It’s no secret that sleep has been an unpredictable activity since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown came into effect. This ranges from sleepless nights to the weird dreams you have when you do get some shut-eye. Just in case you thought it was just you, it’s not…
Two new studies, which looked at the impact that COVID-19-related lockdowns have had on sleep — specifically in the US and Europe (the hardest-hit places in the world) — found that there indeed is a link.
Both published in the journal Current Biology, the studies showed that more time spent at home has led to people sleeping more on average. Interestingly, the other study found that even though people are sleeping, they might not be experiencing the best sleep quality – according to self-reported data.
“Usually, we would expect a decrease in social jetlag to be associated with reports of improved sleep quality,” Dr Christine Blume, co-author of one of the studies, said in a statement.
“However, in our sample, overall sleep quality decreased. We think that the self-perceived burden, which substantially increased during this unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, may have outweighed the otherwise beneficial effects of reduced social jetlag.”
How did they do the studies?
Through analysis that was done over six weeks between March and April, the researchers (for the first study) specifically looked at the effects of the harshest phase of the COVID-19 lockdown in certain countries in Europe. They found that because of imposed stay-at-home rules, people slept for 15-minutes longer on average, but the participants reported a decline in their perceived sleep quality.
The other study looked at how much sleep participants got before and during lockdown with a population of university students in the US. They found that the students slept 30 minutes longer on weekdays and 24 minutes longer on weekends. They also found that the time that people went to sleep was more regular from day to day.
“Insufficient sleep duration, irregular and late sleep timing, and social jetlag are common in modern society and such poor sleep health behaviours contribute to and worsen major health and safety problems, including heart disease and stroke, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and impaired immune health, as well as morning sleepiness, cognitive impairment, reduced work productivity, poor school performance and risk of accident/drowsy driving crashes,” Dr Kenneth Wright, co-author of the second study, said in a statement.
“Our findings provide further evidence that poor sleep behaviors are modifiable in university students. A better understanding of which factors during Stay-at-Home orders contributed to changed sleep health behaviors may help to develop sleep health intervention strategies.”
While the decreased sleep quality is a cause for concern, the researchers all agree that the increased sleep duration are welcome changes and could have positive effects on overall health. If you’re battling to sleep well this winter, here are four things you can do to improve your quality of sleep this season.
1/ Invest in an external humidifier
We often have the aircon or a heater on in the house during winter and this tends to dry out the air. This can cause unnecessary congestion and general discomfort during sleep, which is why it’s a good idea to invest in an external humidifier.
“A humidifier will create the right atmosphere and breathing air for better sleep,” Bhikha says.
2/ Regulate the temperature in your room
Many of us try to get our homes as warm (read: blazing hot) as possible. We put on our warmest pyjamas and throw our thickest gowns over them, but this might be counterproductive. Bhikha explains that hot temperatures are not the most conducive for sleeping particularly because our body temperatures drop as soon as our bodies prepare for sleep.
“Ideally, you want your room’s temperature to be anything between 22 and 23 degrees Celsius as this is the most conducive temperature for the body to make a smooth transition from wakefulness to dreamland,” Bhikha explains.
3/ Diet is everything
It’s no secret that cravings can get quite wild in this colder season. While you’re daydreaming about the lamb stew you’re planning on making tonight, you’re already on your way to get hot-wings for lunch. But large meals, excessive sugar, excessive alcohol consumption and excessive tobacco use can have a negative impact on the quality of your shut-eye time. Try to keep your diet as clean as possible, don’t overindulge in anything and stay hydrated throughout the day.
4/ Exercise is key
I think we can all agree that the motivation to exercise in winter can be difficult to summon — what with the early nights and late mornings. But exercise has really good benefits for your sleep, and if you can just work in 30 minutes of focused movement a day, you’ll be good to go.
“Exercise improves sleeping patterns. Countless research has found that people who exercise regularly experience better quality of sleep,” Bhikha says.