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Pandemic Is Turning Some Older Telecommuters Into Insomniacs

Changes in your daily routine can disrupt sleep, experts say

A man is sleeping at his desk during work

Alamy Stock Photo

En español | The disruption in daily routine caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a toll on the sleep patterns of some older adults working from home, according to a survey of 1,020 Americans now working remotely.

The survey, conducted for Sleep Standards, a website that provides research-based sleep advice and reviews of sleep-related products, found that 22 percent of Gen Xers (ages 39 to 54) and 6 percent of boomers (ages 55 to 73) aren't sleeping as well as they had been before the coronavirus pandemic.

"When you're used to going to the office to work, then heading home to relax after a long workday, your circadian rhythm gets confused, making it difficult for the mind to determine when it's time for work and time for rest,” Sleep Standards Editor in Chief Chris Norris, a psychiatrist and neurologist who is board certified in sleep medicine, explained via email.

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The survey identified several factors that may be exacerbating sleep patterns for remote workers:

  • 14.3 percent of Gen Xers said working at home blurs the boundaries between work and the rest of their lives, compared with 4.2 percent of boomers.
  • 13 percent of Gen Xers and 3.3 percent of boomers had difficulty switching themselves off at night.
  • 11.2 percent of Gen Xers and 2.2 percent of boomers said that using an electronic screen late at night is interfering with their rest.
  • 11.7 percent of Gen Xers and 3.5 percent of boomers said they are working later at home.

Lawrence Epstein, M.D., clinical director of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, and past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, advised those who have trouble sleeping to set a regular schedule that matches their internal clocks, to develop a relaxing pre-sleep routine and to reduce light intake (especially from electronic devices) for an hour or two before bed. Daytime naps, caffeine and alcohol can also impair nighttime sleep, he said via email.