Coronavirus has had a devastating effect on the American labor force, cutting jobs without prejudice and leaving entire families jobless overnight. In its January 2021 report, the Congressional Research Service wrote, “The unemployment rate peaked at an unprecedented level, not seen since data collection started in 1948, in April 2020 (14.8%) before declining to a still-elevated level in December (6.7%).”
Suddenly, remote work emerged as an unexpected hero, a last-minute Hail Mary that provided a feasible cost-cutting solution to companies desperate to keep business running.
Fast-forward to the present, many workers are now considering whether a permanent work-from-home status may be best for their work-life balance. Remote employees often find themselves with extra time to invest given their lack of commute. That said, others have seen their work cross into their personal time, given the lack of strict boundaries that are characteristic of commuter work. As a result, work-from-home employees are sleeping less, a dangerous habit to adopt if you aren’t careful.
While you adjust and decide whether remote work is a good fit, our team at My Slumber Yard has compiled a helpful guide with expert and medical feedback to help you maintain the healthy sleep habits that you deserve even while working remotely.
Pros and Cons Of Working Remotely
For employees all over the country, remote work has been a welcome luxury in many ways.
- Custom Environment
One of the most noticeable advantages of working from home is the ability to customize your environment. At work, you may have no choice over the fluorescent light bulbs or the constant hum of noise and conversation. However, when you work from home, you have the ability to customize your work area to your preferences and needs. It not only improves your mental health but can lead to greater productivity and improved operations for your employer.
Bryan Philips, owner and Head of Marketing for InMotion Marketing, sees the effects first-hand. He tells us, “As someone who works remotely and a business owner, I can say remote work allows for better focus, the ability to manage time better (because there is no commute), and an increased revenue per project.”
Not all of us are early birds, and remote work can offer employees the option to enjoy a more flexible schedule that better suits their sleep habits.
“I think the real difference between these workers and the traditional 9-to-5 jobbers is that remote workers have the option to be flexible with their work hours when they want to,” muses Philips. “In my experience, most people slide into a scheduled workday and only get out of that schedule in unavoidable circumstances.”
“However,” he warns, “the faster remote workers figure how to manage their time daily, the better.”
One of the best parts about remote work for many employees is the independence that comes with it. Gone are the forced awkward conversations over the water cooler. Instead, individuals have a chance to shine through the independent work they produce at home. Virtual meetings keep collaboration possible, but there is a much greater focus on solo work and solo accomplishments in the workplace.
“Who doesn’t love their PJs?” says Mark Coster, an online entrepreneur and the driving force behind STEM Toy Expert. These days, he’s working from home, where he puts his three willing children to work as guinea pigs.
“The past year has given nearly all of us the privilege to wear them all day, every day, except in our Zoom meetings. Getting to work in flexible and comfortable clothes is definitely the most coveted pro of working from home.”
There is no doubt that remote workers save a ton in dry cleaning and work clothes now that working from home is an option.
- No Commute
Global Workplace Analytics estimates about 56% of American jobs are compatible with remote work, and the savings are nothing to dismiss lightly. While employees can save up to $4,000 a month by working remotely, the average employer can save about $11,000 per year for each employee.
“Work-at-home will save U.S. employers over $30 billion a day in what would have otherwise been lost productivity during office closures due to COVID-19,” says Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics.
The extra time you save without a commute can also translate to much greater flexibility in your daily life.
Of course, remote work is not perfect, especially for particular professions. There are challenges that can accompany this style of work.
- Work-life balance
When you are a remote employee, your work-life balance can be the first challenge you face.
Says Dr. Bailey, “There are far fewer boundaries between work and personal life in a work-from-home environment. This has resulted in diminished sleep quality for many folks.
It also means that work never leaves, since you always bring your work home. “Working from home has slowly taken over their home life,” Dr. Bailey explains. “I often hear complaints of people ‘dreaming’ about work because it is the first thing they see when they get up in the morning and the last thing they look at before they go to bed.”
For many employees, remote work has been a serious adjustment without the constant companionship of workplace colleagues. This loss of social interaction can be deeply unsettling and lead you to feel sad, anxious, depressed, and disconnected from the world.
