It’s a reality that many of us are going to work, attending to dinner, the kids, our loved ones or our selves and then hitting the work again before bed. I’m doing it right now. While I try to avoid it if I can, it’s a necessity for many. I especially hear this from working professionals who are hitting the prime of their career at the same time as becoming new parents and possibly even caring for their own parents. I heard it called the “care giver sandwich” recently and thought that was very profound.
So why do we work late and what are the risks?
Work Late Pros:
- Work email has slowed down (for most)
- Darkness has a way of focusing us
- The time between the end of the work day and the after dinner hours may have recharged our batteries a bit and allowed for some creative thinking time
Work Late Cons:
- Working before bed can energize our brain right as it is supposed to be quieting
- Exposure to blue light from computers, phones and televisions absolutely reduces sleep quality by interfering with melatonin production in our brain. Melatonin is what our brain releases when darkness falls to make us sleepy. Blue light makes our brains think that it’s DAYTIME. Super confusing.
- We’re working more than ever before and it’s still hard to get everything done. The stress of the to do list can be difficult to disengage from when we’re swimming in it before bed.
- Work mares, I get them… can’t be the only one. I’ll wake up the next day and feel like I worked all night. Not fun.
So with all these cons and pros that really just mean we’re working more what are we to do? This is where a tactic that addiction approaches use can come in handy. It’s called harm reduction. If we’ve got to work late, how do we reduce those cons?
Quick tips: How to work late and win!
- Invest in some orange glasses like mine and join the nerdy club with me. They block out blue light. It makes everything quite yellow but you adjust quickly and even get in a few laughs while you’re at it. I’ve experimented with these for some time and know that they really do prevent my brain from going into overdrive. I still get the sleepy signal from my brain around 9:30 pm that tells me to stop. Without them, 10:30 pm roles around with the realization that 6 am is going to come too early.
- Choose an activity that is more on the creative side or is mundane like editing. Essentially, avoid anything irritating or too cognitively taxing. As a side note, avoid responding to emails at this time. Feel free to draft them and send in the morning. Doing this sets a boundary with your co-workers/employers that when you away from work you are not working and makes expectations more manageable.
- Play some soothing music that reduces your heart rate.
- Avoid the use of stimulants like coffee that will interfere with your sleep efforts
- Check out my blog on easy breaks. Taking breaks will allow you to work without amping up your stress response.
- End the work time with a purely pleasurable activity at least 45 minutes before bed time. Play has been scientifically proven to improve mood and reduce stress. Playing a board game, intimacy, joking around and/or doing something that makes you laugh can shift you away from the work and knock out the stress to prepare you for sleep.
- Set a bed time that will allow you to sleep at least 7 hours, preferably 8-9 hours. If you are running at high performance speeds, you need your rest more than ever. Sleep is the only time that researchers know that the lymphatic network of the brain clears out waste products created from all that effort you’re outputting in the day.
Hope these tips have helped put you at ease about working those evening hours. Remember not to burn the midnight oil!