I hope you managed to enjoy the long Easter weekend. Back to Working from Home (WFH) today. Week 4 was a shortened one for most of us as will be week 5. The weather over the weekend was very sunny but rather frosty here in Scotland – beautiful spring days. Wildlife seems to be flourishing in the lockdown; lots of birdsong and has anyone else noticed how big the bees are this year – they are huge, almost the size of wrens! At first I thought it was just me, but I have spotted other people commenting on them via Twitter.
The ‘new normal’ WFH routine was disrupted by the holidays last week so it’s going to take a few days to get back into the rhythm. While the old saying, ‘a change is as good as a rest’ might hold some truth, most humans look to routine and habit as the means by which they develop a sense of stability and security. This not only applies to our conscious waking hours but also to our sleep patterns, which I’m going to look at this week.
While talking to a number of clients and colleagues since the lockdown started, I’ve noticed that several (me included) have commented that they are feeling tired. This seems surprising, given that few of us are having to commute to the office or get up early to drive/catch planes or trains to client meetings.
There are perhaps three key reasons why the lockdown is affecting sleep:
a) A breakdown in routine:
Not getting up at our normal time to commute to the office, working around childcare issues – perhaps working later at night or earlier in the morning. These disruptions will adversely affect sleep and potentially leave us tired even after a reasonable amount of sleeping hours.
b) A reduction in natural daylight:
The lockdown is limiting the amount of time we are spending outside and therefore the amount of natural daylight we absorb. Daylight is the biological ‘switch’ from sleep to alertness. Our bodies produce a hormone, melatonin, to help with sleep. Daylight reduces its production and helps us wake up. The fact that many of us are now starting work without going out into the spring daylight could be causing increased levels of fatigue, especially mid-morning.
Worry about our own and our loved ones’ health, personal finances, the state of the economy, job security and many other factors are producing increased levels of stress.
Stress results in us being in a state of ‘high alert’ – this will damage the quality of sleep, especially deep sleep.
So, what can we do to improve our sleep?
- Try to establish a new routine. Although the old routine isn’t going to be possible for a while, setting a new normal will help. If possible, try to get up at the same time each morning and go to bed around the same time each night. If you are feeling tired in the morning, try to increase your exposure to natural light – stand outside having your first tea/coffee. Fresh air and daylight will help to wake you up.
- Limit screen-time around bedtime. Phone and tablet screens inhibit sleep. Rather than looking at your device, read a book. Reading a real book may help you wind down and get ready for sleep as part of your routine. Electronic devices, including e-readers, disrupt sleep.
- Food. Avoid eating too late and eating spicy, fatty, heavy meals. If your digestive scheme is working hard to process the food, it’s likely that you will be uncomfortable trying to lie down and sleep. It goes without saying avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine before bedtime. Everybody has different levels of tolerance to these substances, but if you feel they might be affecting you, try to avoid them from late afternoon/early evening.
- Alcohol. Having a nightcap before bed might help you to fall asleep, but too much alcohol will affect sleep patterns and quality of sleep.
- Exercise. Taking the time to exercise, as allowed under the Government’s guidelines, will help to encourage healthy sleep hygiene and mental wellbeing. However, vigorous exercise too late at night can cause issues with getting to sleep because of the adrenaline pumped into the system during physical activity.
- Environment. Try to keep your bedroom for sleep if at all possible. If you can, avoid WFH using your bedroom as the ‘office’. Humans work on a number of unconscious signals – leaving the bedroom is the cue that the day is starting; similarly at night heading to the bedroom is the indication that sleep is on the agenda. Working in the bedroom all day is going to deliver mixed messages.