How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sleep patterns for many US citizens?

A team of scientists recently conducted an online survey to examine the changes in sleep duration among adult US citizens during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The survey findings identify a strong association between COVID-19-related alteration in sleep duration and mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The study is currently available on the medRxiv* preprint server.

Background

Sleep is a vital physiological process required for maintaining physical and mental homeostasis. It is well-established in the literature that there is a bidirectional association between sleeping behaviors and psychiatric disorders. The negative impact of sleep deprivation on mental health conditions further increases during stressful events, such as natural disasters and epidemic/pandemic conditions.

During previous pandemic conditions, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) pandemic in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) pandemic in 2015, significantly high rates of anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder have been observed among individuals affected by the pandemic.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has put a lot of burden on the healthcare and socioeconomic structures of many countries globally. In addition to pandemic-related restrictions, fear of economic deprivation has considerably impacted the mental wellbeing of many individuals, especially young adults.

Given the strong association between sleep and mental health, the current study has been designed to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep duration and its association with sociodemographic and mental health factors among US citizens.

Study design

The scientists searched for participants on various social media platforms, including Facebook. The participants were at least 18 years of age and residing in the USA. After a successful recruitment process, the participants were asked to complete the survey questionnaire, which was designed to collect information about demographic details, participant’s behaviors, attitudes and beliefs about the COVID-19 pandemic, and participant’s current mental status. Moreover, the survey included a question about changes in sleep duration throughout the pandemic.

Based on the sleep-related information, the scientists made three categories: “sleeping less than usual,” “sleeping more than usual,” and “no change in sleeping.” To assess the mental health status of participants, a specialized questionnaire was included in the survey, which specifically examined COVID-19-related anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Important observations

A total of 5,175 participants completed the survey. About 54% of them reported experiencing changes in sleep duration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The younger participants and women were more affected by the pandemic. Moreover, the highest level of sleep alterations was observed among participants who lived in urban areas, had children at home, being single, or being employed.

In general, about 17% of the participants reported having less sleep during the pandemic, whereas about 37% reported having more sleep. An inverse correlation was observed between age and sleep duration, with older participants reporting less sleep duration. Regarding other sociodemographic factors, a positive correlation was observed between sleeping more and being female, being divorced/separated, or being single. Similarly, the participants with higher education degrees reported having more sleep.  

Regarding COVID-19-related beliefs, the participants who feared more about acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection and its severity reported having less sleep than usual. In contrast, the participants who strongly believed that COVID-19 is associated with severe symptoms reported having more sleep.

Most importantly, the statistical analyzes of unadjusted and fully-adjusted models revealed the both “sleeping less than usual” and “sleeping more than usual” behaviors were strongly correlated with tested mental conditions, including anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Study significance

The study reveals that most US citizens have experienced either an increase or a decrease in sleep duration during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the changes in sleep duration are associated with various sociodemographic factors and beliefs about the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The strongest association between alteration in sleep duration and mental health conditions observed in the study highlights the need for monitoring psychosocial aspects of individuals directly or indirectly affected by the pandemic.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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