COVID-19 lockdowns helped people get more, but not necessarily better, sleep

Stress may have reduced extra Z’s quality

woman sleeping

Two studies find that college students and people living in Germany, Switzerland and Austria report getting more sleep while staying at home under COVID-19 shutdown orders. But for those living in the three European countries, stress may have reduced sleep quality.

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Lockdowns haven’t just curbed coronavirus transmission — they’ve also helped people get more sleep (SN: 6/9/20).

Two studies, both published June 10 in Current Biology, report that people began sleeping more and more regularly every night after countries imposed stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But that sleep may not have been of the best quality, one of those studies finds.

In one study, researchers compared sleeping patterns of 139 students from the University of Colorado Boulder before and after stay-at-home orders moved classes online. Students’ sleep schedules became more regular and better aligned with their body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, the team found.

Those students also got more sleep overall. Before lockdowns, 84 percent of students reported getting seven hours a night or more during the week — the minimum amount that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends for adults to maintain health. After the lockdowns were in place, that number went up to 92 percent.

A separate study of 435 people in Austria, Switzerland and Germany found that people there also reported sleeping more regularly and for longer periods. That sleep, however, may have been of lower quality and included problems such as falling or staying asleep. Participants reported a reduction in their mental and physical health during COVID-19 lockdowns, which was associated with lower-quality sleep.

Worse sleep, despite spending more time in bed, may have outweighed any benefits from a regular sleep schedule, the authors of this study say. But getting outside in natural sunlight and exercising could help improve sleep quality.

Erin I. Garcia de Jesus is a staff writer at Science News. She holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington and a master’s in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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