Lockdown Might Be Changing People’s Sleep Patterns

If you feel like social distancing is keeping you awake at night, you could be right.

A new survey of 1,310 adults in Italy during the country’s total lockdown points to a range of effects that lockdown might have for sleep habits.

At the end of March, participants in the study took an online survey that asked about their sleep patterns during lockdown and going back to the first week of February.

The data showed that as people started to stay home, their sleep times tended to creep forward, with both bedtimes and wakeup times becoming later.

While confined to their homes, people also began to spend more time in bed, but that extra time did not necessarily translate into better sleep. In fact, while people’s quantity of time in bed increased, their sleep quality tended to decrease.

Those surveyed also reported that lockdown was associated with a rise in digital media use before bedtime, but the data suggested that this media use wasn’t responsible for any change in sleep patterns.

Not everyone’s sleep was affected by lockdown in the same way. On average, people with higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression experienced a sharper increase in sleep problems during lockdown.

Interestingly, people’s perceptions of time were also associated with how vulnerable their sleep was to the effects of lockdown. Specifically, people who experienced a “feeling of elongation of time” tended to have more sleep difficulties. In other words, when lockdown gives rise to a mental state of perceiving time as being stretched out and “moving slowly,” it may also give rise to more sleep disturbances.

According to the authors of the study, these findings highlight the need to consider sleep changes as one of lockdown’s mental health effects in order to figure out how those changes can best be addressed. As the authors put it, more research on the topic is “urgently needed to support decision making, to build public awareness and to provide timely and supportive psychosocial interventions.”