Work at home? You’re more likely to suffer insomnia

  • Working out of home could save you time, but lead to other health problems
  • Stress, depression and insomnia were linked to remote workers, a report says 
  • Past studies have found sleep deprivation leads to lower productivity levels
  • Researchers are suggesting more companies ‘disconnect’ so employees can separate paid work and personal life

Mary Kekatos For


Working from home may be saving you commuting time, but it could also be causing insomnia, a new report says.

Researchers say working outside of an office can make you more vulnerable to stress and depression as well. 

Past studies have found that sleep deprivation leads to a higher mortality risk and lower productivity levels among the workforce.

Now researchers are suggesting companies adopt new measures so employees can separate their work life from their personal life.

Working from home could be making you more vulnerable to insomnia, a new report says

The report comes from the United Nations’s International Labour Organization (ILO), which studied the impacts of working remotely as technological advances continue to revolutionize traditional conceptions of the workplace.

Researchers took data from 15 countries, including 10 EU members. They found that employees were more productive while outside of a conventional office.

However, the researchers noted it also brought risks of ‘longer working hours, higher work intensity and work-home interference’.

The report drew distinctions between employees who regularly work at home, highly mobile people constantly working in different locations and those who split time between an office and another site.

All three groups reported higher stress levels and more incidents of insomnia than those who always work at their employer’s premises.

For example, 41 percent of highly mobile employees said they felt some degree of stress, a figure that was 25 percent for office workers.

And 42 percent of people who always work from home or from multiple locations reported suffering from insomnia, compared to 29 percent for people who work at their employer’s site.

Sleep deprivation leads to a higher mortality risk and lower productivity levels among the workforce, according to researchers at RAND Europe.

Researchers found a person who sleeps on average less than six hours a night has a 13 percent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours.

And those sleeping between six and seven hours a day have a seven percent higher mortality risk. Sleeping between seven and nine hours per night is described as the ‘healthy daily sleep range’. 

The report highlighted a number of positive effects of such as more flexibility in terms of working time organization, and reduced commuting time resulting in a better overall work-life balance and higher productivity. 

But disadvantages included an overlap between paid work and personal life – which can lead to high levels of stress. 

Overall, there were clear risks linked to ‘the encroachment of work into spaces and times normally reserved for personal life,’ the report said.

Co-author Jon Messenger, a senior research officer for the ILO, encouraged employers to try letting staff work offsite at least part-time.

‘Two to three days working from home seems to be that sweet spot’, he told reporters in Geneva. 

‘This report shows that the use of modern communication technologies facilitates a better overall work-life balance but, at the same time, also blurs the boundaries between work and personal life, depending on the place of work and the characteristics of different occupations.’

While there is evidence that people need some face-to-face contact with colleagues, but there are times when physical isolation and autonomy offers the best scenario for successfully completing a task.

In some contexts, notably India, evidence suggested that employers were reluctant to let their staff work remotely because ‘it involves ceding an element of control’ which makes ‘managers feel threatened’, Messenger said.

But ILO is urging governments to develop policies for governing evolutions in workspace, calling attention to a new French labor code provision that enshrines ‘the right to be disconnected’.

This is a growing practice among some companies to shut down servers to stop emails during designated rest times and holidays. 

The researchers suggest ‘this may result in concrete measures to make working life less pervasive’.

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