The “Always Home” Paradigm
This year, freedom has an entirely new connotation as we spent major holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day sheltered in our homes. Quarantine and social distancing have become defining markers of the novel coronavirus, and life today is hardly recognizable from just one year ago.
Seven million people or 3.4% of the workforce were working remotely prior to COVID-19, but now, social distancing has put 66% of Americans working remotely, with 44% working from home five days or more each week. An overwhelming 98% of those surveyed by the World Economic Forum say they would like the option to work from home for the duration of their careers.
That means your bedroom has likely become your new center of daily life and will remain that way for some time to come — so it’s time to get comfortable.
In this article:
- What Quarantine Means For Your Sleep Health
- Making the Most of Your Space While Sheltering in Place
- Reclaiming Your Bedroom After Quarantine
Why is Doing Everything from Home so Hard?
There is a lot going on in the world today. Coronavirus weighs permanently on our minds, while political and social unrest have broken our hearts and upset our communities from coast to coast. We have little social time with friends and family to lessen the stress and the misery, and while cities flip flop between quarantine and social distancing, much of the future lay uncertain.
Without socialization and with our favorite businesses shuttered, there is little left to do but work. Many of us are working much longer hours, overcompensating for boredom, and trying to replace all that COVID has cost us financially. Businesses everywhere are hurting from low sales if they remain open at all, and management is hyper-focused on how remaining employees are spending those precious hours on the clock.
With so many job losses, people aren’t rushing to invest money into lavish office setups, opting instead for makeshift workstations on our beds or at the kitchen table. This means interruptions are frequent and open-ended with little privacy and even less free time.
The stress of life during a global pandemic is causing serious upset to every facet of our lives, and that’s bleeding over into our sleep at a time when rest should be the number one priority.
The Bedroom: Our New Center of Daily Life
At home, space can be hard to come by, especially if you happen to be sharing an apartment in the city or you’re a new graduate relegated to a studio. Most parents with young children have long ago surrendered any claim to personal space, and now even single homeowners face the conundrum of upsetting carefully-laid decor.
For many of us, we’re confined to our bedrooms because it’s the quietest area of the home, and allows for the concentration that we need to work effectively. And for some, the bedroom may be the only personal space in their living quarters (hello roommate life). This has presented an issue for many people, because our bedrooms are simply not designed to double as an office, too.
While certainly convenient, working from home does have its challenges. Without an office to differentiate work from play, it can be difficult to separate the very different emotional landscapes of the two. Unfortunately, this could mean bad news for the quality of your rest, and may lead to problems like sleep deprivation or even insomnia.
What Quarantine Means For Your Sleep Health
The purpose of the traditional bedroom is to serve as a place of rest and quiet, but that’s hardly the case these days when space is so hard to come by. Insomnia is all too common, and traditional solutions do not apply to the unique lifestyle in which we are living today.
Historically, therapists touted cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I) as one of the best ways to improve sleep and cure insomnia by changing the way you view your bedroom. It changes your mental and physical habits to reclaim control of your bedroom, and in turn, your sleep patterns. CBT-I reinforces the notion that the bedroom is for sleep and intimacy and is not a place of work.
As effective as CBT-I has been in the past, it hardly applies today when so many professionals are forced to work from their bedrooms. The same reasons that make our bedrooms an ideal place for rest have now made it also an ideal place to work, and our brains are getting scrambled in the mix.
It is getting harder and harder to turn off work and shift into downtime, and without that cognitive break, our brains struggle to quiet enough to find sleep.
Making the Most of Your Space While Sheltering in Place
Still, there is plenty you can do to reclaim your bedroom and restructure your life despite the challenges of sheltering in place.
Even when you’re limited to a small space, you can still organize your room to feature specific areas. Consider adding a small writing or computer desk which can denote a work area, leaving your bed restricted solely for sleeping. While the living room or kitchen would be better for your TV, you could also place a small bean bag (we love LoveSacs!) on the floor or limit your viewing to the time before bed. Separating your bedroom into different sections and purposes can help your brain differentiate work from rest.
Bookend Your Time
One major challenge of working from home is the struggle to structure your time effectively. Quitting time used to be signified by the closing of an office and a commute home, but now when work and home coexist in the same space, there’s nothing to differentiate the end of one and the start of another.
To combat this, provide added structure to your workday. Stick to a defined start and end time for each day’s work, and mark the conclusion of the workday with a walk to the mailbox or a bike ride around the block. Not only will you benefit from daily exercise, but you will prominently signify the transition of the workday into personal time.
That doesn’t mean you can’t put in extra work hours, either. Coming back to work after the “end of day break” helps your brain identify that anything you’re doing after that point should be for the purpose of completing a task, versus being online for the sake of appearances.
Actually Take Your Breaks
Breaks at the office used to mean a run to Starbucks, a stop by the cafeteria or a quick trip to the gym. Now, breaks tend to come less frequently. When it comes time for lunch, it can be easier to just grab a snack at your desk and keep chugging, but you could be hurting your overall focus and productivity.
When break time comes, set yourself a timer to ensure that you give yourself time to unplug and properly indulge in a physical and mental break. Leave the bedroom and enjoy your break in a non-work-related area. That way, you won’t risk confusing your brain by melding together work and home. You’ll likely find that your productivity will improve, too.
Avoiding the lure of going back to work before the timer is up can be helpful as well. Slumber Yard Communications Manager Lauren Thomas uses this tactic: “I see a huge difference in my mental productivity if I wait the full break time to go back to work. The space between when I could get back to work vs. when the timer is up is the difference between having enough time for eating and actually having a mental break.”
