Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen
Coronavirus has changed many aspects of our daily lives. Lockdowns have become the norm in many countries, disrupting our regular routines and separating us from our family and friends. It has left many of us with heightened anxiety and fear as we worry about what impact the virus may have on us or those we love.
The Importance of Sleep
One of the many issues that people have faced during the pandemic has been increased sleep problems. Even before COVID, the CDC reported that 35% of people failed to get the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial in maintaining our physical and mental health. It helps us maintain a robust immune system and cope with stress and depression.
Loss of Social Capital
During lockdowns, it is normal for our social capital to be affected. Social capital is defined as the shared values that individuals have in a society that allow them to work together toward a common goal. This may be through social networking and a sense of belonging. During the coronavirus outbreak in China, a study was done into the effects of a lockdown on people’s social capital. It was found that when people’s sense of connection with others decreased, they became more stressed and anxious, and their sleep quality was detrimentally affected.
Change of Daily Routine
One of the most significant impacts of lockdowns has been how we spend our days. People find comfort in routine. We build our daily lives around various norms, from going to work or taking the kids to school to attending social events or going to the gym. Lockdown has meant that many of these norms have disappeared, with schools, workplaces, and gyms being temporarily closed.
The absence of these “markers” in our daily routine has meant a possible shift in our internal body clocks. Our bodies may not have made the adjustments they need–they don’t understand when it’s time to rest.
Stuck at Home
Being stuck at home can play havoc with your sleep routine. If you are not working or you are working from home, it may be that you now go to bed and get up later. In many cases, people who don’t have a reason to get up at a specific time may be tempted to oversleep. Sleeping for less than seven or eight hours a night can make it more challenging to wake up and make you more irritable and unfocused during your day.
There is also the issue of your circadian rhythm becoming affected. Our bodies naturally respond to changes in natural light. In the morning, natural light sends our body a cue that it is time to be awake, and as the light fades at the end of the day, our body responds by preparing for sleep. If we are stuck at home, we may be getting less natural light than before. This may reduce the cues the body needs for wakefulness and sleep.
Uncertainty and Anxiety
People also tend to fear the unknown. One of the most troubling aspects of the pandemic has been the uncertainty it has created. As scientists and medical researchers continue to learn about the virus, most of us are left worried about our health and the health of our loved ones.
Financial concerns are also affecting people’s stress levels. Many have become unemployed, even if temporarily, by the economic effects of COVID. Worries about how to make ends meet have increased people’s anxiety levels.
All this means people go to bed with their minds still racing with stressful thoughts leading to insomnia or poor quality sleep, which in turn can fuel our anxieties.
Increases in screen time
The coronavirus pandemic has seen a considerable increase in screen time for most people. With in-person interaction severely limited, more people have turned to video conferencing tools like Zoom to speak to friends, family, and work colleagues. If you are working from home, your day will likely involve many more hours in front of a computer screen. Many are also trying to alleviate the stress of lockdowns by binge-watching TV shows.
All this excess screen time, particularly just before going to sleep, can have a detrimental effect on your sleep. Research has indicated that the blue light emitted from screens can suppress our melatonin production, which the body produces to help us sleep.
For all of us, the impact of COVID lockdowns has affected our daily lives. For many of us, it has increased our feelings of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. These feelings, along with changes in our daily routine, have seen sleep-related issues increase. In a classic Catch-22 situation that would likely make Yossarian’s head spin, our disrupted sleep patterns also contribute to our increased feelings of anxiety. If you’re having trouble sleeping, work with your doctor to find solutions that will bring you some much-needed rest.
- Sleep problems during the COVID-19 pandemic by population: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- CDC: Sleep Statistics
- Social Capital and Sleep Quality in Individuals Who Self-Isolated for 14 Days During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in January 2020 in China
- COVID and Sleep: Better Slumber During the Pandemic May Help Protect Your Health
- How Blue LEDs Affect Sleep