People slept for longer hours during Covid-19 lockdown but sleep quality was poor, suggests study

Stress from economic and health concerns could be tied to disturbed sleep patterns, speculate scientists


                            People slept for longer hours during Covid-19 lockdown but sleep quality was poor, suggests study
(Getty Images)

Lockdowns and work from home schedules have given people more shut-eye, but that may have been of poor quality, according to a new study. Stress from economic and health concerns could be tied to disturbed sleep patterns, speculate scientists involved in the research. 

Sleep in modern times depends on work hours, leisure activities, and an individual’s internal biological time, suggest researchers from the University of Basel and the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel in their study.  Research has linked poor sleep with a range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, mood disorders and immune disorders. It also affects life expectancy. But the pandemic has forced many to adapt. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders meant that people were working remotely. It may have some benefits: more flexible working hours, less time commuting and more nap time. The researchers wanted to examine how these changes affected both the quality and quantity of sleep.

So they conducted a six-week online survey between March 23 and April 26, 2020, on 435 people residing in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. These three countries were under lockdown at that time. Their analysis found that  75% of these participants were getting 50 minutes more sleep than the pre-lockdown period. This is because people saved time commuting, giving them extra sleeping hours. "This suggests that the sleep-wake patterns of those surveyed were guided by internal biological signals rather than social rhythms (work and leisure),” says psychologist Dr Christine Blume, the lead author of the study.

But the quality of sleep declined, nullifying the extra nap hours. "Many people experienced increased flexibility regarding social schedules, due to working from home, led to an improved individual sleep-wake timing and overall, more sleep. At the same time, however, many people suffered from a decrease in sleep quality in this burdening exceptional situation," the authors explain.  But there are ways to address the issue.  Exposure to natural daylight and workouts may help, the researchers recommend.

Research has linked poor sleep with a range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, mood disorders, and immune disorders. (Getty Images)

Another study looked at sleep patterns. Researchers from the US published a paper examining how stay-at-orders affected 139 students from the University of Colorado Boulder. "Understanding the factors underlying such changes in sleep health behaviors could help inform public health recommendations to improve sleep health during and following the stay-at-Home orders of the Covid-19 pandemic," the researchers noted.

They gathered information on sleep behavior of students before the pandemic became a threat in the US between January 29 to February 4, 2020. They compared this with the data collected from April 22 to April 29, after stay-at-home orders were put into practice. They saw that people were sleeping for longer hours than usual. The percentage of participants reporting 7 hours of bedtime stood at 92% during weekdays, up from 84% before stay-at-home orders. 

The US researchers said that they needed to test the impacts on the general population, adding that they also have to identify which factors during stay-at-Home orders—including public health recommendations and changes in social or work constraints—contribute to changed sleep health behaviors.

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