During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people worked from home than at any point in the post-Industrial history of the US. While some of us have gotten back to the office, the work-from-home situation became more or less permanent for many of us.
There are tons of advantages to working from home, from setting your own hours to being able to accomplish household tasks during breaks and spending time you would otherwise have spent commuting with friends and family. Overall, the remote work lifestyle offers tremendous improvements in life quality and work-life balance.
However, you may have noticed working from home impacts your sleep in ways you might not have expected. The good news is the problem might not be working at home; you might be inadvertently causing these sleep disturbances with poor remote work habits. Below, we’ll talk about how to fix this.
Set a Schedule – And Stick to It
One of the best and worst aspects of remote work is the fact that most remote workers don’t have a set work schedule. Some people who work remotely might have a set shift they have to attend, while others may have to show up at a few online meetings during the day.
But many of us now have the flexibility to set our own hours. This can be great for picking up the kids or squeezing in a few errands, but it can also turn into a sleep killer if you let it.
To avoid allowing work to creep closer and closer to (and maybe even past) your bedtime, set a consistent sleep schedule. Make sure you have a number of hours during the day designated for work and a number designated for non-work tasks, as well as a set bedtime and wake time. That way, you won’t find yourself working hours after your bedtime because you got distracted all day.
Have a Consistent Sleep/Wake Routine
A consistent bedtime and wake time is vital to keeping your circadian rhythm running. But you also need other consistent signals telling your body it’s time for wakefulness or sleepiness, and this is especially true for those of us who work from home.
Everyone’s morning and nighttime routines don’t have to look the same. Some people might shower in the morning, while others do it in the evening. Some people might like to kick back with a good book to relax before bed, while others find reading so engaging that it keeps them awake. A few may enjoy a cup of tea for sleep while others prefer warm milk, cool water, or to skip drinking entirely.
If you share a bed, you may have to work around your partner’s different sleep routine along with your own preferences.
The important thing is that you consistently keep the bedtime routine that works for you. If you shower in the morning, do it every morning, not sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. If you like to do certain activities right before bed, try to do them every night.
This creates a set of signals that tell your body it’s time to start preparing for alertness in the morning and sleep at night.
Communicate Your Availability
It doesn’t do you much good to have a set schedule of working hours if your remote colleagues are constantly interrupting your downtime. Getting email after email or work text after work text can easily suck you back in when you’re not supposed to be working.
To avoid this, make it clear to your coworkers and boss which hours you will be available to work and which ones you will not. If they ignore this boundary after you communicate it to them, don’t cave.
Turn off work-related notifications and let non-emergency calls go to voicemail. In all likelihood, your coworkers will get the message if you’re consistently unavailable when you told them you’d be unavailable.
Stop Working at Least One Hour Before Bed
Really, you’re supposed to shut off all screens at least an hour before bed, but this is especially true for work-related screens. When you’re working, your state of focus keeps you in a concurrent state of arousal. When your body and brain are aroused, it takes time for that feeling of wakefulness to dissipate.
This is why you need to shut off the laptop and put away the work phone for no less than an hour before your bedtime. Ideally, you’d stop working for two to three hours before bedtime, but between kids and side hustles and other obligations, this may not be realistic. Hence, the hour minimum.
Have a Designated Workspace
The power of association cannot be understated. And it can be made to work for or against you when you work from home. For example, if you work at your dining room table or on your living room sofa or daybed, you could wind up unconsciously associating these places with work. This may make it difficult for you to unwind in these areas when your off hours roll around.
On the flip side, having a designated office space can help your brain associate that location with work. So when you go into your office, your unconscious mind can be encouraged to flip into work mode. This can improve your concentration and productivity; thus, you’re using association to your advantage.
While an actual room for your office is best, not everyone has the space to dedicate an entire room to work. Don’t worry. You can put your desk in another room, like the living room or even a spare guest bedroom. As long as you work – and only work – at the desk while using the rest of the room for off hours, you can still harness the power of association.
Avoid Working in the Bedroom/Bed
While it’s fine to use the living room or guest room as a multipurpose office space, you should never, ever put your work desk in your bedroom or work in bed. Having one of the best mattresses can make it tempting to lounge about during the day as well as use it for sleep, afterall.
However, doing this can set you up for insomnia if your subconscious begins to associate the bedroom or even the bed with work. You never want to teach your unconscious mind that “bedroom/bed = workspace.”
