It’s one of the go-to pieces of advice told to people struggling with sleep: You should only use your bedroom for sleep or sex. But skyrocketing work-from-home rates mean that if your bedroom is also your office, your sleep space is as likely to be used for spreadsheets as snoozes.
If you have noticed an impact on your sleep, the disappearing (physical and emotional) boundaries around your work-life balance is a big reason why.
How Work Stress Impacts Your Sleep and Long-Term Productivity
Work stress is linked to poor sleep, and decreased sleep has been found to affect productivity, further raising stress levels. This exhausting loop gets even worse when you’re experiencing that stress in your bedroom, rather than an actual workplace.
“It’s called ‘stimulus control,’” explains Michael Scullin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, and director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “Basically, our brain is smart at associating stress with the contexts in which we experience that stress. It’s so smart that we’ll feel that stress again if we return to the context, even if we aren’t exposed to the same stimulus.”
In other words? You start to connect anxiety over deadlines and job performance with being in your bedroom. Later, when you return to your bedroom to sleep, stress levels shoot up, leading to less-than-peaceful sleep.
Not getting enough shut-eye doesn't only affect your performance at work, it can also impair your memory and impact your immune system, raising your risk for some serious health issues (such as cardiovascular disease). That doesn’t mean to you have to immediately sleep seven hours or bust though! Like all good habits, reimagining your relationship with your bedroom takes time and effort.
If having your bedroom double as your home office is your only option, here are lifestyle habits and changes you can make to ensure that you’re still prioritizing solid sleep each night.
Create a Morning Routine
The first thing many of us do as soon as our eyes open is reach for our phone. But that’s not ideal, especially if your bedroom doubles as your office. Since research has found that checking work communication outside of work hours decreases our wellbeing, aim to create a device-free morning routine; if you want to be on your phone, make a point to avoid checking your work email. This will help delineate waking and working hours.
“Having a schedule so that you’re not constantly ‘on’ from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed is important,” says Scullin.
Tip #1: If you need an alarm, invest in one with mood lighting. Anita Yokota, a licensed family and marriage therapist turned interior designer, recommends a happy mood light, as it helps our circadian rhythm, so finding a sunrise alarm clock that includes the light therapy she advocates for is even better.
Tip #2: Once you’re awake, avoid sitting down at your desk or even worse, bringing your computer into bed. Even if you’re toiling away in your bedroom, try not to do it while lounging on your mattress. “Get your laptop off your bed,” says Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., a social community psychologist and professor at DePaul University in Chicago.
Tip #3: Treat your day as if you have a commute. Spend your morning in the kitchen listening to a podcast while making breakfast or put your coffee in a travel mug and talk a stroll around your neighborhood, and consider it the time that you would have spent in transit to work.
Create a Clear End to the Workday
You’ve likely heard the phrase, “out of sight, out of mind” before, and there’s a lot of truth to that. Without a trip home from the office to separate you from your work space and signal the end of a work day, it can be easy to just keep working.
Having a hard time knowing when to pull yourself away? “I recommend that people make dinner the point of demarcation, where they won’t return emails or do work afterwards,” shares Scullin.
Tip #1: Put your work equipment away as a physical signal that it’s the end of the work day. Ferrari advises if you have a desktop computer that can’t be easily stashed away, consider getting a slipcover for your monitor (or even taking a large storage container and flipping it upside down over the computer).
If you just have a laptop, Yokota recommends getting a basket or other organizer to hold all of your work-related items (extra points if the container is stylish). This helps put up a physical boundary, and relegates all of your work materials to one set area.
“I think that if you’re able to be diligent about setting boundaries around work and rest, making your workspace a small part of your room doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing,” adds Yokota. “Put yourself on a schedule, know when to close the laptop and put it away in its designated spot, and commit yourself to that!”
Tip #2: On top of that, make sure that when you stop work for the day, you really stop working. If you have to be on your phone, mute work notifications or keep certain apps off of your phone — use the desktop version only, if possible — to eliminate the temptation of just one more peek at your inbox.
Schedule Breaks Throughout the Day
Thanks to technology, it's harder than ever to unplug from work. Taking regular breaks away from technology will help give your brain a break. If at all possible, try to take breaks outside of your bedroom; we know it’s tempting to lay down for a quick nap, but doing so during what you have scheduled as your work hours may lead you to further confuse your time in the bedroom (just like the stimulus control Scullin mentioned above).
“Having a schedule so that you’re not constantly ‘on’ from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed is also important,” says Scullin.
Tip #1: Take five minutes while getting up to get that second cup of coffee to do some light stretching or schedule a 10-minute “water cooler chat” with a friend to talk about things other than work (bonus points if you do this while walking around the block).
Tip #2: At the very least, make sure to schedule a lunch break away from your desk so that you have at least an hour to decompress during the day and nourish your body (and mind).
Need More Time? Recreate Your Commute
One way to clock a little extra time in bed? Take advantage of the fact that you don’t commute and set your alarm for a little later in the morning. If pre-work from home days had you rushing breakfast or purchasing one too many lattes, use the extra time you have now to enjoy your meal.
Consider revamping your morning routine to include activities you really love too. Whether that’s taking a walk before you log onto your work laptop or journaling your morning thoughts, doing activities dedicated to what you love could help prevent revenge bedtime procrastination at night.
Remember to Prioritize the “Life” in Work-Life Balance
At the end of the day, you should always do what it takes to prioritize getting good sleep. You don’t want to fall into a cycle of revenge bedtime procrastination, wishing you had spent more time on yourself. Now, more than ever, is the time to practice slow living, whether that means not eating in bed or in front of your work laptop — because there is a kitchen or dining room you can sit in!
Intentionally creating this mental separation through lifestyle habits can make returning to your bedroom, after a day of work in the same space, feel like a calming and serene experience. Yokota even recommends stocking up on items to help reinforce that vibe. She loves a diffuser, and says that aromatherapy, with a scent like lavender, has been found to not only improve sleep quality, but also elevate mood and improve cognition.
And while it’s easier said than done, these efforts will help you slowly change from hustle culture towards cozy culture and slowly make “getting a good night’s sleep” the easy part of your to-do list.
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