How to overcome sleep problems if you are a freelancer

By Vladimir Marchenko

The rapid development of the Internet and technology has allowed many people not only to communicate with friends around the world but also to work for clients that live in other countries. However, the difference in the time zones and irregular work schedule force many freelancers to work late hours, which often causes the disruption of circadian rhythms and sleep deprivation. So how is it possible to overcome the adverse effects of freelancing on your sleep?

The history of freelancing

Remote work means that clients and employees work at a distance, sometimes in different cities and even countries. While the employer can be located in the office or at some central place of work, the employee usually works from home or any other convenient place or country, f.e. Bali or Thailand. Communication, task assignments, their implementation, and payments are managed using available platforms and messengers. Often, freelancers do not meet with their employers in person for months or even never meet them live at all.

It is believed that the concept of remote work was proposed by Jack Nilles from the USA. In 1972, he suggested that it was not necessary to keep the employees in the office. Firstly, the means of communication existing at that time were already enough to allow some employees to work from locations convenient for them. Secondly, remote work would save a lot of money on rental spaces for the employers and lots of travel-to-work time for the employees. Moreover, he assumed that it would help to solve the issue of the overcrowded transport in the city and getting rid of traffic jams. Nilles introduced the terms "teleworking" and “telecommuting”, and the boom in remote work began in the United States.

Back in 1969, Alan Keiron from the US Patent Office wrote to the Washington Post about how computers and new ways of communication can change the conditions of life and work

In fact, remote relations between the client and the performer existed long before. For example, in Jack London’s novel "Martin Eden" (1909) the story of a young aspiring writer continuously and unsuccessfully sending his works by mail to editorial offices all over the United States is told. One day Eden received a reply that his work got accepted, published and he was being sent a money check. When he became a famous writer, Martin Eden continued to communicate with publishers exclusively by mail, visiting them just to collect the fee. Thus, people of some professions have been practising freelancing long ago without knowing about it.

Even though post, telephones, and faxes were used for communication with employees for a long time, freelancing began to flourish after the invention and popularization of the Internet in the early 2000s. Later, it became possible to communicate by video calls tete-a-tete and in groups, work together on the same documents and projects online, and make transfers in different currencies from all over the planet through the transnational payment systems. There emerged a number of new occupations, for which it is enough to just have a computer or a laptop connected to the Internet, among them are: copywriters, translators, designers, programmers, technical and customer support specialists, financial traders, etc.

The number of remote workers in the USA alone in 2019 was around 57 million, which is 35% of all the US employees. Coronavirus pandemic increased the demand for freelancers even more. However, not all the remote workers are completely prepared for the stress and sleep problems connected with freelance.

Why freelancers have sleep problems 

Working from home for a foreign or well-known company seems to be a cherished dream to many people. However, in reality, freelancers often find themselves in the so-called "time trap" when they mismanage the hours allotted to work. If so, the longed-for flexible schedule of work may gradually annihilate the normal routine of work, rest and sleep, which may trigger a loss of performance and even health problems. In this case, sleep routine of going to bed and waking up regularly at about the same time disappears, which, sooner or later, will negatively affect the productiveness and the income of a freelancer. Moreover, freelance workers usually have neither medical insurance and nor paid leaves, which makes it more difficult for them to schedule some time off to "recharge".

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, most people who work from home do it in order to cut overhead costs and have more time to accomplish their tasks

Freelancers sometimes suffer from shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) that used to be more typical for employees in the sectors of healthcare, catering, emergency services, and hotel business. According to the National Sleep Foundation of the USA, up to 30% of shift workers are reported with excessive sleepiness and insomnia. The percentage of poor sleepers among freelancers is high as well. Even though some employees, especially those with the “night owl" chronotype, prefer working at night, it is not so easy for "larks" and "pigeons".

Main causes of sleep problems among freelancers:

1. The difference in the time zones between the client and the employee. It is, probably, one of the most common reasons. Think about it, 11-30 am in Eastern Europe is lunchtime (2 pm) in New Delhi and late night in San Francisco (01-30 am). If this is the case and the performers have to adjust to their clients’ time, they often have to shift their working hours as well. Many residents of Eastern Europe start their workday at 8 pm and finish around 3 o’clock in the morning, which, of course, cannot but disturb their sleep-waking cycle.

2. Competitive environment. The freelance market is growing, as well as the competition. That’s why nowadays freelancers agree to tight deadlines and are ready to stay in touch 24/7 without days off or vacations. The fear of being replaced is stronger for them than their comfort and sound sleep.

