WFH? How to Create a Morning and Evening Routine
If you're anything like me, then you've probably found it hard to stick to a daily routine—and get a good night's sleep—while working from home these last few weeks.
"The number one thing I'm hearing from my patients is that their sleep schedule is completely thrown off," says Haley Neidich, licensed clinical social worker in Florida. It turns out there's a very good reason for that. "It's not just due to the adjustment for people who are not used to working from home," Neidich explains. "It's really due to the anxiety and being plugged into social media."
So what can you do to calm the very real fears you're experiencing right now—and get your sleep schedule back on track while you're working from home for the foreseeable future? Here are Neidich's six best tips.
Start your morning on the right foot
Just because you don't have an office to commute to in the morning doesn't mean you should skip out on an a.m. routine. In fact, what you do in the morning will set the tone for the rest of your day (and night).
To soothe anxiety, Neidich suggests adding mindfulness mediation to your morning routine. (Here's a quick and easy guide to meditation.) Neidich also recommends you avoid looking at news or social media in the first hour you're awake. "This is a very fragile time," she says. "When you expose yourself to stressors in that hour, you set yourself up for high cortisol levels and stress."
Making your bed, opening your blinds to let some sunlight in, taking a couple of deep breaths, and getting outside for some fresh air before your workday starts will also help put you in the right frame of mind, adds Neidich. Also make sure you're sticking to hygiene basics like showering, washing your face, and brushing your teeth, she says.
And for those of you like me, who have been working and sleeping in their PJs? It's time to change out of them, even if it's into another set of comfy clothes. "One of the things I'm encouraging people to do is have day pajamas, like yoga pants and a tank top," says Neidich. "It's still something different."
"When you get thrown off, you tend to forget to eat," says Neidich. But food gives you the energy necessary to make it through the day, so it's important to prioritize it. For optimal energy, the experts at Harvard Medical School recommend a balanced diet of unrefined carbs, proteins, and fats, with a focus on veggies, whole grains, and healthy oils.
Eating small meals and snacks every few hours—rather than three large meals—will help you maintain steady energy and avoid an afternoon slump. Wrap up dinner three hours before bed, as eating too close to bedtime can make it harder to get a restful night's sleep (hello, heartburn).
Staying hydrated is key too. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, trouble focusing, and headaches. Setting reminders on your phone can help you remember to continue guzzling H20 throughout the day.
With everything going on in the world right now, though, don't beat yourself up if your eating habits aren't "perfect." Neidich says this is a triggering time for people with body issues, so she makes sure to tell people, "If you're eating more, that's fine, that's normal, that's expected."
Get outside—or at least get moving
"This is really important, especially if you live in a city where you're used to walking more," says Neidich. "If you're able to get out for a 30-minute walk twice a day—as long as you can socially distance—that's terrific." The reason why this is so important? Exercise is a proven mood- and sleep-booster.
If you can't safely exercise outside—I can't in New York City because there are too many people and not enough space to maintain six feet of distance between us—moving around indoors is still beneficial. "Even at a less stressful time, being sedentary can mess with your sleep," Neidich points out.
Have a call scheduled? Instead of sitting for it, Neidich suggests putting in AirPods and pacing about. Plenty of fitness studios are also offering free or discounted online workouts since their physical locations are currently closed. (Here's a good list of the best online workouts, from cardio to yoga).
Limit social media use
Social distancing means many of us are spending a whole lot more time glued to our phones, to the detriment of our mental well-being and sleep. "When you're isolated, your phone is your main source of connection to the outside world," says Neidich.
In addition to not picking up your phone as soon as you wake up, Neidich suggests cutting out social media at least two hours before bed and limiting your overall use during the day. "What I'm telling patients—and it has everything to do with sleep—is to limit social media and news combined to under an hour a day as best you can," she says.
Keep in mind that this doesn't include messaging with people who are supportive, checking in with people in your Facebook groups, or looking at Tweets from friends, all of which can help you stay connected.
If it's hard for you to step away from your phone, then download an app that will help curb your time spent on social media. "It's about setting boundaries for your mental health," says Neidich.
Enjoy the right kind of entertainment
We've reported on how binge-watching messes with your sleep—but it's a better-for-your-mental-health alternative to scrolling through social media at the moment.
"Right now binge-watching shows on Netflix is a much healthier choice than reading social media or the news," says Neidich. "If you're going to compare the two, sitting down and watching TV is much more productive and healthy."
Neidich advises you to stay away from anything too dramatic, which could raise anxiety levels, and watch comedies instead. I always turn to reality TV to make me feel better, particularly old episodes of Real Housewives. Meanwhile, Neidich says, "I've found solace in The Circle on Netflix."
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
"Think about what we provide to children around bedtime: read books, take a bath, put on relaxing music, and dim the lights," says Neidich. "We need to be babying ourselves as well right now." All of these activities can help you relax and get the sleep you need to feel your best.
For more advice on putting together an evening routine, check out our guide to the most relaxing nighttime activities.