Plus, it’s often best to keep the bedroom clutter-free as a whole so your mind can better relax at night. So regardless of how much space you have, you should work anywhere else but the area where you sleep.
See our guide on optimizing the bedroom for better sleep for more information on promoting a restful sleeping space.
Make Time for Exercise
Regular exercise is vital for everyone, regardless of where or how they work. But if you work from home, it can be especially tough to get your body moving. Even those who commute to office jobs often have to walk to public transportation stations or through huge parking lots to get to their desks. But working from home means you don’t even get the exercise of running to catch the train.
That makes it all the more important that you block out time to get moving. Even just getting out and power walking through your neighborhood can offer a huge range of benefits. Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week can do everything from improving your sleep to increasing your productivity to helping you focus.
So get a membership to your nearest gym. Go walking or running around your neighborhood. Get a desk treadmill. However you get moving – just get moving! See our guide on exercising for better sleep for more information.
Take Regular Screen Breaks
Screens are not just terrible for your sleep, as blue light can impact sleep if you’re looking at screens late into the night. Too much screen time is not great for your eyes either.
Staring too long at a computer or phone screen can lead to a range of symptoms from dry eyes Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source and blurred vision and headaches Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source . A 2018 study suggests Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that around half of computer users may experience digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome.
To avoid these vision symptoms and sleep disturbances, make sure you’re taking regular screen breaks. When you work from home, you can use these breaks to do chores or run errands to keep up your productivity. Just as long as you’re not looking at a screen.
You can also set an alarm to follow the 20/20/20 rule Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source on your computer or phone. The 20/20/20 rule simply means you look away from your screen at an object at least 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds every 20 minutes. You should also take a 20-minute screen break every two hours at least.
Don’t Neglect Your Social Life
It was already hard enough to make friends in adulthood, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, now that so many people work from home, keeping an active social life can feel next to impossible, as many people depended on the office as one of their main sources of social interaction and even friendships.
It’s important to not let your social life slide when working from home. Try to keep in touch with friends or use hobbies to meet new ones. Attend regular book clubs or meetups that put you in touch with people who have similar interests. Join a bowling or amateur baseball league – anything that gets you out of the house and interacting with real people.
Humans are social animals, and regular social interaction is vital Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source to our waking and sleeping health. An active social life can increase your overall well-being and stave off feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation. So it’s vital to make it a priority.
Eat Healthy Food
Just like socializing and exercising, eating healthy food is vital for your overall health. However, unlike socializing and exercising, eating healthy is one thing that working from home makes a lot easier.
When you’re working at an office, it’s easy to pack a microwavable junk lunch to eat at your desk. You’re also more likely to be tempted by the smells of high-fat, high-sodium foods coming from local restaurants or the cafeteria.
At home, these problems can be eliminated. You’re steps away from a kitchen that you can stock with healthy food, and eliminating your morning and evening commutes can offer more time to cook a decent lunch that can help rather than hurt your sleep. See our list of recommended healthy late-night snacks, which can easily be repurposed into snacks you can have on a break between work tasks.
For optimum sleep, eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and lean meats, and stay away from simple carbs and saturated fats. We also suggest you try to avoid eating too late into the evening, as our eating before bed guide discusses.
Invest in Ergonomic Office Furniture
One of the disadvantages of remote work is that you don’t have the office buying fancy ergonomic chairs and sit-stand desks for you. Many offices offer a home-office stipend nowadays, but even if yours doesn’t, it’s vital to ensure you’re not hunched over a laptop sitting on an old TV tray, as doing so can leave you in too much pain to go to sleep.
Poor office furniture causes poor posture that can lead to health issues and sleep disturbances. This is why it’s vital to make sure that you’re sitting in a comfortable and supportive chair while you work. Even a simple seat cushion for an office chair can vastly improve your comfort.
If you have the funds, it’s also a good idea to invest in a standing desk and maybe even a desk treadmill. Sitting all day can be quite unhealthy. So for the optimal work-from-home experience, make sure you’re not sitting all the time.
Work in Natural Light
One of the most underrated advantages of remote work is the fact that it allows you to get away from bright fluorescent lighting and its horrendous effects on your sleep cycle and overall health. This is especially important for the neurodivergent and those who suffer migraines, but you can still benefit, even if you don’t fall into those categories.Natural light directs the circadian rhythm. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source Your body gets a lot of information when natural light hits your eyes, including when to start producing different sleep and wake hormones. Bright artificial light disrupts the body’s natural hormone production and can lead to all kinds of issues, including sleep disturbances and a delay in the circadian rhythm.
