Our sleep during lockdown: longer and more regular, but worse

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A survey conducted by the University of Basel and the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel has investigated how sleep has changed during the Covid-19 lockdown. The 435 individuals surveyed - most of whom were women - reported sleeping longer but with a deterioration in sleep quality. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

The research assumes that many sleep disorders are caused by our modern lifestyle, which is based on performance and constant activity. Work rhythms and leisure activities thus set a cycle that conflicts with the body’s internal biological clock. If the differences in sleep time and duration between work days and days off become too large, this could lead to “social jetlag”. With this in mind, a lockdown that involves working from home could offer some benefits: flexible working hours, no commuting and potentially more time to sleep.

The effects of the restrictions implemented to contain the Covid-19 pandemic on sleep rhythms and sleep behavior were investigated by researchers from the University of Basel and the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel via a six-week online survey conducted between 23 March and 26 April 2020. Under the leadership of psychologist Dr. Christine Blume, a total of 435 people were surveyed in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. More than 85% of the respondents were working in their home office at that time. Overall, the participants slept rather well, 75% of them were women.

Less “social jetlag”

Through their survey, the researchers found that a relaxation of social rhythms - for example, through more flexible working hours - led to a reduction in “social jetlag”. “This suggests that the sleep-wake patterns of those surveyed were oriented by internal biological signals rather than social rhythms,” says Blume. Furthermore, 75% of those surveyed reported sleeping up to 50 minutes longer than before the lockdown. One contributing factor for this could be the elimination of the daily commute to work in the morning, explains the sleep researcher.

Tip: outdoor activities

The reduction of “social jetlag” did not go hand in hand with a perceived improvement in sleep quality. In contrast, those surveyed reported that their sleep quality actually deteriorated a little during the lockdown. This is unsurprising, explains Blume, as this unprecedented situation has also been highly stressfully in many ways. Financial and health concerns or stress related to child care are just a few relevant aspects.