The Pandemic Has Us Sleeping More — But Not Necessarily Better

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Woman Asleep In Bed

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The current pandemic has affected everything from our daily schedules to stress levels and, of course, sleep. People around the world are even reporting pandemic dreams, but according to new research, that's not the only way the coronavirus is affecting our sleep.

In two new studies, one by the University of Basel in Switzerland and the other by the University of Boulder, research found we're sleeping more but not necessarily better.

Studying how COVID-19 has affected sleep quality.

In the first study, researchers in Switzerland looked at sleeping patterns in participants as it related to social and biological rhythms (during the strictest point in quarantine for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). They also used self-reported sleep quality data.

And in the study here in the States, researchers used self-reported responses from 139 university students on sleep quality before and after stay-at-home orders were put in place and students started taking classes online.

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What the research found.

Both studies appear to indicate that while more time at home has resulted in an increase in sleep, sleep quality dropped. Another effect seems to be that the difference in sleep on work-/school days, versus off days, has decreased—meaning people are going to bed and getting up at more consistent times even on the weekends or off days. Also known as "social jet lag," it describes the common habit of catching up on sleep on one's days off.

"Usually, we would expect a decrease in social jet lag to be associated with reports of improved sleep quality," notes sleep researcher and cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Basel Christine Blume, Ph.D. "However, in our sample, overall sleep quality decreased."

And in the University of Boulder's research, they found students were staying up later than usual while studying remotely but were also sleeping longer, particularly students who reported not getting enough sleep before stay-at-home guidelines.

Blume adds, "We think that the self-perceived burden, which substantially increased during this unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, may have outweighed the otherwise beneficial effects of a reduced social jet lag."

How to improve sleep quality.

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Kenneth Wright, Ph.D., at the University of Boulder, notes that a better understanding of which particular factors have contributed to the sleep changes could help develop sleep health intervention strategies, but until then, there are lots of things you can do if you've been struggling to get a quality night's sleep.

Blume, for example, suggests engaging in physical activity under the open sky, as a way to both tire your body and mind but also regulate your circadian rhythm. And other options include taking a sleep-supporting supplement like magnesium*, along with reducing screen time before bed. Because while we may be sleeping more during this pandemic, we want to make sure those zzz's count.

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