Stay-at-home orders and “lockdowns” related to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a major impact on the daily lives of people around the world and that includes the way that people sleep, two studies reported in the journal Current Biology. Both studies show that relaxed school and work schedules and more time spent at home has led people to sleep more on average with less “social jetlag” as indicated by a reduced shift in sleep timing and duration on work days versus free days. But, at the same time, one of the studies also finds that the pandemic has taken a toll when it comes to self-reported sleep quality.
“Usually, we would expect a decrease in social jetlag to be associated with reports of improved sleep quality,” says researcher and cognitive neuroscientist Christine Blume from the University of Basel’s Centre for Chronobiology, Switzerland. However, the study points to a decrease in overall sleep quality.
Data from the study showed that the lockdown reduced the mismatch between social and biological sleep-wake timing as people began working from home more and sleeping more regular hours from day to day. People also slept about 15 minutes longer each night. However, the self-reported data indicated a perception that their resting quality had declined.
Insufficient sleep duration, irregular and late timing, and social jetlag are common in modern society and such poor health behaviors contribute to and worsen major health and safety problems, including heart disease and stroke, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and impaired immune health, as well as morning sleepiness, cognitive impairment, reduced work productivity, poor school performance and risk of accident/drowsy driving crashes. Combining many of these issues have a significant impact on chronic health issues.
The study found further evidence that poor sleeping behaviors are modifiable in university students. A better understanding of which factors during Stay-at-Home orders contributed to changed sleep health behaviors may help to develop health intervention strategies.
Not surprisingly, this unprecedented situation of the pandemic and the lockdown increased self-perceived burden and had adverse effects on sleep quality. On a positive note, though, the relaxation of social schedules also led to an improved alignment between external or social factors determining our sleep-wake timing and our body’s internal biological signals. This was also associated with overall, more sleeping.
From a sleep health perspective, the increase in duration and regularity are welcome changes, say the researchers. For those having trouble with quality, researchers suggest engaging in physical activity under the open sky.
Source: Current Biology