How Working From Home Affects Your Sleep
Two weeks into the lockdown, I started to get more calls from old and new patients complaining about poor sleep. This was not unexpected seeing as globally, people have experienced disruptions in their daily routines and have been forced to adapt to new ways of living.
One caller said her sleep had progressively worsened over the last three days until she was unable to get a wink of sleep the previous night. Another said he struggled to stay awake during zoom meetings and is now feeling sleepier during the day.
Our bodies function with routine. Disruptions to our routines will impact the rhythm that we have established. Working from home means that people no longer have to follow the strict routine of waking up in the morning at a fixed time to get ready for work and commute to work. They also no longer have to work with the strict 8 to 10-hour blocks of time wholly dedicated to working.
Working from home blurs the boundaries between work and the bedroom. It also tempts you to do away with the routines and rituals that help to prepare you for your day and condition you to be productive – activities like brushing your teeth, having a shower and your sometimes “dreadful” commute to work can paradoxically provide you with an opportunity to mentally prepare for work.
When you work from home, you are tempted to remain in bed long after you wake. Before you know it, you are starting your day from bed until you almost never leave your bed.
Another bad practice that comes with working from home is that naps become extended and more frequent. A 15 to 30-minute nap helps to recharge you with mental energy to power through the rest of the day. However, when the naps become longer and more frequent, you will start to experience fragmented sleep at night.
Working from home also increases the risk of over-availability, extended work hours and impromptu urgent tasks. This increases cortisol levels inappropriately. You will notice that you start to work late into the night to make up for reduced productivity during the day, for instance, waking up at 2 AM to complete a small task- another poor sleep hygiene practice that further fragments your sleep.
The cumulative effect of disrupted sleep, disorganised daily routines and the futile attempt to catch up on lost productivity lead to burnout – physically and mentally.
Poor sleep can also lead to stress eating and weight gain due to the reduced production of lectin – a hormone that is crucial to appetite and weight control and increased production of ghrelin – a hormone that stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage. These hormones are typically produced during sleep. Stress eating and weight gain from poor sleep combined with reduced physical activity would lead to obesity and increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Working from home brings the anxiety of the workplace to your bedroom and this increases cortisol and other counter-regulatory hormone levels. You may have noticed during a normal day that when you think of getting some rest, you are more likely to think of your bedroom than your office and when you think about getting productive the reverse is more likely the case. It is like that for a reason.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is increased during periods of stress – a healthy amount of it at the right time helps you get stuff done. Too much of it at the wrong time can have sleep suppressive effect.
Melatonin, the sleep hormone that tells your body it is evening/night time and acts as a cue for the body to transition to sleep. It is primarily influenced by light exposure and it has a diurnal production rhythm. Working from home can alter the natural rhythm of melatonin secretion due to exposure to artificial light especially when coupled with maladaptive behaviours like working late into the night, increased exposure to blue light from laptops and phones and late bedtimes.
To keep yourself from picking up harmful habits that may disrupt your sleep, practise good sleep hygiene principles like maintaining a regular sleep/wake cycle; increasing exposure to bright light during the day and avoid exposure to bright light at night; ensuring sleep environment is dark, quiet and cool; practising relaxing routines before bedtime and use the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only. These principles are a good first step in the direction towards better sleep.
Even more so is that wherever you are at work, typically when you think of getting some rest you are more likely to think of your bedroom than your office and when you think about getting productive, the reverse is more likely the case – It is like that for a reason.