Is Working From Home Giving You A Bad Night's Sleep?

Why and how you should reset your sleep schedule when working from home.

Is Working From Home Giving You A Bad Night's Sleep? photo

How to get a good night’s rest when your home becomes your workplace


It can be hard to switch off and relax when working from home. Having a more flexible schedule, interruptions from friends and family, and easy access to emails means the boundaries between work time and relaxation time are easily blurred.


However, good quality sleep is essential for physical and mental health, and poor sleep can have significant impact on motivation, concentration, memory, and productivity. Understanding how sleep rhythms work and how to support good sleep habits are important steps to enjoying a good night’s rest when working from home.



Body clocks


Our sleep / wake cycle (also known as the circadian rhythm, or 24-hour clock) is governed by the interplay between light levels, hormones, body temperature, and environmental factors. The master timekeeper is the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a tiny cluster of cells in the brain that receives light signals via the optic nerve. At dusk, the fall in light levels tells the brain to release melatonin, our main sleep hormone, which triggers ‘biological night’.


The timing of sleep is initiated by:


  • Rising melatonin levels
  • A drop in core body temperature
  • Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid produced by the gut microflora
  • A buildup of adenosine in the brain


Problems occur when we disrupt our 24-hour clock. This can happen through stress and illness, flying through different time zones, shift work, or excessive exposure to blue light. Computer screens, televisions, and mobile phones emit blue light waves that halt the release of melatonin. Working long hours on screens is a common cause of insomnia and sleep disruption.



Are you a lark or an owl?


According to the World Health Organisation, adults need between 7-9 hours sleep per night. However, this will occur at different times for each person due to their chronotype. A person’s chronotype is their natural inclination to be awake or asleep at certain times of the day. According to sleep expert Professor Matthew Walker, there are 3 types of chronotype:


  • Larks prefer to wake early and go to bed earlier
  • Owls much prefer to wake late and stay up late
  • Mixed types – some people are a mixed chronotype, with no strong preference either way


Understanding your chronotype and being able to work with its natural rhythms means you can tailor your work schedule accordingly. Larks are more likely to be alert and productive in the morning and early afternoon, while owls may prefer to avoid scheduling early meetings and do their work in the afternoon and evening.



How to reset your sleep schedule


Try these simple steps to reset your sleep schedule and maximise your chances of getting a good night’s rest:


  • Go to bed and get up at regular times, everyday – even on the weekend.


  • Get outside in natural daylight before midday. Being outdoors in bright morning light helps the brain better detect the fall in light levels at dusk.


  • Avoid using screens for at least an hour before going to bed. If you must use one, wear glasses that filter blue light waves.


  • Establish a bedtime routine. We do this as children, but neglect to continue as adults! This might involve a warm relaxing bath, listening to gentle music, reading, or following a guided meditation.


  • Avoid eating large meals late at night. Heavy meals can trigger acid reflux and indigestion at bedtime.


  • Make sure your sleeping area is dark and cool.


  • If your desk is in your bedroom, tidy it at the end of each day so you aren’t staring at a pile of clutter and paperwork when trying to sleep.


  • Increase magnesium levels through foods or supplementation. Magnesium is needed for melatonin production and for relaxing muscles. Food sources include dark green vegetables, oats, nuts, buckwheat, and millet. Magnesium glycinate or citrate are good quality forms to supplement with.


  • Check your vitamin D levels as insufficient levels are associated with an increased risk of sleep disorders.


  • Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before going to bed. Swap regular tea and coffee (remember that decaffeinated versions still contain small amounts of caffeine) for herbal teas that aid sleep – try chamomile, lime flower, lemon balm, valerian, lavender, and oat straw.


  • Avoid alcohol in the evening.



Summary

When your home space becomes your workspace, it can be hard to switch off and relax in the evening. Long hours spent working onscreen, and less time for relaxation can lead to sleep problems. Making a few adjustments to your daily routine and increasing foods rich in nutrients to support sleep can help you reset your sleep schedule and once again enjoy a good night’s rest.


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Walker M. 2018. Why We Sleep, Penguin: London