How to make home a healthy workplace
Go back two years, and working from home was something you’d expect to do on the occasional Friday or if you had to wait in for someone to mend the dishwasher. And, even now we're in the grips of a global pandemic, it was never something we expected to last as long as it has. Who would have thought we'd be where we are now?
However, even with the world opening up, it looks like it may be here for a little bit longer so we may need to think about how we are working and whether it is working for us in terms of our health and well-being.
During my practice, many of my clients have told me, “Pre-lockdown I had a great routine, but over the last year it has all fallen apart. I’m eating more takeaways and fewer proper meals. I’m drinking more than I’d like to. I’m finding it difficult to get motivated back to exercise. I’m working on the kitchen table and don’t seem to know where the workday ends and my own time begins. My sleep is completely disrupted. I’m finding it all pretty stressful, but I don’t know how to get started again”. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, you are not alone!
A lot of the disruption to people’s sleep, appetite and motivation levels may well start with a lack of consistent routine. But why is that? Well, it could be down to just getting out of the habit of doing things that are good for us as we lose the touchpoints that inspire us to do those things, such as a visit to the gym before work. Or popping out at lunchtime for a walk to grab lunch. Or having a distinct work-home divide.
But it could also be partly down to our circadian rhythms being thrown off-kilter by a lack of consistent routine – late nights, meals at odd times, working longer hours, juggling kids and work, not getting outside regularly. And this could detrimentally affect our health.
Our circadian rhythm is an internal clock that runs constantly, moving us between being alert and feeling sleepy.
Circadian rhythms can influence important functions in our bodies, such as hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and, of course, sleep. Our bodies have 'circadian clocks' that function in most tissues and organs to regulate timing and daily rhythms. A master clock keeps our body and its rhythm running smoothly, allowing for the pattern of the day.
And it is kept in rhythm by light or dark hitting our retinas and sending signals to our brain. During the daytime, daylight signals via the eye to the brain to suppress our sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, and activate our wake-me-up hormone, cortisol. At night, our brain receives signals that it’s dark and late in the day, telling us that it’s time to release melatonin and get ready for bed.
But if we’re stuck indoors looking at screens for a lot of the day, this could really affect our body clock detrimentally, which in turn will have a knock-on effect on our hormones, digestion, motivation and energy levels, and sleep. Research shows that shift-workers and those regularly suffering from jet lag may have increased incidents of chronic disease, low mood and anxiety, and lack of motivation.
Therefore, we need to improve our daily routines in order to make our home workplaces a healthy environment, and regain our energy and motivation for healthy living.
How to improve your circadian rhythm
Here are some tips for improving our circadian rhythms and bringing the benefits that that gives.
- Setting regular wake-up and going-to-bed times is an excellent place to start - our bodies love routine and will settle in nicely to this.
- Opening our curtains or blinds wide first thing in the morning to get that lovely sunlight into our eyes and signalling to our brains that it's wake-up time.
- Going out for a 'morning commute' into the fresh air first thing, even if it's only a walk around the block.
- Take meetings outside where you can so that you get sunlight on your face.
- Aiming to be off screens for at least two hours before bed, as the blue light they emit can mimic daylight affecting our rhythm.
- Keep lights dimmer in the evening to signal to the body that it's nearly time for sleep.
- Eliminate all light sources in the bedroom so that you can sleep in the dark, or get an eye mask.
Following these simple steps can make a real difference to your energy levels and sleep patterns. And those benefits in turn will help you feel more motivated to make a change to your diet and lifestyle.