So don’t replace your office’s bright fluorescent lights with bright artificial lighting of your own. Work as close to windows as you can, and ensure you use as few artificial lights as possible. You want more natural light and less artificial light hitting your eye.
Track Your Circadian Rhythm to Increase Productivity and Improve Sleep
Everyone’s internal body clock has crests and troughs, meaning your alertness and cognitive abilities fluctuate. You can harness your personal times of peak alertness to increase your productivity.
To truly know your natural circadian rhythm, you’ll need to stop using an alarm clock. Incidentally, this is much easier to do when you work from home. Turn off your morning alarm, and go to sleep when you’re tired. Wake when your body naturally decides it’s finished sleeping.
A few days of this will tell you a lot about your natural circadian rhythm and whether you’re a morning lark or night owl.
Morning larks tend to have peak cognitive performance in the mid to late morning. Meanwhile, night owls tend to peak in the early to mid-afternoon. Typically, you can expect peak cognitive performance and alertness between two and four hours after you naturally wake.
Put the Phone Away
It’s no secret our phones are possibly the greatest distractions in our environments nowadays. Between social media temptation and notifications about texts and IMs, your phone can pull your eyes from your work like just about nothing else.
That’s why it’s vital to put some physical or logical distance between you and your phone when you work. Put it in another room, turn it off, or at least silence all non-work notifications during work hours.
It’s also vital to get away from your phone when it’s time to sleep. Many people use their phone as their alarm, so having it off or in a different room may not be feasible. However, you can still turn on Do Not Disturb or even Airplane Mode. That way, your phone cannot interrupt your sleep.
Eliminate Other Work and Sleep Distractions
Of course, your phone isn’t the only distraction in your house. Kids, partners, parents, TVs, and other noise sources can all keep you from your optimal productivity. This is why it’s so vital to have a work sanctuary in your home.
If you have a full home office, communicate that when the door is shut, it’s time to leave you alone. If you don’t have a full room for a home office, still try to put as much physical distance between you and everyone else as possible when working.
Social media on your work computer can be another temptation. It’s best to just not look at it at all. So turn off any popup notifications you might get from different social media apps. If you really can’t stop, there are also apps that can allow you to set a schedule to block social media apps and sites from yourself during certain times of the day.
Plan Your Day
Having a set list of goals for your day can help you effectively work from home in two ways. First off, having a plan for the day that includes a few concrete goals can help you finish the tasks you set out to do in a timely period. It can give you a reward to look forward to – downtime – and a set finish line to run towards. This can dramatically increase productivity.
At the same time, having a few set goals can also set limits on your working time and help prevent work creep. It can allow you to decide you’re going to get a certain set of tasks done for the day, and no more. This can keep you from winding up working the whole day away with no time to yourself.
Plan Your Week
Just like planning your day, planning your week can help you both accomplish goals and protect your downtime. It can also help you better keep track of and meet any upcoming deadlines and meetings. Planning your entire week is particularly important to protecting your weekend, so work tasks do not creep into your Saturday and Sunday.
Set Realistic Goals
Some remote work setups may set goals and deadlines for you. However, some remote offices offer their workers tons of leeway when it comes to accomplishing tasks. This leeway can sometimes work against you, pushing you to feel like you have to get everything done at once.
To avoid this, make sure you’re setting realistic goals. For instance, if you have to write a huge report, divide that report into realistic daily chunks that you can reasonably knock out during work hours. This way, you can set limits on the amount of work you’re doing per day and relieve some of the pressure of huge tasks.
Watch Out for Work Creep
One of the biggest challenges remote workers report facing at the home office is work creep. This means remote work tasks creep beyond working hours and into other areas of life more easily than they would if work was performed in a traditional office.
Setting a schedule and working in a designated home office can help you prevent this from happening. But you’ll also need to pay attention and consciously make yourself set limits on when, where, and maybe even how work can contact you and stick to those limits.
Stick to Your Designated “Off” Hours
Working from home can often blur the lines between work and life. Needless to say, this can negatively affect your work-life balance. This is why it’s vital that your off hours are your off hours.
