How to Prepare for Returning to the Office

If you’ve been working from home for the last year or so during the COVID-19 pandemic, your work schedule has probably gotten less strict. And if you’re able to set your own hours, your sleep schedule may have relaxed as well. The very thought of returning to the office may send a shiver down your spine — especially when you think of setting your alarm for that early morning commute.

Getting a good night’s sleep was difficult for many people even before the pandemic. In fact, 70 million people have sleep difficulties in the best of times. While the adjustment to life back at the office may not be easy for many reasons, sleep issues don’t have to contribute to the difficulties. Take a look at how you can resync your sleep habits with your return to the workplace.

Prioritize a Healthy Workplace

How often have you gone to work even when you knew you had a cold or worse? Even if you’ve never done this, you undoubtedly have dodged the sniffles and sneezes of coworkers who insisted on showing up for work when they should have stayed in bed.

One of the most important things you can do to keep your workplace healthy is to stay home when you’re sick and monitor your own body for symptoms of COVID-19 or any other malady. If you’re a boss or manager, make it clear to your employees that they have sick leave for a reason. If a coworker has been exposed to COVID-19, follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Your state, county, city, or workplace undoubtedly has health and safety requirements in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Take these requirements seriously, including wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose, social distancing (both at work and elsewhere, including on public transportation), washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds at a time, and covering any sneezes with your elbow.

Prioritize Getting a Good Night’s Sleep – Every Night

Poor sleep has a negative effect in the workplace, whether it manifests as workplace accidents, lowered attention and excessive sleepiness on the job, or a drop in overall employee well-being. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve sleep, some of which are simple to put into practice. Try these tips for getting a good night’s sleep so you can be ready to return to the office well-rested on day one.

  • Give yourself time to wind down at night. Working hard right up to the moment you drop into bed will not help you get a restful night’s sleep. Take a soothing bath, listen to some favorite music, or read a chapter of a new book to help your mind and body unwind before bedtime.
  • Optimize your bedroom for sleep. If your bedroom is too warm, too noisy, or too bright, your sleep can be affected. Cool things down before going to bed, and invest in blackout curtains (or a good eye mask) to keep from being disturbed by outside light as you sleep. A white noise machine is helpful to mask environmental sound, and a good pair of earplugs can do the job as well. In addition, don’t use your bedroom for anything but sleep to train your mind and body to go to sleep when you hit the pillow.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. If you’re tossing and turning in the middle of the night, with your brain running a million miles a minute, you’re definitely not sleeping. Instead, you’re training your brain to think that tossing and turning is the right thing to do in bed. If you find yourself awake for over 20 minutes, get up and do something else — maybe have that warm bath or read a book. Go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy again.
  • Avoid screens before bedtime. Your computer, TV, tablet and smartphone all generate blue light that has a negative effect on your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps keep your sleep cycle regular. That means the time you spend scrolling through your email from bed harms your ability to get to sleep.
  • Cut out caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Of course, you know that a cup of coffee is a bad idea right before bed since the caffeine will rev up your system. But did you know that alcohol before bedtime can also disrupt your sleep cycle? If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, set an early hour for your last drink of either sort.

Avoid Workplace Fatigue

The shift to new work schedules as you return to the office may result in unexpected workplace fatigue. Pay attention to your body so that you notice if you have trouble concentrating, find yourself yawning or have difficulty keeping your eyes open. If you’re a desk worker, these can be merely embarrassing — but employees who work with machinery could be putting themselves and others in physical danger. Step away from your workstation if you’re fatigued, and let your manager know what’s happening.

Managers and supervisors can play a role in helping keep the workplace safe as well. Make it clear to employees that it’s safe to share their experience of workplace fatigue without fear of punishment. Encourage workers to look out for each other, establish procedures for removing fatigued workers from their duties, and post materials about fatigue assessment, such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, for employees to use. Ensure workers have adequate break times and safe turnaround times between shifts, if relevant, and provide safe, comfortable places for them to rest.

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