How to stop working from home interrupting your sleep pattern

You’d be forgiven for feeling like you’ve woken up in the middle of a bad dream. We are living in unprecedented and uncertain times – but one thing we can all do to help the situation is to keep calm and carry on

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Evening Standard

Many of us are now working from home following government guidelines to maintain our social distancing and, however novel it may have felt at the beginning, it’s bound to wreak havoc with our daily routines and body clocks which, in turn, can mess up our sleep – and, frankly, the last thing we need now is to be struggling with shut-eye. 

Sleep can boost our immune system, our alertness, emotional resilience and energy levels, all things we need right now. The trick is not to start obsessing over it, says James Wilson, aka  The Sleep Geek, a sleep behaviour and environment expert.

“Working from home is an opportunity to create a working day that works for you personally. For night owls, the working day can be quite difficult, rushing to work, etc.,” James tells the Standard.

You shouldn’t necessarily try to mimic the routine you had when you were travelling into work, he says; this is an opportunity to mix things up a bit, where possible. Look at your sleep patterns and ask yourself, ‘When do I work best?’

If you can start a little later, and that suits you, you may find you’re more productive over the course of the day. This might also be an opportunity to experiment with when you exercise now that you’re not tied to set lunchtimes and the hours of your commute.

But resist the temptation to start lying in everyday, he warns, “Otherwise, every day becomes a Saturday; it’s about consistency.”

Once you’ve structured your working day, avoid getting up five minutes before you plan to work. “Get dressed, have a shower, have breakfast and try and get lots of daylight earlier in the day – it’s really important for setting the body clock,” James says.

You may want to do a lap around the block before you sit down at your makeshift desk or, if you’re used to getting up and heading straight to a gym class, why not try one of these at-home digital workouts.

Good sleep strategies

“If you can, it’s important to try and keep the bedroom for sleep and sex, but nothing else. Try not to turn it into a ‘one size fits all’ space,” he continues. “Then, if you’re spending all day in the living room, create a break; do something that makes you feel physically and emotionally safe, take a walk or fill the dishwasher.

“And if you don’t nap normally during the day, don’t be tempted to start napping in the afternoon,” he adds.”It’s good to stick to a certain bedtime, too,” he continues, but warns that if your routine has shifted – maybe you’re now getting up slightly later – account for that and move your bedtime back a little. 

When it comes to winding down in the evening, James suggests avoiding eating within three hours of your bedtime and, when you’ve finished for the day, do all the normal things you would if you’d had a day at the office or commute on the tube. “Take your make-up off, change your clothes, brush your teeth,” he says.

He also suggest introducing a ‘phone ban around an hour before bed, particularly given the current situation of continuous, anxiety-inducing news updates, and try not to discuss it all with a partner during this time either.

“The news may be quite negative; coronavirus anxiety can cause us to struggle to get to sleep, a raised heart rate makes it more difficult to sleep and poor sleep will make you worry more – it’s a vicious circle.”

Try not to focus on sleep as a ‘thing’ in itself. “If you can’t sleep for more than 30 minutes, get up and do something. Listening is very powerful; try an audiobook or podcast that will let your mind wander,” he says. “It’s about getting people to actively relax and drop their heart rate to get away from all of the anxiety and stress.​

“You can’t force sleep. One night of poor sleep is not going to have an impact on your health.”

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