Scheduling off time every day means you’ve got to take that time off. No answering work calls while you’re out hiking. No checking email while cooking dinner. Off means off, and that means completely cutting off work communications.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
There are lots of amazing remote work apps and technologies out there, from apps that help you follow the 20/20/20 rule to apps that keep you off social media to day and week planners to help you make your schedules and plan your goals.
Don’t be afraid to leverage this technology. Try different apps and programs until you find the ones that work for you. Once you do find the ones that work, it’s best to stick to just them for the sake of organization. For instance, only have one planning app, one screen break app tracking, etc.
Just make sure you don’t use too much technology late in the evening, due to the stimulating effects technology can have on sleep.
How do I not fall asleep while working from home?
Remote workers often complain about feeling tired when they’re trying to do their jobs. There are a few ways to deal with this. One effective way is to get to know your circadian rhythm and schedule 20 to 30-minute naps during your periods of lowest alertness. That way, you get a break and can come back to work refreshed.
If regular power naps aren’t an option, make sure you’re optimizing your sleep at night and your working environment. Don’t ever work in the bedroom. Not only can working in the bedroom make you sleepy during work hours, but it can also keep you up at night because you associate the bedroom with work. Always have two separate designated areas for sleeping and working.
You may be tempted to increase your caffeine intake if you feel sleepy during working hours. But be careful when doing this due to the way caffeine works. Caffeine has a very long half-life, meaning it will be in your system for hours after you ingest it. That means it’s best to avoid caffeine after lunch.
Can working from home affect your sleep?
Remote work can have positive and negative impacts on your sleep. From a positive standpoint, remote work can add flexibility to your schedule that allows you to stick to your natural circadian rhythm. This can be especially helpful for night owls who find it difficult to impossible to get adequate sleep when working “normal” hours.
On the flip side, you’ve got to be careful to not let remote work interfere with your sleep. You can do this by sticking to a strict schedule, working in a designated office space, and avoiding doing any work in the bed or bedroom. Following these rules can also help ensure you don’t get sleepy or distracted from work during the day.
How can you avoid distractions when working from home?
Distractions are one of the hardest things about remote jobs, and avoiding them is key to productivity. One of the best ways to minimize distractions is to ditch the phone. Turn it off. Leave it in another room. Whatever you have to do to escape it.
Of course, some people need their phones for work. If that’s the case, then at the very least, you can turn off all social media and personal notifications until after working hours are over.
Having a designated home office space is also a good way to avoid distractions. Try to have this office space as far from the main living areas as possible, but don’t have it in your bedroom.
What are the dos and don’ts of working from home?
Those with remote jobs can stick to a few key rules to optimize productivity and work-life balance. Do have a set work schedule that you stick to out of habit. Do have a designated workspace where you don’t do anything but work. Do take regularly scheduled screen breaks.
Don’t take work calls or respond to work emails during your off hours. Don’t ever work in your bed or bedroom. And don’t have your phone or other distracting devices around you during working hours.
How can I improve productivity at work from home?
One of the great things about remote jobs is that, when done right, they actually improve productivity by allowing you to customize and personalize your working environment. This way, you can minimize distracting and productivity-killing discomforts.
One of the best things you can do to increase your productivity is to have a distraction-free office space. But you can also optimize this office space for your own comfort level. Make sure it has lots of natural light and as little artificial light as possible. Also, try to ensure that it is far away from noise sources like televisions and kids.
Another great way to improve your productivity is to track your circadian rhythm and schedule your work hours according to your hours of peak alertness and cognitive performance, while scheduling breaks according to your low-performance times.
Working from home can offer a plethora of amazing benefits. But if you don’t stick to a consistent schedule and routine, the lack of consistency can disrupt your sleep. For this reason, you’ll need to keep set working hours and have a solid daily routine to keep your circadian rhythm in line.
About the author
April Mayer has a degree in exercise physiology and is a firm believer in the power of a good night’s sleep. She spends her days reading, researching, and writing about sleep, and her nights, well, sleeping. April’s passion lies in helping others lead more productive lives by helping them get sound, restful sleep every night. April primarily writes about foods and vitamins for better sleep and has written several “better sleep guides” covering a wide variety of topics in her time with Early Bird. She's been a member of the team since March 2020. Additionally, as a sleep expert, April has been featured in various publications including Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That.View all posts