Don’t Force Productivity if it Just Isn’t Happening
With so many constant distractions, it can be very difficult to keep your focus and remain productive. Our brains are overstimulated by a constant barrage of news and worry, and it can seem impossible to adapt when the situation keeps evolving and changing so quickly. It’s only natural to feel distracted, and you may feel like you’re not performing at your best.
Sometimes, you just need a break. When your brain just isn’t wanting to work, better use of your time could be taking an extra 30-minute break to be able to do the rest of the day at 100% brainpower instead of taking just a single break and only being able to give 50% for the full day.
Let Your Brain Know What Time it Is
There are ways to train your brain for work mode just by using your senses. Even though your physical movement may be limited, you can still use sensory input to differentiate between your daily activities.
Some professionals will use a particular scented wax or candle to stimulate brain activity and productivity in the office, with powerful scents like rosemary, bergamot and lemongrass. You may opt to light a certain scent during the workday and transition to a different smell to signify when you’ve transitioned into relaxation time.
Your sense of taste can also help your brain differentiate. For example, chew a particular flavor of gum during the workday that you don’t taste in your free time. You may even opt for some snacks in your kitchen to be “workday snacks” while others are only for the weekends, or even a certain flavor of coffee creamer.
Reclaiming Your Bedroom After Quarantine
Although it seems interminable, the transition back to work is in full swing for some folks already. Regardless of where you are in the transition, quarantine and social distancing will eventually end one day. What the future will look like is anyone’s guess right now, but there’s one thing for certain: for better or worse, your bedroom will be left still standing.
After doing almost all of life’s activities out of your room for so long (all of that working, eating and sleeping!), it may be a challenge to reclaim your bedroom and reestablish its original purpose. There are be plenty of other bad habits to break in order to make a true return to the CBT-I-approved bedroom environment for only sleep and sex.
These are some steps you can take to help you reclaim your bedroom after quarantine.
Move your furniture, reorganize your decor and relocate your bed to give a new spin on a room you’re very well acquainted with by now. This simple rearrangement will create a marked difference in your bedroom and help reinforce those more conventional ideas of sleep and rest.
Do a Spring Cleaning
Months and months of living in a limited space can take its toll on your home. We all cope with stress differently, many of us turning to online shopping as a form of self-care. For others, the general upkeep of the house simply isn’t possible in a depressive mental state. Regardless, taking steps to clean your space can be a major improvement to your wellbeing.
“When clutter becomes excessive, it can threaten to physically and psychologically entrap a person in dysfunctional home environments which contribute to personal distress and feelings of displacement and alienation,” writes The Journal of Environmental Psychology. “Our findings revealed negative impacts of clutter on a person’s life (e.g., tension between family members, social isolation, depression, and safety hazards) can…exert a direct negative impact on subjective well-being.”
It’s important that you reserve some time for spring cleaning to rid yourself of any trash or clutter before it affects your productivity at work.
Let There Be Light
Because of the brain’s circadian rhythm, light has a direct correlation to human brain function and motivation. Light can not only improve your mood but also help you remain alert, focused, and motivated.
Evaluate your bedroom to see how you can maximize natural light, and consider how you can leverage light and dark to reestablish regular patterns of rest. This could mean moving your bed by a window or adding blackout curtains to improve your sleep.
Banish Work Paraphernalia
When work is finally kicked out of the bedroom, don’t let it creep back in. When you bring your laptop or files into bed, you’re inviting work not only back into your physical space but your mental space as well, and it can become very difficult to find the rest that you need. Instead, keep all work materials outside the bedroom and designate your bedroom as a work-free zone.
Get a Killer Mattress
There’s nothing better than a soft, cozy mattress. After months of sleeping, working, and living on your mattress, it may be time for an upgrade come post-COVID life. If your mattress is nearing the 10-year mark or you’re simply ready for a new one, these picks for the best mattress on a budget won’t break the bank and will still give you the comfort you’ve been seeking.
Create a Bedtime Routine
Your body needs time to unplug from work and move into a state of relaxation, but it can’t do that when you move directly from work to sleep. It’s all too easy to fall into bed with our laptops and work ourselves to sleep, but that can create interrupted, fitful sleep that can leave you feeling more drained when you wake up than you were when you fell asleep.
To avoid this, establish a nightly bedtime routine to signal the brain when it’s time rest. There are a ton of tips for better sleep that you can use, such as a guided meditation app or employing the help of a white noise machine.
Designate a work corner
Experts from Global Workplace Analytics predict that the popularity of remote work will survive COVID-19, estimating that a growing number of companies will retain their new work-from-home policies.
With this in mind, it’s possible that your home could become your new permanent office. Although, it’s still important to protect your sleep, so try to reserve your bedroom for rest and find another space that you can designate as your dedicated work zone.
Buy Yourself Something Nice
With so much of our time relegated to the bedroom, now is a great time to spoil yourself with some simple but effective upgrades. Things like silk pajamas, satiny sheets and cool gel pillows can all really up the comfort level and make bedtime a real treat. When there is such luxury awaiting, you will find yourself looking forward to bedtime all day.
The Bottom Line
These aren’t easy times, but the human spirit is resilient, a chameleon that can adapt to the changing tides and triumph in spite of struggle. As Americans continue to persevere throughout the coronavirus pandemic, our homes have become more important than ever, confronted with the duality of serving as both office and abode.
Today, more than ever, our homes are our sanctuary, and with just a few, small adjustments, you can better prepare yourself for the benefits and challenges of working remotely. While working from home has its pros and cons, it also welcomes an opportunity to breathe fresh life and new energy into your space.
By reorganizing your home for remote work, you just may discover a new motivation and resilience you didn’t know you had.