The Complete Guide to De-stressing and Sleeping better during lockdown
In 2020, working from home has become the “new normal” for people all over the world. In just a few months, throughout the pandemic, the landscape of our work, family and social lives have changed dramatically. And now, months on, 60% of the UK population are still working from home as a direct result of national lockdowns. This has had a immeasurable impact on both our minds and bodies.
Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, working from home was often considered a perk of the job or a handy solution to be used once in a blue moon when home-life duties called. How times have changed huh? However, in 2020, homeworking has become an essential tool for economic and social survival. Whilst it is key that we stay home as much as we can to help save lives, it is also important to consider the implications that working from home is having on our physical and mental health.
Whilst working from home is often considered the key to achieving a positive work-life balance, a high number of people who have found themselves in this position report high levels of stress - according to a key study by the United Nations.This is something that we can definitely relate to.
The study which investigated remote working culture in 15 countries across the world revealed that 41% of "highly mobile" employees (those who more often worked from home pre-pandemic) considered themselves highly stressed, compared to only 25% of those who worked only on-site. In addition to this, a 2020 report by Monster also discovered that 69% of employees here in the UK have experienced burnout symptoms while working from home. So if you’ve found yourself hitting a creative block or generally feeling a little exhausted, you’re definitely not alone. These figures may come as a surprise to many people who consider a work from home lifestyle to be one that is less stressful and abundant in personal freedom. However with the prevalent increase of people sharing their stress-filled work from home experiences online, it is apparent that home-working stress is a very real - and spiralling issue. But how does this affect our wellbeing?
Stress can impact our lives in many, including having a negative impact on the quality of our sleep. When we are stressed, hormones including cortisol are released into our bodies - contributing to a ‘fight or flight’ response. Signs of this response include increased heart rate, heavy breathing and blood vessel constriction (which instinctively prepares us to escape from predators and immediate danger, just like in prehistoric times). When we experience these responses in modern times, they instead contribute to chronic conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), headaches, muscle tension, anxiety and depression, as well as making existing conditions such as IBS and insomnia worse.
What is so stressful about working from home?
Throughout the first few weeks of lockdown, working from home was very much a novelty for most. An extra half an hour in bed, flexible lunctimes and limited small talk from co-workers, what's not to love? However, what first seemed like a wonderful perk to workers around the world has turned into a stressful, months-long attempt to stay on top of things in the midst of abundant distractions and, let’s face it, a lack of motivation. That afternoon slump is oh so very real.
For those new to working from home, the stress and challenges which come as a result of homeworking may be surprising. Whilst working from home allows us to eliminate “traditional” work stressors such as long, busy commutes, stressful in person meetings and interactions, home-working stressors also take a toll on our physical and mental health. Needy pets, noisy neighbours, endless zoom meetings anyone? A number of studies on work from home culture have highlighted a handful of factors which contribute to work from home stress, these include -
Lack of Daily Structure
Have you found yourself working late into the night? Struggling separate work and home life? We feel you. A prominent issue of working from home is the lack of structure to our days. According to Christopher M. Palmer, MD, director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital, “There’s no doubt that the biggest stress for professionals working from home is this change in routine and structure,” “Whenever people’s routines change significantly or expectations change, it stresses people. That’s the way our bodies work.” At first, the freedom of creating your own work from home routine may sound appealing, and for some - liberating. Endless, late night Netflix binges, an extra snooze on the alarm and the freedom to extend your lunch break, what's not to love? However, this feeling can slowly snowball into a feeling of losing control for those who don’t expect it.
Whether you work for yourself, or can choose your own hours, flexible working days can become all too long as you battle the obstacles of home-working. Inevitably, later bedtimes can create unhealthy sleep routines. And endless access to social media and mobile devices can drastically increase our blue light intake - another factor which has proven to be detrimental to our sleep health. Whilst creating a daily routine may sound like a simple solution - the reality is that it is no mean feat. For a lot of people, it can be difficult to re-create the structure which once shaped our days, and this lack of structure can seriously impact our overall efficiency.
When working from home, it is important to remember that this is something that everyone is learning to adjust to. Creating boundaries when it comes to breaks and phone calls with friends and family members can be challenging. It can often be difficult to understand that saying “Sorry, I can’t talk, I’m working right now” is just as valid as “Sorry, I’ll call you when I finish work”, when you are working from the office. However, the distractions don’t end there. With unlimited access to social media and entertainment platforms such as Netflix, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok, an innocent 5 minute scroll break can quickly turn into hours before we know it. Upon looking up from our screens, we may be shocked to find that hours can pass with little to no productivity - which results in even more stress throughout the day.
Maintaining focus and motivation is a major issue that affects many home workers - even the seasoned pros. Some of us require a sense of accountability to help drive us, and push us to work harder. However without coworkers or peers by our side to motivate us - staying on track and remaining true to our goals can be a real struggle. As time passes, incomplete tasks can start to snowball and you can start to lose hope that you will achieve the goals you've set for yourself which triggers a stress response in our brains.
