One year later: how has the pandemic impacted our sleep?

With the COVID-19 crisis dominating society for twelve months, what has the cost been to our sleep?

It’s been a year since COVID-19 truly became headline news in the UK, with the first national lockdown starting in March 2020. Since then, the country has experienced brief periods of managed freedom in between extended stints of shop and school closures, social restrictions, travel bans and staying housebound.

All of this has, of course, had a huge impact on everything from our incomes to our wellbeing. And one area which has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is our sleep health. We’re going to take a closer look at the ways our sleep has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and what you can do to improve your sleep quality while lockdown continues.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our sleep?

In a study published by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, it was stated that difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep and vivid dreaming have all been widely reported in the UK during the pandemic. Another study, published by UC Davis Health, used the term ‘coronasomnia’ to describe the negative impact of the pandemic on our sleep, including causing increased restlessness and anxiety, greater levels of fatigue and more.

The pandemic has forced us all to change our routines and lifestyles, while also providing a huge and ever-present source of anxiety. Leaving the house less, seeing fewer people, and having fewer activities to look forward to have all added to a lower and more restless overall mood, making it harder to fully unwind at the end of the day. This increased anxiety can also lead us to comfort eating and increased drinking, both of which can be detrimental to good sleep.

One study published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease found that 69% of participants had changed their sleep pattern during lockdown. What’s more, 46% were sleepier than before lockdown; 65% reported an impact on their mental health, and more than a quarter (26%) were drinking more alcohol during lockdown. Frequently reported sleep issues included disrupted sleep (42%), falling asleep unintentionally (35%), difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep (31%), and later bedtimes (30%). Respondents also reported an increased number of nightmares and stressful dreams.

How to improve your sleep in lockdown

These studies paint a pretty bleak picture of our sleep health in lockdown, but while the COVID-19 crisis does present a huge number of challenges when it comes to good sleep, it’s also more important to rest well for our health and wellbeing.

Routine is the most important factor here. One of the main reasons we all struggle with lockdown is because it has thrown our routines into chaos, so setting yourself a schedule is vital, even if it differs from your pre-COVID one.

Wake-up at the same time every day, go to bed at the same time every day, and make time in the evening (around an hour) to unwind before bed by reading, meditating, stretching, or simply putting your phone down for the day. Shower and get dressed even if you aren’t leaving the house, eat meals at the same time each day, and set yourself specific time periods for work, exercise, and walking outdoors. Don’t translate ‘working from home’ as working from bed just because you can.

In fact, it’s important to reserve your bedroom for sleep, so try not to spend too much time there during the day. Make sure your bedroom is a space that’s designed for sleep: keep it cool and dark; invest in blackout blinds; remove any screens from your room and use soft, relaxing lighting.

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