Pandemic severely disrupts sleep, ups stress: Study

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Toronto: A new research adds to the growing body of evidence that Covid-19 pandemic is seriously affecting sleep habits, increasing stress and anxiety and further dependence on sleep medication.

For the study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, the research team conducted an online survey of 5,525 Canadian during the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic is having a diverse impact on people’s sleep, with clinically meaningful sleep difficulties having undergone a sharp increase. We found that half of our participants showed signs of serious sleep problems during the pandemic,” said study author Rebecca Robillard from the University of Ottawa in Canada.

“Specifically, we identified three different profiles of sleep changes: those who sleep more; those whose sleep schedule was pushed to later bed and wake-up times; and those who are getting less sleep than they did before the pandemic,” Robillard added.

According to the researchers, the active changes people made on sleep-related behaviours during the pandemic not only affected sleep quality and quantity, but it also affected their psychological response to this unprecedented situation.

Compared to those who are sleeping more, those who have later sleep schedules or shorter sleep cycles showed increased symptoms of insomnia and worsening symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

The findings showed that new sleep difficulties seem to be disproportionately affecting women, those with families and family responsibilities, the employed, and individuals with chronic illnesses.

It also impacted individuals with earlier wake-up times, higher stress levels, heavier alcohol use, and extra television exposure.

“We have seen an increase in the use of sleeping medications during the pandemic,” the authors wrote.

“Considering the known risks for the development of tolerance with these medications, this may forecast a surge in more complex chronic insomnia cases in the long run,” they added.

The large scale of sleep changes in response to the pandemic highlights the need for more accessible, yet tailored interventions to address sleep problems.

“Sleep and mental health issues are something to be expected with the current circumstances, but we never expected to see it hit this level. It is important to intervene to address the unique phenomenon that we are facing right now,” the team noted.