and wake pattern to be well regulated it is essential to get a natural source of light during the day. If this is done in the morning, for instance by going for a walk, this will help up to decrease the melatonin level during the day and release it effectively in the evening. This means we will feel more energetic and better concentrated on daily work tasks and fall asleep easier at night.
Make healthy food choices
Make sure your food choices support your energy level as well as sleep. Always have in your house healthy snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds or good quality dark chocolate and reach for them during your breaks if you feel peckish. Also, plan and eat your lunch, so you provide yourself with energy to keep you going till the end of your working day. In the afternoon or early evening, prepare dinner or supper that will contain tryptophan, a healthy dose of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin and melatonin consequently. You will find them in turkey, chicken, fish, milk, eggs, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, quinoa.
I hope these tips will help you to maintain your work-life balance and sleep well no matter wherever you work from.
- Barrea, L., Pugliese, G., Framondi, L., Di Matteo, R., Laudisio, D., Savastano, S., Colao, A., & Muscogiuri, G. (2020). Does Sars-Cov-2 threaten our dreams? Effect of quarantine on sleep quality and body mass index. Journal of Translational Medicine, 18(1), 318. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-020-02465-y