These feelings can become only amplified at night when insomnia takes over, or worse, you are racing the clock to meet deadlines.
The independence of working from home can be a double-edged sword for some employees, making it difficult for them to remain focused and on-task.
“When the night comes, you realize it’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” says Coster. “It’s 9 pm, and you’ve barely done a third of your daily work. You tuck the kids in and go back to your laptop. Is it any wonder that insomnia creeps in once you close your laptop deep into the night?”
Virtual and online communication can drastically differ from face-to-face, in-person communication. It may take some getting used to for employees who are new to the digital space.
“The only con I can think of is there could be communication issues with your team,” says Philips. However, he acknowledges, “Due to all the project management tools online like Basecamp and Slack, I can’t imagine that for most this is a definite issue.”
The change to remote work also often leads to greater accountability among employees. While before, staff may have been able to hide within the masses, now online and virtual communications shine a spotlight on individual contributions and accomplishments. For employees accustomed to sharing tasks or doing the bare minimum, remote work can be an unwelcome surprise.
|Custom Environment||Work-Life Balance|
Common Sleep Struggles for Remote Workers
A November 2020 survey from Upwork showed that almost half of the American workforce is working from home, with about 43% of employees now remote-based. As we move into 2021, one in four Americans are expected to work remotely this year, and Upwork predicts only continued growth, with an 87% increase in remote work expected by 2025.
“I think there is an indication that remote work is here to stay with or without the pandemic,” says Bryan Philips. “Business owners are now seeing the cost advantage and also that the whole process is manageable and preferable in many ways.”
However, working from home is not ideal for everyone, and there are many remote workers who are experiencing persistent issues with their sleep.
“I have seen a major uptick in patients suffering some sleep issues since the onset of the pandemic,” says Peter Bailey, MD, a family practice physician and an expert contributor for Test Prep Insight, a test prep company that helps students prepare for exams like the MCAT and USMLE.
“The biggest issue I have generally perceived,” he continues, “is that where work used to be compartmentalized between the office and home for most people, work has now morphed into an all-encompassing way of life.”
That, added with the everyday pressures of life and growing concerns over COVID, can keep you up at night and lead to sleep deprivation if you aren’t careful. About 35% of Americans already do not receive the suggested amount of sleep each night, and as the pandemic grows, so does the prevalence of insomnia, anxiety, depression and acute stress.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you sleepy. It can impact your work in other ways, stamping out your energy and stifling your creativity. It can be much harder to focus, and your stress levels can skyrocket in response.
Considerations for Self-Employed Workers
Remote work is a bit of a different experience for self-employed workers or independent contractors, who differ from the traditional employee. When you work for yourself, you are better able to dictate your own schedule, setting up your days and nights how you like, with time serving as a far more flexible commodity than that of the average employee.
This doesn’t necessarily mean working less. Used to filling many roles, they often rely upon themselves to get things done and therefore know long hours well past the standard 9-to-5 timeframe. This lack of sleep, whether regular or irregular, can lead to significant effects on your health while also diminishing productivity and hastening burnout.
Professions Most Affected by Insomnia
There are some industries in particular that suffer from higher levels of insomnia and lack of sleep.
|Rank||Industry/Profession||Employees with Sleep Problems|
|1.||Transportation and Warehousing||50%|
|2.||Medical and Healthcare||47.3%|
|4.||Wholesale and Retail||44.1%|
|5.||Hotel, Food Services, and Hospitality||43.8%|
No matter where you work, it’s important to establish and maintain healthy sleep habits. Regardless of whether you are a freelancer or an employee awaiting the reopening of a physical office, it’s critical to prioritize your sleep health and take the proper time for rest each night.
As with most other things in life, balance is key.
Improving Sleep as a Remote Worker
Experts expect to see a 300% increase in permanent work-from-home employees, signaling a key shift in the American workforce. That means it’s more important than ever to ensure that you have healthy sleep habits to give you the fuel you need to face the busy days ahead.
There are some things you can do to better prepare your body for rest each night.
