The pandemic has ripped through the world’s population and has had a major impact on how people are sleeping. Here are some of the effects it has had, according to recent research.
Sleep was always challenging for many people in the modern world, but in truth, the days before the pandemic seem simple compared to what we’re dealing with now.
The looming threat of a health and economic crisis, the uncertainty for ourselves and the ones we love, the disruption in our usual daily rhythm — all of these worked to affect our sleep in more ways than we might realize.
The sudden halt to working life for many has seen a lot of people sleep for longer. Working from home and the elimination of a daily commute may also have influenced the findings. Data from fitness devices has revealed that Brits, for instance, have been sleeping 15 minutes longer, whereas Germans have been sleeping a mere 8 minutes more. The French have taken full advantage of the situation, sleeping for just over 20 minutes more, and the Italians have been stealing an extra 17 minutes under the covers.
Across the Atlantic, Americans have been squeezing in as much as up to 25 minutes of extra sleep. Note that this isn’t the case for everyone and some have been getting less sleep. Meanwhile, China has been on the same wavelength as Italy, with people getting around 17 minutes of extra sleep.
Already, this is pointing towards disruption in sleep patterns — and counterintuitively, more sleep might not always be a good thing.
People struggling to sleep
The fact that people have been spending more time in bed (in some cases they’ve not even bothered to set their alarm) doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been sleeping more. In a survey by the Sleep Council, 43% of the 2 700+ respondents who took part in the body’s research said they were finding it hard to sleep. The uncertainty the pandemic had created was the reason for three quarters of these people. The survey also found that women are suffering more than men from anxiety around the coronavirus.
Despite the upheaval the pandemic has created, it’s important to observe consistent sleeping habits. That means going to bed and getting up at the same time as you were before the lockdown. If you’re having trouble sleeping, consume less COVID-19 media, suggests Jennifer Martin, PhD, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The professor also advises against alcohol consumption, which disturbs sleep. This is just one of several ways you can improve your sleep during this lockdown situation.
People experiencing strange dreams
Don’t be surprised if you’re having some bizarre dreams while all this is going on — you’re most definitely not the only one going through this lately. Nor should you take fright if, normally, you don’t normally remember your dreams but now you can. Neuroscientists researching in France have recorded a 35% increase in the recall of dreams and a 15% one in negative dreams. We’re sleeping weirder, and our dreams are showing it.
Anxiety disrupts our sleep and causes us to wake up more and, as a result, we tend to remember the dreams because we’ve woken up during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The anxiety also causes dreams to become more vivid. The dreams themselves may be the subconsciousness’s way of trying to work out our emotional problems. Since people are sleeping longer, they may be experiencing more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage from which we recall most dreams. We seem to lose this kind of sleep during modern life, which is so fast, whereas during the pandemic we’ve been sleeping more and could be recalling our dreams more.
People’s days are (seemingly) running into one
The feeling that the days have been running into one isn’t just a feeling; it’s closer to a reality. Research by the smart mattress company Eight Sleep has found that US citizens are sleeping just 12 minutes longer on weekends than on weekdays. Before the pandemic, they were sleeping for 90 minutes longer.
Again, it doesn’t mean everyone is sleeping brilliantly there. Researchers have found that some people are sleeping worse. They’ve also learned more people have been consuming alcohol during the pandemic and screen time has also been at its highest. The light from screens hinders the production of melatonin, making it harder to sleep. People have been using the internet more during the pandemic for activities such as online gaming, streaming videos and attending video conferences.
Late nights but early mornings
Electricity meter data from New York apartments shows its citizens have been staying up later — they’re using a lot more energy and binge watching at night may be the reason. It may also be the reason why not as many people are setting their alarm clocks.
Meanwhile, 39% of the UK citizens who took part in the Sleep Council’s research stated they were going to bed later but not sleeping for as long. Thirty percent said they were waking up earlier. Five weeks into the lockdown, 46% of the respondents had said they’d found it becoming more difficult to stay asleep. As the nation struggles with sleep issues, there is concern the issues could have a lasting impact on them if there isn’t enough support to help these people. The coronavirus has wreaked complete havoc on the world, not just on people’s daily lives but also on their night’s rest. With some people sleeping for longer and others finding it hard to get any sleep, the struggle has been on to regain some sense of normality and balance and cope with the situation.
Scientists are still struggling to make sense of how the pandemic is affecting us and no doubt, the backlash will be visible for years, decades, or possibly even more. We are going through a truly groundbreaking period which will mark our individual lives and our society in more ways than we imagine. It’s still hard to say when — if ever — things will return to normal. For now, at least, the most we can hope is a good night’s sleep.
Alexandra is a naturalist who is firmly in love with our planet and the environment. When she's not writing about climate or animal rights, you can usually find her doing field research or reading the latest nutritional studies.