Working alone at home has its pros and cons. Many may feel that it is much easier to concentrate on tasks at hand without co-workers visiting your workspace to chat and break our concentration. On the other hand, whilst this peace can feel welcomed at times, without interaction from colleagues or post-work outings with friends, we can begin to feel lonely without even realising. While we live in an age where we can communicate at the touch of a button, there is something to be said for interpersonal connections. Without these connections, feelings of loneliness can sneak up on us - this has also been linked to increased stress levels in home-workers according to the UN study mentioned previously.
Technology and Sleep
While all of the sources above can have a significant impact on our sleep, the UN study revealed that a major contributor to rising work from home stress levels is our increased usage of tech and mobile devices such as phones, Ipads and laptops. Utilizing mobile devices late into the night (as a lot of home workers tend to do) can harm our sleep schedule. According to a 2020 Harvard study, Light at night is part of the reason so many people don't get enough sleep, and researchers have linked short sleep to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems. In addition to this, a key study by the United Nations found that mobile phone usage in the evening was linked to frequent waking at night - with 42% of those who work from home reporting frequent night waking. This is notable because poor sleep can create significant stress throughout the day.
Improve your Sleep Quality
As we have learned, stress as a result of working from home can have immeasurable impacts on various aspects of our sleep health. However, all is not lost, and there are many ways in which we can work to improve our quality of sleep. To help you sleep better and kick those unhealthy home-working habits, check out our top tips below!
Create a Sleep Routine
Maintaining high quality sleep can have immeasurable impacts on our overall health and wellbeing. It is also proven to reduce our daily stress levels. Maintaining a regular bedtime - even on weekends is one of the most effective ways to help you unwind and prepare for a deep sleep. Waking up at the same time every morning strengthens the body’s ability to effortlessly wind down at the same time each night. To help form this routine, start by choosing a bed time when you naturally start to feel tired - starting off with a bedtime that is too early can result in tossing and turning as you try to force sleep which in turn can increase your stress levels. If you are getting the sleep that your body requires, you should be able to wake up naturally without an alarm.
A word on naps - while taking short naps throughout the day may seem like a good way to catch up on missed sleep, napping can actually make things worse as it disturbs your natural sleep cycle. If you absolutely have to nap during the day, try limiting your nap time to 15-20 minutes in the afternoon. Naps of this length provide all of the benefits of sleep including improved alertness enhanced performance and better mood. They also keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get back into work mode after your rest.
Listen to your body - and breathe!
Listening to your body and identifying when you are feeling stressed can help you pinpoint the cause of this feeling. Physical traits of being overly stressed include tension in the jaw, tired or tense muscles, and stomach cramps. When we’re stressed, we also tend to take short, shallow breaths - this can be especially prevalent as we lie in bed at night, free of the distractions of the world. To help calm your breathing and melt away the stresses of the day, try the 4-7-8 technique. The 4-7-8 breathing technique requires a person to focus on taking a long, deep breath in and out. Rhythmic breathing is a core part of many meditation and yoga practices as it promotes relaxation. SImply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds and repeat until you drift off to sleep.
Adjust your sleeping position
Your sleeping position also plays a major role in helping you slip into deep REM sleep. Sleep.org. recommend that when resting, you should ensure that your neck and spine remain in a neutral position when resting). This helps to avoid extra stress and pressure on your back, neck and shoulder muscles, as well as muscle cramping, impaired circulation and headaches. The best way to ensure that your body lies in a neutral position, is to sleep with a pillow that supports the head and neck and promotes neutral spine alignment. For example, the EasySleeper memory foam pillow. The EasySleeper, features a concave dip in the centre to support your neck better than an ordinary pillow. The pillow’s unique shape allows the head to sit comfortably in the dip, supporting the body’s cervical curvature as you sleep. For more information on sleeping positions which help improve our sleep quality, check out our sleep posture blog post.
Reduce your blue light exposure.
Exposure to too much blue light from computers and mobile devices can significantly impact our sleep. This is because blue light affects your circadian rhythm (your natural internal process that regulates sleep), tricking your brain into thinking it's still daytime. It halts the production of melatonin (the hormone which helps us sleep) - resulting in significant sleep disruption. To help minimise your exposure to harmful blue lights, why not try using a blue like plugin such as Screenshader which helps to decrease eye-strain, eye fatigue and to appease your brain's day/night cycle. According to Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher, light at night is part of the reason so many people don't get enough sleep, and researchers have linked short sleep to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Therefore, reducing your exposure to blue light technology usage in the evening is also said to be highly beneficial to our sleep health.
At SleepEasy, our goal is to help you achieve the sleep quality that you deserve. If you are currently struggling to drift off as a result of the home-working stressors mentioned above, we hope you have found this blog post useful. For more sleep tips and information on our sleep mission, why not check out our website, and to learn all about our award winning EasySleeper pillow, click right here.