- Develop a Routine
“Routine is crucial for keeping up with a healthy sleep schedule while working remotely. You should wake up at a regular time like 7 am or 7:30 am, and act like you’re preparing to go to work,” advises Dr. Pietro Luca Ratti, MD, Ph..D., a sleep expert and Neurologist for WhatAsleep. “Shower, get dressed, brush your teeth – whatever you’d do if you were going to work in an office.”
Dr. Bailey recommends reorganizing how you structure your life. “My best advice to patients to improve their sleep is to set boundaries and compartmentalize work and personal life,” says Dr. Bailey. “I know this can be difficult, particularly when you live in a small house or apartment, but you need to make an effort to create this divide, both physically and mentally.”
- Set Boundaries
Working from home can be tempting when there’s no one looking over your shoulder throughout the workday. However, this can be a dangerous trap to fall into if you are not careful.“
You need a routine more than ever if you are working from home. “Do not sleep in until 10 or 11 and expect to get a good sleep the next night,” says Dr. Ratti. He adds an extra note of caution. “No napping during the workday! This could really ruin your night’s sleep.”
“Try your best to stick to a regular work routine of 9-5, or whatever it may be. It will help you get into a rhythm that eventually leads to you going to bed at a normal time,” Dr. Ratti advises.
- Have a hobby
If you aren’t careful, work can quickly take over your home and fill your personal life with tons of little reminders about work. It makes it harder to separate yourself from your job, but finding a hobby is one way to establish boundaries and improve your personal time.
“Set hard shut-off times for your work computer and email on your phone at night, and concentrate on family and personal time,” says Dr. Bailey.
Coster of STEM Toy Expert agrees. “Honor the alarm clock. You’ll be wrapping up your work before dinner, and then you’ll have enough time for relaxation, a walk in the park, or maybe (even!) a book.”
Dr. Bailey adds, “I strongly encourage patients to read before they go to bed and reduce screen time starting 30 minutes before sleep.”
- Establish a work-from-home environment
Not all employees were prepared for remote work when it came, so it can be especially trying to create a proper work-from-home environment conducive to sleep.
“To prevent this dreaded scenario, set up a home office if possible, or at least a workstation in the farthest corner from your bed,” suggests Coster of STEM Toy Expert.
Dr. Ratti also encourages you to remove all digital devices from your rest areas. “Eliminate work in the lead-up to bed and get rid of any technology in the bedroom, like phones, tablets, and laptops,” says Dr. Ratti. “Try not to do any work within an hour of going to sleep because your mind will struggle to calm down, and you’ll find it difficult to relax.”
- Fitness and home workouts
As a family physician, Dr. Bailey also is a huge proponent of exercise when it comes to improving sleep quality. “With gyms closed, it is hard to squeeze in workout time, but physical activity releases a number of hormones which calm your mind and provide your body a chance to rejuvenate, making it easier to naturally transition to sleep.”
“Studies show that engaging in just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day can increase the amount of deep sleep you get by up to 31%,” he says, recommending daily moderate exercise. “This can be as simple as a walk around the neighborhood or playing with your kids. Almost any sort of physical exercise will help your sleep to some degree. “
At InMotion Marketing, Philips is living proof. “I exercise daily and have no trouble settling down to bed when the evening comes,” he shares.
Even before COVID-19, we already tend to work too much as a society, but there’s no denying the impact that unemployment and working from home have had on the average U.S. household. For many, coronavirus has sent normal routines into disarray and interrupted the carefully-planned weekly sleep schedules of pre-pandemic commutes. It has taken some adjustment, notably impacting our ability to fall and remain asleep, but working from home has its benefits when you are able to achieve the right work-life balance.
“A remote worker has a better chance of improving their sleep than a traditional 9-5 worker,” Philips explains. “Why? Because there is no morning commute and no evening commute. The hours are many times theirs to set, to manage, to control. For me, I get up in the morning to watch the sunrise and go out to watch the sunset.”
However, you choose to enjoy your days, remote work can give you the freedom and space to do it – as long as you maintain those healthy sleep habits to keep both your job and your body going.