During the pandemic, so many of us have suddenly had to readapt in many ways. For lots, that’s meant having to work at home. Although it’s been almost a year (we can’t believe it either), it’s still hard to find the best ways to adjust to a new life.
Yes, there are benefits to working from home (not having to change out of your pyjama bottoms and that extra hour of sleep in the morning), but there are also ways it has negatively affected us, without us even noticing. Some have reported their sleep being much worse since starting a work from home routine, others that their working hours stretch on far beyond they would usually if they were still in the office. All of these factors have contributed to a feeling of burnout. Despite our hope that this will be ending soon, many offices are planning on keeping some work-from-home elements after the pandemic is over. For these reasons, it’s important to make sure your routine is as healthy as possible.
There are a few basic things we can do to help us thrive and find success when working from home. Helping to maintain a level of calm, rather than stress, and find good patterns of work life and home life (even if they do happen in the same place) are vital for our long-term mental health.
Healthy Sleep Hygiene
One of the most effective ways to improve sleep is to get into a sleep routine. This involves everything from winding down in the evening, to waking up the next day. Sleep hygiene is not just in the hours before we go to bed, it’s shifting our entire routine to create healthy sleep.
Sitting at a badly lit desk all day, having zoom meeting after zoom meeting, is not good for our sleep. Throughout the day, our body receives serotonin from light sources. It is most easily accessible to us in the morning hours, between 9 and 12. Even a quick 10 minutes outside each day can dramatically increase our serotonin intake, even if it is raining or overcast. Getting outside each morning, so that you are shifting your body from sleep mode to work mode is a great way to revitalise yourself and make sure you get your morning light! Moving your work from home desk right next to a window is a great way to make sure you get this vital natural light throughout the day. You can also purchase a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) light box to place on your desk whilst you work. These lights mimic the power of natural sunlight. Ensure the light is UV free, at least 10,000 lux and measures at least 12x14 inches. The manufacturer’s instructions will tell you the distance to sit or stand from the light, and for how long a day – this is usually around 20-30 minutes.
Just as it is important for us to increase our intake serotonin in the morning, it is equally important to limit it in the evening. This means not working too long into the night! The serotonin we have received throughout the day begins to convert itself to melatonin, which is essential for sleep. Limiting light in the evening is essential for this process to occur. This proves is hindered particularly severely by Blue Light. Unfortunately our laptop and smart phone screens are the worst culprit for this. As the light slows the melatonin production, it reduces our feeling of sleepiness.
Light is particularly important in our bedrooms– doctors recommend this light to be as dim as possible prior to sleep. It is also advisable to keep our bedrooms a strictly tech-free area. If you work in. your bedroom, therapists and doctors advising moving to the Kitchen table or a designated study. If this is not possible, the main priority should be to ban the use of screens and tech from your bed itself.
It is often helpful to get into a clear routine when it comes to sleep. Just as we should schedule our light intake throughout the day, we should also create a routine than spans from the beginning to the end of the day, especially when working from home. Research shows that sleeping at around the same time and waking at the same time each morning (yes, even on weekends) is helpful to maintain a healthy body clock. Our body will naturally know when it is time to fall asleep and wake up if we continue to do so at the same time each day.
It is also important to set a time in which you begin to unwind for bed each evening. This should be the period in which you pay most attention to eliminating your blue light intake. During this period, many people have different approaches to relaxation. Some suggestions are having a bath, reading, doing puzzles or listening to music or audiobooks. Stop work and really wind down, shuting of emails and work calls until you start again the next day.
The final important element of a routine is getting out of bed each morning within 15 minutes of waking up. This helps with sleep and activity throughout the day. We should also try not to get into bed throughout the day at all – our bed should be reserved for sleep and unwinding. This is also true of napping; it is strongly advised not to nap throughout the day, in order to build up as much melatonin as possible for our night’s sleep.
Not getting out the house as much can really hinder our exercise routines. As hard as it is, even when working from home we should As well as reducing pain, it is also important for healthy sleep. Even a small amount of exercise each day can dramatically improve the ability to fall and to stay asleep. It is important, however, to exercise in the day and not in the three hours prior to sleep, as this can cause increased energy and restlessness before bed. Doing a quick home work out on a lunch break or before you start work for the day can give you energy to keep going and help your sleep!
At the end of each workday, make sure you find a pattern to help you unwind and end your day. Leave your workspace and find a way to relax and take a break. It’s important to think about your routine holistically – each element of your day plays into one another. The better your mind and body are functioning, the better you will work.