How COVID Is Changing Work-Life Balance
- Social distancing and work from home is drastically changing our way of life, including the smaller things like our sleep habits
- Insomnia was one of Google’s trending search results in June of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.
- More Americans reported feeling burnout from work life, particularly as work-home life balance is becoming more difficult to manage with work-from-home orders.
The 2020 pandemic has brought about huge changes to the way we live, and it’s not just how we take care of our personal hygiene and practice safe distancing.
Lack of our regular habits & routines are reshaping our lifestyles as we adjust to updates about the COVID pandemic. Since the stay-at-home order beginning in March of 2020, a lot of our normal daily life has been disrupted. Even our basic routines have changed with businesses & economies closing and many staying home to social-distance. Many of us are trying to cope with the life changes going on- businesses closing, distance affecting relationships- and yet even the smaller changes are taking a toll on our lives.
With new stressors and anxieties, even small things like work-life balance to working from home & our sleep schedules are adjusting to all the changes that we are struggling to adapt with.
Working during COVID-19
Our daily lives have changed dramatically since the outbreak, and even more so with the stay-at-home order. Since the stay-at-home order, businesses closed and activities have been cancelled until future notice. Since March, more than 65 million have filed for unemployment. Those who are still working are facing a very different work environment than ever before. Taking out the commute, our colleagues, and our regular work environment out of the pictures means changing how we are usually able to be productive.
Being stuck at home can affect us both physically and mentally. With less opportunities to go out, we don’t spend as much outside or even get as much natural sunlight as we used to. This can affect our physical cues for wakefulness and sleep which regulate our sleep schedules, and can attribute to things like staying up too late or oversleeping.
What does work-life balance look like?
Work from home has taken over since the outbreak began. With many of us now working from home, work-life balance can be even more difficult to manage for some. Those of us who are worried about prospective layoffs or are working reduced hours might be facing a lot of stress, which could affect your mentality as well as your productivity.
Many people are experiencing burnout from the combined effects of work stress as well as home-life stress. Without a separation from the workplace and home life, work-life balance can be difficult to manage since you can’t disconnect. Many are pressured to work harder as the economy takes a hit, and prospective layoffs urge them to prove that they are working harder.
Even working from home itself is a big change that can take a lot of adjusting. Many don't have a separate space to work or are surrounded by people that make for a very disruptive environment. Stanford economist Bloom breaks it down into four main things that can make productivity plummet if they affect our work: children, space, privacy and personal choice of work environment.
Because of the pandemic, businesses are changing how they operate and are supporting their employees. Most now ask employees to work remotely as well as expand sick leave policy or encourage sick employees to stay at home. Health and hygiene are taking priority hygiene which could have a positive impact on the workers’ wellbeings.
In other areas, a survey finds that many see increasing leadership in their workplace, providing guidance and ability to communicate a plan of action during these changes.
Changes in sleep
While everyone is different, it appears that many people’s daily lives are also experiencing issues with sleep. Today people are experiencing stress and anxiety, and insomnia searches are at an all time high. More people are reaching out to sleep experts with concerns about their sleep health as we stay at home and life continues with uncertainty. Maybe it isn’t surprising that one of the top Google searches for June was “insomnia”.
Since we no longer have our regular routines, or our work hours are reduced (or increased), we don’t have as many things that are tying us to our regular bedtime schedule. It can be harder to keep track of the time, or even the day. Many might stay up late well past their regular schedule, or oversleep in the morning. Both things can slowly shift our regular body’s schedules which can make us feel foggy, even groggy, during the day.
In addition, most of us are increasing our online use and using digital screens throughout the day. With not as much to do outside of home, technology has become our main source of entertainment, as seen in the growth in Wifi-use and boom in online esports. While most of us use technology every day, having a significant increase might influence the blue-light effect on our sleep schedules as well as staying up later.
Why are things changing?
Historically, changes to sleep during crises have happened before. Studies are being done comparing the pandemic’s effect on dreams with other disasters like 9/11.
There are also new studies being conducted, interested in the impacts of COVID and self-isolation on insomnia and sleep. Even in this short time there have been noticeable observations on changing sleep experiences due to the pandemic.
Growing stress and insomnia?
Stress is a huge factor that influences how we sleep, and our sleep quality. With growing stress and worry about our health, about the economy, and our personal livelihoods, our sleep could be greatly affected by growing anxieties and stress.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder already, but even episodes of difficulty sleeping can be attributed to stress or anxiety. Stress causes cognitive, physical and emotional changes that affect our body. Increasing stress can induce a “flight or fight” response that could affect sleep loss.
Both also have an impact on suppressing our immune system functions, which we need to care for more than ever especially during this time.
Sleep is necessary for your immune system
Many studies point to how sleep is important to keep our immune systems functioning and healthy.
Research has also shown that the production of T cells, or white blood cells that help your immune system, peak while you are asleep. These cells are necessary for your body to fight infections and viruses, so there is strong reference to sleep being important to the production of these cells.
Short-term, low-quality sleep, such as interrupted sleep or sleep deprivation, is linked to greater evidence of inflammation, as well as insulin resistance, higher cortisol levels and higher blood pressure. This state can make it difficult for the body to fight off other infections or inflammation.
Sleep deprivation can also suppress your immune system; stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline tend to inhibit immune cells like T-cells from binding to infected cells, thus suppressing immune system functions. In experimentally induced sleep loss, these immune functions decreased.
Suggestions on how to manage better balance & sleep during quarantine
Create a schedule.
It’s important to create a consistent sleep schedule, and try to get a sufficient amount of sleep every night. While it seems simple, getting up at a specific time and following your own personal routine can help with productivity. Take advantage of time we have now to practice self-care and get the sleep that we need to protect our help.
Limit your screen time.
Online use has only grown since the outbreak as more people are staying indoors. Limit your screen time before bedtime so that you can reduce the amount of blue light you’re getting. It’s important to take care of your sleep environment more than ever, especially given that we have to be home more. Keep your room dark and quiet when you sleep, and avoid loud noises that spike stress levels.
Before bed, take some time without electronics to make time for other things. Listen to music, take a hot bath, or do something that you enjoy.
Have a morning routine.
Even though we’ve lost a lot of our regular routines, it’s important to try to stay on track.
Try to wake up around the same time every morning, allowing yourself to fall into your own schedule. Follow a routine like having breakfast, do morning exercises or meditation, and doing work for a set amount of time.
Try meditation or exercises to relax.
Anxiety and stress can have a huge impact on your sleep. Deep breathing helps slow down your heart rate and send oxygen to your brain and body, clearing your mind and relieving tension and stress.
An easy breathing exercise you can practice is
- Take slow deep breaths, inhaling through your nose for 4-5 seconds
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for another 4-5 seconds
- Repeat this ten times
Practicing self-care is important no matter what.
Even without a pandemic, your sleep is vital to maintaining your health. While it can be more difficult to get sleep or even reduce stress, we are pushing for more ways to make better sleep quality and sleep health easier for you.
There are resources from the Sleep Foundation and The American Academy of Sleep Medicine on some things we can do to sleep better.