3. A large number of projects and perfectionism. Freelance usually provides an empolyee with an irregular workload, therefore, freelancers prefer to take as many tasks from different clients as possible, often all at the same time, without thinking about the consequences. In addition, constant competition and personal perfectionism force people to stay up late in order to achieve a certain ideal version of the completed task, often to the detriment of quality sleep and sound rest.

4. Blurry work-life balance. On the one hand, a freelancer is relieved of any office distractions, like chatting with coworkers, but on the other hand, it is very difficult for him to separate professional and personal since his home is also the office. There is no opportunity to switch from work to normal life as other people often do while walking home from the office, and, as a result, it is difficult to get rid of stress until late night. 

5. A habit to take naps during the day. Sleeping between work marathons is becoming one of the main bad habits of a freelancer. Nevertheless, a short nap can be beneficial if it corresponds with the night sleep schedule. Accidental long nap or falling asleep after 6:00 pm, however, would disrupt the normal rest cycle. Although, it depends on the capabilities of the body.

It is as important for freelancers to stick to a daily plan and work schedule as it is for full-time office workers

Over time, excessive dedication to work leads to a decrease in the quality of life since not everyone is able to follow such a schedule. This results in sleep disturbances, including insomnia and chronic fatigue. Subsequently, this can lead to diabetes, obesity, and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

How to restore a normal sleep schedule if you are a freelancer

Here are a few pieces of advice how to get back to normal work and rest schedule:  

  • try to work with the clients who live in the same or similar time zone. Coordinate the time of communication with the clients and organise your work in such a way that your rest and sleep time does not suffer much;
  • stick to officewear. Dress code can help you tune in the appropriate mood. In addition, after work you can easily switch to your normal routine by simply putting on your favourite pyjamas;
  • use special features that reduce the intensity of blue light on the screens of your devices;
  • zoning the space is key. Even if you have only one room, create separate areas for work and rest there so that you can implement your tasks at the desk and relax in bed or on the sofa;
  • add some extra time for every task. In order to rest properly, add another 25-40% to the time that you estimated would be enough to complete the task. This way you can carve out more time for rest;
  • limit working hours. Work in no bear, it won’t go anywhere. Try to slow down from time to time, otherwise, you are risking to turn even interesting work tasks into a burden which may lead to job burnout;
  • eat properly and do not drink coffee after 3 pm. Fast food may seem to be an easy and always available way of getting a snack or lunch during the day, however, it negatively affects the quality of sleep. Same refers to consuming too many energy drinks;
  • practise yoga or stretching and meditation before going to bed.
One of the main factors that contribute to work overload is disorganization and inability to prioritize future tasks

You may also find a specific ritual that is associated with falling asleep for you. It should be something enjoyable and relaxing at the end of the day. For example, listening to a relaxing nature sounds playlist. Rustling sounds of rain, wind, and fire, give people a feeling of security and tunes the body into a night of healthy sleep.

You can also use the smart alarm clocks in order to make your awakening easier. They define the best sleep phase to wake you up and track biometric sleep indicators in each phase, usually, with the help of wearable devices, for example, Apple Watch. A specifically developed algorithm analyzes the state of sleep and gives a command to the device to wake you up. It occurs at the most optimal stage for the body and the brain. Advanced alarm clocks also have a customised "smart" period during which the user should be waken up. It means your awakening will be triggered at the most favourable moment within a certain timeframe so that you feel great in the morning.

Both relaxing playlists and smart alarm clock function can be found in the Hypnopedia app. It was developed based on scientific research in the field of sleep. Specialized professional equipment was used in order to develop the algorithms that underly the unique complex of sleep supporting tools that can be found in the application. Hypnopedia is a great assistant for people with a flexible and unorganised schedule, like freelancers. The main feature of the application is the sets of affirmations that can be chosen to be reproduced during sleep (without disturbing the user's sleep or waking him up). The affirmations played during the night are comprehended at the subconscious level and, in the long term, improve mental health. Through repetition during sleep, affirmations increase productivity and other psychophysiological characteristics. Try the application here:

Ссылка App Store

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Working remotely has many advantages, it is associated with freedom and flexibility in terms of tasks performed as well as working time and place. However, while working from home, it is extremely easy to neglect the normal hours of rest and sleep. For this reason, it is so important for freelancers to pay attention to their sleep hygiene and daily routine. It is specifically helpful to go to bed and wake up at about the same time, including weekends. Healthy sleep will help you stay productive and enjoy your freelancing in full.

Hypnopedia Mental health Sleep Self-awareness