The U.S. COVID-19 pandemic containment began in early 2020 with rigorous non-pharmaceutical measures such as stay-at-home orders and remote working instructions. During this period, surveys and portable data reported increases in sleep duration and delayed sleep times, as well as increases in negative psychological symptoms
Now a group of researchers from the US and Australia have collaborated on a study that analyzes objective sleep-wake data and the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of adults in the US.
A pre-print version of the research paper is available on the medRxiv * server while the article is being peer-reviewed.
Restricted sleep and mental health
The importance of sleep to mental health has long been recognized, with an association between sleep disorders, including sleep disorders and inadequate sleep, and negative mental and behavioral health symptoms. In some people, these symptoms include anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
It was inevitable that COVID-19 would have a negative mental health impact due to the isolated lifestyle and low social interaction associated with the pandemic.
In order to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the possibility of contagion, lockdowns have been put in place around the world as a strict containment measure.
Therefore, interdisciplinary research focuses on the identification of optimal sleep-wake structures to support mental health after isolating effects with subsequent depressive and anxious states.
Survey data analyzing the early stages of COVID-19 had found links between poor quality, inadequate sleep, and negative mental and behavioral health symptoms.
The study, published in the current Pre-Print, examined the objective sleep and mental health of 20,717 people living in the United States through the use of a validated sleep wearable both before COVID-19 and during the pandemic.
The researchers used a comprehensive list of variables for their sleep study, which included duration, onset of sleep, offset of sleep, consistency of sleep timing, and waking up after onset of sleep.
Sleep duration, consistency, waking up after falling asleep and timing, January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020.
The importance of sleeping
The results of the study confirmed previous research studies on sleep quality and mental health, with the results showing that there had been an increase in the length of sleep and a delay in the timing of sleep during the pandemic.
However, research has revealed new insights into the consistency of sleep timing. The study found that people with persistent sleep problems and poor sleep consistency were more likely to experience negative mental health.
Mental health resilience
Sleeping 6-7 hours is considered normal, but if this number is below 6, symptoms of anxiety and depression are more likely to occur. This also applies to decreased consistency in sleep timing. These findings suggest that sleep is important to mental health and what behavioral interventions can do to increase the resilience of those most affected during the pandemic.
The study suggested that COVID-19 policies, such as remote working from home and a lack of social mix, contributed significantly to individual isolation.
The differences in sleep behavior noted by researchers during the pandemic have identified potential targets for risk factors for mental health problems.
Research has found that people who achieved the recommended sleep duration and consistency prior to the pandemic had greater psychological resilience because they were less sleep deprived during the pandemic and therefore less likely to experience psychological and behavioral symptoms.
The limitations of the study, which is included in the pre-print paper, include the participants who are predominantly male, have a high level of education, are gainfully employed, and reported an above-average household income. This can be viewed as a bias in the study, which may affect the representativeness of the research for the population.
The socio-economic impact can be significant as women, racial diversity and different asset classes are excluded. The biological and social differences in women can have different effects on sleep; This can also be said for how different races and less economically stable individuals have dealt with the pandemic of lost jobs and lack of security during a difficult time. This could have further affected sleep patterns during the pandemic and exacerbated the mental and behavioral symptoms in these individuals.
The research carried out has provided an extensive insight into the challenges facing a group of individuals in the United States. This can be used for mental health interventions to target the most vulnerable groups during the pandemic. This can further help ease the pandemic and how groups of individuals can receive mental health support during COVID-19.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and therefore should not be considered conclusive, that guide clinical practice / health-related behavior or are treated as established information.
- Czeisler, M., Capodilupo, E., Weaver, M., Czeisler, C., Howard, M., and Rajaratnam, S., 2021. Previous sleep-wake behavior predicts the mental resilience of adults in the United States during the COVID -19 pandemic. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.06.15.21258983v1