Sleepy Connected Americans
Sep 22, 20
How your late-night connectivity is affecting your sleep and your overall health, especially in a new work-from-home world
by Elizabeth Burton
In recent months, many Americans have found quality sleep even more elusive than years prior. Our increasingly non-stop connectivity has sabotaged our collective ability to unplug and decompress, bringing with it a number of unpleasant and damaging side effects. One of these side effects has been a decrease in consistent quality sleep, largely due to the fact that our brains are not allowed adequate time to quiet and refocus before we fall asleep. With more and more American workers making a permanent shift to remote work as the COVID-19 crisis continues, this period of decompression is shortening further.
Risk of burnout, anxiety, and work hours have all increased for many as workers have begun their transition to full-time remote work. As many work from makeshift bedroom “home offices,” devices are always in reach, meaning co-workers, bosses, and clients but a click away, making it practically impossible to truly disconnect. Follow below to learn more about how late night connectivity is affecting countless American’s sleep.
Remote Work and Restless Sleep
A recent 2020 study published by PsychReg.org found that “of 2,000 people who started working from home in the past three weeks...70% of new home workers have found their sleeping patterns disrupted in some way, with one in four claiming that their sleeping pattern has been very disrupted, with a restless sleep each night.” At least part of this phenomenon appears due to the fact that few remote workers have access to a separate work-from-home office space. The study published by PsychReg.org recorded “over a fifth of respondents (21%) are working from their main bedroom, which is negatively influencing their sleeping patterns.” Women who have begun working from home alongside their spouse or partner are especially burdened, the study found, as “women are working mostly in the living room (24%) with men taking the home office (23%).” This has resulted in a 15% gap between women and men experiencing a “very disrupted” sleep pattern, with 36% of women experiencing the issue compared to just 21% of men.
The Bedroom “Office” Problem
With so many Americans now working from their bedrooms, stepping back from or hiding one’s laptop, work phone, or tablet can feel like shirking responsibility, even if the devices are tucked away late at night. Not only can staring at an electronic device harm your sleep because of the energizing blue light that emanates from each screen, but it can also hurt your eyes and cause headaches, making it more difficult to fall asleep, and thereby making quality sleep even harder to achieve. Having a “home office” in one’s bedroom can also increase a worker’s risk of burnout. This added pressure on one’s emotional and psychological health caused by increased work-related anxiety can also hamper quality sleep.
Longer Days Mean Lasting Connectivity
According to a study conducted by the online employment platform Monster, referenced in by Michelle Fox in her article “Remote work burnout is growing as pandemic stretches on. Here’s how to manage it,” published online by CNBC, “Over two-thirds, or 69%, of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home...up almost 20% from a similar survey in early May.” Increasingly fearful for the long term survival of their jobs as the recession continues on, remote workers are taking even less time off than before.
The lack of a physical boundary between home and work has made disconnecting from work, and thereby from technology, all the more difficult. Many workers feel pressure to work longer days, answering emails and responding to requests at late hours when they should be sleeping, allowing electronics to affect their sleep. The threat of a missed call or email has left workers feeling jittery and on-edge, unable to commit to a restful night’s sleep.
Technology and Your Internal Clock
Always on Alert
According to Dr. Carl Rosenberg in his article “How Technology Use Decreases Sleep Quality,” written for SleepHealthSolutionsOhio.com, “recent research has shown that using smartphones and other devices before going to bed has a direct correlation with sleep loss…[by] emit[ting] short-wave, blue light.” Blue light is the only electromagnetic field in the spectrum of visible light proven to affect sleep negatively. This has spurred additional research into the relationship between EMFs and sleep problems. Dr. Rosenberg explains that this exposure to short-wave blue light can shorten the period of REM sleep experienced by those who use their phones or computers close to bedtime. In his article for SleepHealthSolutionsOhio.com, Dr. Rosenberg acknowledges that when the total amount of REM sleep is diminished because of using electronics before sleep, one can expect “daytime grogginess, inability to focus, mood swings and chronic sleep deprivation.”
Blue light exposure also delays the body’s release of melatonin, which is an important hormone for regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, the biological function that controls sleep and wake cycles. Sleeping nearby a device is also harmful, explains Dr. Rosenberg, as expectations of alerts on one’s smartphone can keep the brain on high-alert when it is supposed to be conducting the reparative work intended to take place during sleep. Connectivity can be harmful to the emotional, physical, and psychological health of both children and adults, as found in a series of studies referenced by Rebecca Boyle in her article “Using Electronic Devices Before Bed Tied to Lousy Sleep” for InsideScience.org.
The Hidden Harm of Indirect Access
One peer-reviewed study entitled “Direct Measurements of Smartphone Screen-Time: Relationships with Demographics and Sleep,” published in the November 9th, 2016 issue of PLOS ONE, conducted by researcher Gregory Marcus at UCSF and associated with the larger Health eHeart study conducted jointly by the university and the American Heart Association, found that adults who use “a phone or tablet around bedtime…[experienced] longer sleep latency, or taking longer to get to sleep, and poor sleep quality."
A second study entitled “Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes,” published by JAMA Pediatrics and conducted by Ben Carter of King’s College London, found that negative effects of technology are not limited to actually using the devices. Carter and his colleagues discovered that “if you don’t use the device, but have access to the device in the sleep environment, you again find much poorer sleep outcomes.” Simply sleeping with electronics can be harmful.
To minimize your risk of burnout while working from home and to ensure a better night’s sleep, try to put your phone and other devices either in a locked drawer across your bedroom or in another room of your home before going to bed.
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