2020 was a strange year, forcing many of us to adopt new habits and routines. As lockdown rolled on, people noticed changes to their sleep patterns too. Celebrities started recording bedtime stories to help people fall asleep via social media, and the discussion around insomnia began to widen on Twitter.
It’s been a year since the pandemic started. Only now are sleep scientists beginning to understand how our sleep has been affected, and what the impact of this looks like on people’s wellbeing and mental health.
Two studies recorded the sleeping patterns of people in Europe and South America during the first few months of lockdown. They found that people were sleeping more throughout lockdown than they had before – and the timing of their sleep had also changed. Lockdown had reduced ‘social jetlag’, which is what most people experience from having later bedtimes at a weekend than they do on a weekday. The effect of being at home under a lockdown meant that sleep patterns made every day feel more like the weekend.
When it comes to good sleep, quality is just as important as quantity. If you wake up feeling refreshed, or stay asleep during most of the night, you’ll probably feel like you achieved some quality sleep.
But surprising findings from King’s College London shows us that while people are getting more sleep than ever, the quality of sleep is worse. 50% of the participants surveyed said their sleep was more disturbed during lockdown – and 30% claimed they slept for longer, but felt less rested. This is particularly concerning when studies show that good sleep quality is associated with better health and wellbeing. Getting a good night’s rest is vital for keeping your immune system in fighting shape.
So why is our sleep quality worse?
Lockdown has encouraged impulsive behaviour in many of us. For some, a ‘pandemic puppy’ is the cause of so much disrupted sleep. For others, late-night online shopping has kept them glued to their screens until the small hours. Many people have been furloughed, or made redundant – and when there’s much less to fill your day, it’s easy to lose your routine. Anxiety around the pandemic is also a large part of sleep disruption, with millions worrying about money, loneliness, their families, and their health.
Lots of people have also had to get used to their partners being around all the time. And when you’re sharing a small space with someone 24/7, annoying behaviours can soon spark arguments. Snoring is reported as one of the most irritating habits people have dealt with during lockdown, and it affects sleep quality for both the snorer and their partner. If you’ve noticed that you’ve started snoring more, or your partner has, examine the changes you’ve made to your lifestyle during the course of lockdown. Are you drinking more? Eating more? Both alcohol and weight gain can affect how much you snore. (If it’s neither, you can read more about how to deal with snoring here.)
How to get better sleep
The good news is that sleep scientists have outlined some effective strategies for improving sleep quality. These include:
- Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
- Avoid screens in the hours before going to sleep
- Keep your bed as your sleep space – don’t use it for work, or Zoom meetings
- Exercise regularly
- Try to get as much daylight as possible, especially in the mornings
If snoring is ruining the quality of your sleep, take steps to deal with it as soon as you can. There are many ways you can approach this – from lifestyle changes to effective snoring relief products.
When lockdown hit, many of us believed we’d be sleeping more than ever; the lack of a daily commute and freedom from standard office hours promised this. And while it might be true for some, we may not be getting the restful sleep we were expecting. Investing in sleep quality is an important priority – the difference it makes to our health and wellbeing is invaluable.
World Sleep Day is celebrated on 19th March 2021 with the theme “regular sleep, healthy future”. To find out more about World Sleep Day, visit www.worldsleepday.org.