Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, those who struggle with insomnia may have felt those issues exacerbate — the term “coronasomnia” was even coined to define those who experienced sleep issues directly related to the pandemic. Survivors of COVID-19 are even more at risk for insomnia than others.
While many of the lockdown protocols have been lifted, mask mandates, hybrid learning school schedules, and work-from-home routines continue to evolve. A new study from the National University of Singapore sheds light on how changes in lifestyle and well-being after reopening were moderated by participants’ post-lockdown work arrangements.
By observing about 200 university students and employees in Singapore starting in April of 2020, participants were asked to wear a sleep and physical activity monitor at all times. They also completed a questionnaire and cognitive assessment games twice a day, as well as larger online surveys every four weeks. The researchers also monitored screen time, particularly time spent on a device close to bedtime.
Upon reopening after lockdown, the majority of participants reported varying mixtures of in-person work and working-from-home, while a third of the sample continued to fully work from home. The varying work environment circumstances may have been related to the phased reopening strategy that the Singapore government put into place.
Sleep timing and daily activity returned towards more normal values for people who returned to in-person work more frequently, while those who continued to work from home showed little change in activity and sleep timing.
Those who were working from home also consistently reported later bedtimes, even after the lockdown was lifted.
While many people’s sleep schedules shifted to later sleep and wake times, participants’ schedules shifted again when adjusting to new work environments. “These effects seem to reflect an inverse pattern of changes in lifestyle observed at the onset of lockdowns,” the study says.
The data aligns with the belief that it is easier to blur the lines between leisure time and working hours while working from home, creating a higher risk for later sleep timing or late-night phone usage. Individuals with low pre-bedtime phone usage reported more physical activity, both during lockdown and post-lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred an even more rapid transition to remote work, with 35% of the population shifting to remote work. Late sleep schedules, in general, can be associated with negative health outcomes, and may reflect misalignment with natural night-day rhythms.
The pandemic caused the global workforce to adapt to a combination of in-person, remote, and hybrid work environments. Seeing some positive effects of this hybrid work normalization, some businesses may adopt hybrid work policies in some capacity.
With this and the potential negative impacts that remote work may have on physical activity and sleep, researchers note the significance of this study: “It will be important to monitor the long-term progression of these behaviors, and to devise recommendations and programs to counteract negative outcomes of these sustained behavioral patterns.”
For those staying home most of the week, it’s important to establish boundaries between work and personal life at home. Finding a replacement for your commute, like a morning walk, may encourage a more active lifestyle.